Integrating the party’s Eurosceptics


In recent months I’ve seen a few pieces on Liberal Democrat Voice- this one and this one stick in my mind- written by party members who voted to leave the EU and are still in favour of Brexit. As would be expected, the response in the comments sections has been mixed. Some, myself included, believe the liberal response is to accept Eurosceptics into the party and encourage their participation. Others believe Brexit is entirely illiberal and that the party should be reserved for Europhiles.

I think we can expect this type of dilemma to come up more and more over the next few years. As the party grows it will attract members of a variety of opinions, including some who campaigned for a Leave vote and hope for a liberal Brexit deal. This will of course contrast with our party’s pro-EU message which has been such an integral part of our strategy in the wake of the referendum. To help the party expand while maintaining a high level of party unity I propose a new covenant of sorts between the party and its Eurosceptic members.

The party as a whole will accept the Brexiteers in our ranks. We will welcome their full participation in the party, encourage them to contribute to discussions (including on the EU) and listen to their views respectfully without trying to marginalise them in the debate. We will look for areas of common interest and recognise that whether pro- or anti-EU, we are all drawn to the party out of a belief in liberalism as defined in the Preamble to the Constitution.

In return, Liberal Democrats who support Brexit will accept that the party is vehemently in favour of the European Union and that this is not likely to change. They will see that the party is opposed to Brexit and continue to support the party however they feel comfortable doing so. Campaigning in support of Brexit will be done in a personal capacity rather than using the party platform and any attempt to define the party to those outside it as anything other than pro-EU will be in breach of the covenant.

In this way I hope that the party can continue to expand nationally and one day return to government. If this approach proves successful then perhaps a similar covenant could be established with supporters in the party of Scottish, Welsh or even English independence, or of Irish reunification. Whatever our stripes one thing we should all be proud of is the fact that we can discuss these issues sensibly in true liberal, democratic fashion on our path to greatness.

* Jack Watson is a Mechanical Engineering student and Secretary of Edinburgh Young Liberals

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  • Michael Thomas 14th Apr '17 - 2:04pm

    Absolutely nothing wrong with what you have said here. The Lib Dems should be a broad church of different opinions even if it’s not currently party policy.
    Without a voice of disagreement on issues there is no development or refinement of the current position.
    I don’t want sheep members that will follow regardless. Conference shows that we aren’t.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 14th Apr '17 - 2:04pm

    Jack, your attempt for unity is real and commendable. You, the Young Liberals today are a breath of fresh air, not divisive , ranting , contrary types so often the perception of youth movements of old , in other divided times. My own encouragement and rapport with our younger and student members, and that of others like me open to a range of ideas , is significant and positive and more likely keeps me engaged with party politics , as someone of the Tim Farron political generation more in tune with the open mindedness of yours !

    I would not advocate the use of the word covenant if the word means that covenant is “broken ” by the regular expression of crtical language or policy on the EU.

    I voted remain , yet am as critical as not of that organisation, and do not share in the feeling for it that some feel strongly.

    Liberal and Democratic it is not in total, but aspects are in part.

    To believe those aspects can be encouraged and the whole , reformed, keeps me in the remain viewpoint, just.

    But Brexit is going ahead. The covenant should be with those who think it isn’t , to make sure we are not stuck with a mindset and policy that keeps us on ten per cent as the unrealistic party , we are not!

    We need more attitudes like you express, but with more practical suggestions for the future of our country and continent.

  • I think it’s a lovely gesture Jack however that boat for me sailed on the 24th June when I was told quite directly by the official leader of the liberal enlightenment in this country that I was akin to some knuckle-dragging skinhead. This from a man who in his heart of hearts finds two men shagging a difficult concept.

    I find Leave far MORE effectively internationalist, MORE effectively liberal and more able to protect those at the bottom for the medium to long term than Remain. If you feel like that too then I’d advise you leave the Liberal Democrats as you’re basically siding with people that in their heart of hearts have no real respect for you and are on a different political and intellectual journey.

    Either you want a EU superstate (with the downsides that the Lib Dems never speak about) or you want Leave. One puts up with an unreformable EU the other wants to match the strengths of the UK (which are higly considerable) with the negotiaters to smash orthodoxies and create new realities. The Lib Dems are so embedded with establishment continuity Remain that they find it distasteful to match those strengths and gain a hard deal (indeed they don’t believe it can be done) and perhaps with this sectarian faith sinful to do so. So I left as soon as I could.

  • John – do you really find caps lock helps to get your point across? I voted remain and I had zero interest in a European superstate. If you had lived and worked around different countries in Europe as I did, you would know that i) there are many varied cultures ii) noone there wants a superstate iii) noone in Europe is seriously forcing all the countries to be the same. The superstate is a straw man. What we needed and got from the EU was a counterweight to corporate power – organisations like Microsoft behaving monopolistically. Unfortunately a lot of people in the UK rather than seeing for themselves just swallowed a line in the papers.

  • I take it you know nothing of Amazon who are tax based in Luxembourg? Or the fact that a whole factory was moved from Southampton to Turkey (not even in the EU) with EU money? Germany DOES want a superstate as it suits German interests. Arch Liberal Verhofstad DOES want a superstate (sorry about the capitals!).


    Anyone leaving or thinking of doing it this is my tuppence worth

  • Geoff English 14th Apr '17 - 4:57pm

    Absolutely agree with you, Jack, though I also agree with Lorenzo that it’s probably best to avoid the language of covenants. We already have above examples of unhelpful rants but there should always be room in a liberal democratic party for rational debate from every conceivable angle. I think you are also right to open up this discussion to include the question of nationalism within the UK – already I feel as an English Lib Dem I am totally in favour of the union, but feel that if I were, say, a Scot faced with the English Tory overpowering sense of superiority I might feel quite differently, and none of this should be beyond debate.

  • Dave Orbison 14th Apr '17 - 5:45pm

    Martin – whilst I too supported remain I think describing John’s views as “tripe” wasn’t quite the not of inclusivity that Jack Watson was aiming for with his article.

    Perhaps Geoff’s advice is correct and ‘the less said about “covenants” the better. Perhaps avoid the word ‘pledge’ too.

  • Andrew Tampion 14th Apr '17 - 5:52pm

    Alistair I hardly think that capitalising two words clearly for emphasis in a long post constitutes having the caps lock on, still less amounts to rant. I’m also curious why you choose to make that your main point in your rebuttal of his argument. Also you may be right about John not having lived and worked abroad: but how can you be sure that he hasn’t and come to a different conclusion than you based on his different experience? Turning to your example of the EU being a counterweight to over mighty corporations I take the view that truly global coroprations are beyond the power of anything but global institutions. I am not advocating a global superstate. I am suggesting that as an example a global convention on corporate taxation would be a far more effective counterweight to the corporate power of transnational companies.

  • john,

    I’ve read your blog, I won’t be reading it again. its full of hope but no answers. I feel it very much falls into the Brexiteer fantasy of it will be OK if we get everything we want. You won’t and it won’t be OK. So keep playing your siren song I’m tone deaf to it and I suspect very few Lib Dems will find it anything other than discordant.

  • Peter Watson 14th Apr '17 - 7:47pm

    @Alistair “I voted remain and I had zero interest in a European superstate.”
    What’s wrong with a European superstate? Surely it would give us even more of the good things that Lib Dems want from the EU?
    This prompts the question, exactly what sort of “UK in EU” do Lib Dems want? Is there an agreed, singular, well-defined position on what membership of the EU should mean?
    Is it the one with the deal that Cameron negotiated or the one that existed before that? Is it ever closer political and/or economic union? A single currency? If not, then perhaps we should acknowledge that attitudes towards the EU are not a binary In/Out and instead range across a whole spectrum. For some that is at the Brexit end and for others it is a United States of Europe, but many are in between and all should feel comfortable in the Lib Dems if they share the same approach to other policy areas.
    After all, inside or outside the EU, Lib Dems need to communicate a shared vision for the UK.

  • Interesting comments. No agreement, then. Some LD views favour the full EU project. Some favour getting well out of it and some feel that a broad church is possible.

    If Tim Farron is to be accepted as the leader then the first statement best describes the LD policy.

  • @Martin. Surely anti-EU is a valid position? It need not imply ignorance any more than infatuation with the EU project?

  • I’ve chaired a fair number of candidate selection panels in my time, all of which have asked “Is there anything in party policy that you disagree with?” In response to a eurosceptic reply we have continued to accept or reject applicants in the usual way without that reply being decisive by itself. Presumably that is still common practice.

  • Torrin Wilkins 15th Apr '17 - 1:18am

    If “using the party platform” includes standing for elected office for the Lib Dem’s I see that as a tricky situation. Am I supposed to pretend to be pro-EU and send out pro-EU leaflets to keep the party’s image as being pro-EU if I ever stand for office? Another issue is that I am pro EFTA+EEA rather than “pro-EU” so what about campaigning for that?

  • Lorenzo wrote that Brexit is going ahead & that those of us who hope that sanity will eventually prevail are unrealistic. Does he include Tim Farron in that group? Brexit is by no means certain. Theresa May has been told that a hard Brexit will be disastrous for the country and appears to be hoping for a Norway type agreement. That will entail us accepting the free movement of people & continuing to pay into the EU budget & accepting EU jurisdiction. It will be roughly the same as now, but we shall have no votes in the European parliament & no ministerial veto.
    The Brexiters did not vote for this, nor did the remainers. It will satisfy no-one.
    The question is, “What will happen then?”

    There will be a general election long before any transition period is concluded, or there could be a third referendum on the deal as advocated by our party.
    As Tim says, “Democracy did not end on 23rd June.” A democracy which cannot change its mind is no longer a democracy.

    As Labour has discovered it is folly to try to appeal to both sides. Either we are for Brexit or against it. Our electoral revival is almost entirely attributable to our clear stance on the issue. As the consequences of Brexit become clearer so our support will grow. I know so many former Leavers who have now changed their minds. We shall know more of the public mood in 3 weeks time.
    I predict sweeping gains for us on 4th May & massive losses for UKIP, which, may I remind readers, has no MPs.
    The triumph of UKIP is not inevitable.

  • Torrin Wilkins – the party has adopted a formal position. Conference voted for it overwhelmingly. So yes, if you choose to stand for election as a LibDem (thereby using party resources) the party is entitled to expect you to communicate that position.
    You are of course entitled to argue within the party for a change of policy – which you are doing. But until such time as that change in policy happens, then surely it’s not unreasonable for the party to expect that its candidates will campaign for its agreed policy on the biggest issue of the day.

  • William Ross 15th Apr '17 - 8:15am

    This article and others recently by pro-Brexit Lib Dems raises many interesting questions for your party. The Lib Dems are throwing all their efforts into saving the sinking EU Titanic. As some have pointed out in these posts, the issue of Leave is settled. Alan is trying to persuade himself that Theresa May really wants a “Norway” solution. This is a fantasy. What do you do when the UK leaves?

    Then you will have to deal with the 30% of your supporters who are Brexiteers. Are you really going to spend your future energies trying to persuade the UK to re-join the EU?
    Sounds like Jacobite romanticism to me. The irony is that there is a crying need for a coherent liberal patriotic party of the centre/centre left to fill in the hole being left by the collapsing Labour Party.

    The dilemma is a little easier for my own party, the SNP. They can at least offer Scotland’s Remain constituency a way out. My guess is that the SNP will end up adopting the EFTA route.

    Compliments to the Lib Dems on an open political site.

  • “Lorenzo wrote that Brexit is going ahead & that those of us who hope that sanity will eventually prevail are unrealistic”

    How can you even begin to find any sort of consensus, if you have people like this arguing that leaving the EU is “insanity”?

  • William R, there’s also a crying need for Remainers to have a UK-wide party that represents them. If the EU is the single over-riding issue for anyone, they have three other major UK-wide parties to choose from.

  • I am not a member, but believe any party should consist of members who can, through rational debate, arrive at a common policy. The insanity (yes!) of leavers is that they have not produced a single rational argument so far, and will not start to do that, because there is no rational argument.

    I don’t mean empty sovereignty-or control-phrases, but a logical line of thought that leads from Brexit to more housing, better healthcare, fed children, cared-for elderly, etc.

    How can a party arrive at a common and defensible platform with members who cannot produce any causal relationship between their wish and the wellbeing of the society whose fate they wish to influence, ideally positively?

  • I applaud the spirit of this comment piece. However, I really feel this approach is not going to work – the Lib Dems have nailed their colours to the mast as the ones who refuse to accept the verdict of the referendum and are opposed to its implementation.

    They must accept the consequences of this, one of them being their current opinion poll ratings, which are obstinately stuck at 9-11%. This is not going to shift and the Lib Dems, if they are noticed at all, are being seen through this one lens – as rabidly pro-European. This was always the policy that lost the Lib Dems votes in elections e.g. European elections, rather than gaining them. And it will continue to be so.

    In the mean time, it would really help if those arguing for the EU would stop repeating things that are evidently not true.

    Alistair says: “If you had lived and worked around different countries in Europe as I did, you would know that i) there are many varied cultures ii) noone there wants a superstate”

    I have lived in another EU country and the European Union is constantly referred to as a political project. There is constant talk among all their leading politicians, in influential newspapers and the media generally, of the need for a European foreign policy, army, common finance minister, common debt. “More Europe” is always the refrain.

    While no-one I know there *personally* wants a superstate, but sadly it is very clear that that is what is being planned for them by their politicians, whether they like it or not. Importantly, they never get to vote about whether they agree with this or oppose it. If they do, they are told they are roundly stigmatised, in the same media, as populists, racists and neo-fascists and generally “backwards” and “stupid”.

    The EU makes a point of never asking what people really want, for fear of getting the wrong answer. This is the problem at the heart of the project called Europe: that it has over-reach written into the very core of its DNA. It remains a mystery to me why the Lib Dems, who historically have been in favour of government being given legitimacy by explicit democratic consent and devolution of powers to the lowest level practical should be so fanatically in favour of a political project that actively despises and derides both of these principles.

  • Should we not go back to basics? The first question being what is our place in the world
    where can we have the most influence? The Empire has gone, hopefully we can be friends with our former colonies, though in some cases this will be difficult because of
    bad history.Acting as a second string to the USA is no future , working as a major power, in Europe, remain in Europe will perhaps encourage our European friends to act more cohesively for the benefit of all European citizens and the world at large.We will be faced by increasing problems of employment and the lack of social care in its widest sense ,which includes education, health,housing,retirement etc.
    WE need to work within a cohesive club,where our voice will count with others.
    The problems encountered by our friends which made them vote OUT, were all in the hands of our own Governments, which includes the Lib Dems. We could have increased housing, we could have enforced the minimum wage,we could have made certain that all temporary workers from Europe were properly housed,we could have taken the step of not having our friends from Eastern Europe come to work here for seven
    years, our Governments decided not to do so as it helped to reduce wages.
    The current Government is still reducing tax, and having to balance it with reductions in school funding, NHS, care for the elderly, still it appears no
    bearing down on tax evaders, both personal and corporate.
    As I have said what is our place in the world, this is the question to be debated,then at the same time what is the benefit of leaving or staying in the EU, presented with some facts and figures.Without Euorpean Laws, we will soon see our rights eroded.
    At 82 , all I can now say is good luck , you will need it.

  • @ Peter Watson

    “What’s wrong with a European superstate? Surely it would give us even more of the good things that Lib Dems want from the EU?”

    If you wanted the UK to stay in as a member of the EU as a future superstate, maybe Remain should have been more honest about it last June.

    It would have helped Remain’s case if at least it could be consistent about such things. Do Remainers want a superstate or not?

  • William Ross 15th Apr '17 - 11:06am

    Cassie B

    I can see the force of your argument for short term action. Your objective is a desperate last stand to stop or dilute Brexit beyond recognition. Naturally, I hope you don’t succeed but if the 95% likelihood happens, what then?

    I think I could present cogent Brexit arguments to Arnold until I was SNP yellow in the face but he wouldn’t accept them.

  • @William Ross, why don’t you try? It would be a first.

  • Sue Sutherland 15th Apr '17 - 1:21pm

    William, the Lib Dems aren’t throwing all their efforts into saving the EU Titanic but the UK Titanic!
    To get back to the main discussion, the obvious answer is that Euro sceptics in the party have a role to play in helping the party to have policies to make the EU more Liberal should we win the fight to remain. They also have a role to play in forming other policies. The EU has just come rushing up the agenda that’s all and it will continue to be high on the list while Brexit is negotiated. There are many Lib Dems who believe in unilateral nuclear disarmament just as deeply as, or more than, people believe in the EU but they haven’t decided to abandon the party over it but continue to put forward their view each time defence comes up for debate. We have democracy in our party and conference ultimately decides what our current policy should be, but circumstances change all the time and will undoubtedly do so as Brexit proceeds.
    If we Remainers are proved right then we need a platform for returning to the EU, which should include aims for reform, if we are wrong then the Brexiteers will be correct and we will need a whole raft of policies to attract voters far more than we do at the moment. Plenty of opportunities for those who feel sidelined at the moment.
    Oh, I nearly forgot, both sides are rude about each other as passions run high but surely everyone who’s a Lib Dem member or supporter knows that we must respect others opinions because of our political beliefs.

  • Dave Broadway 15th Apr '17 - 1:47pm

    John, what exactly is wrong with a “Superstate”? A lot of the world’s problems are caused by nationalism. As long as you have a fair vote and fair representation in Europe, why is a superstate an issue? Surely if you fear democracy on a larger scale, and want to preserve your English sovereignty your just the same as the little Englanders of the Leave vote – or at least share their views.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 15th Apr '17 - 2:56pm

    Some misunderstanding my contribution , others trying to engage with it, thanks.

    I do not believe Brexit as May wants to see it is inevitable. The referendum has happened. The decision to leave the EU has won through. The referendum we seek is about the deal achieved.

    We cannot fight for a better , brighter , yesterday.

    It is , as William Ross says, now and from here on, we need to be the party Labour is not , the Conservatives are not!

    That means united for a realistic , constructive, democratic policy on everything.

    Including Brexit.

  • William Ross 15th Apr '17 - 4:17pm


    We corresponded on the upside of Brexit under an article you wrote for this site some months ago. I did not get a clear response to my points then. However, if you visit the website Think Scotland , you will find an article from me listing the economic benefits of Brexit under the title ” The SNP’s Economic Brexit Analysis: Not worth a Hill of Beans”
    Off course, you could visit “Brexit Central” and get the full [wonderful] Monty!

  • Ruth Coleman Taylor 15th Apr '17 - 11:26pm

    RC (no relation) asserts that ‘The EU makes a point of never asking what people really want, for fear of getting the wrong answer.’ Au contraire, RC, the EU is constantly asking people what they want and consults extensively about its proposals and plans. When I was a Lib Dem Councillor, I was a member of the UK delegation to the Committee of the Regions, the voice of local and regional governments in the EU, the vehicle for elected members of these bodies to analyse and criticise EU proposals and to put their own proposals into the EU’s plans for the future.
    You don’t have to be a Councillor to be consulted: it’s open to everyone. If you go into the EU website ( you can write into the dialogue box ‘how to have your say on EU policies’. This will take you to a very helpful page which shows you how to do just that. For example, you, or an organisation of which you are a member, can respond to the current public consultations on EU proposals. (There were 87 when I last looked). You can also ask the EU to take action on an issue you care about, by working with others to create a European Citizens Initiative.
    It seems to me that this is much more open than the opportunities for UK citizens to influence UK government policy.

  • Arnold Kiel 16th Apr '17 - 8:27am

    @ William concerning Leave-benefits.

    Thank you for the sources provided. I went through both documents, and, as expected, did not find a single profound, defensible, or quantifiable argument that can stand up to the slightest, superficial scrutiny. Specifically:

    1. UK trade deals: the argument assumes that the EU is incapable (the UK alone therefore much faster), that the prospective partners are equally interested in a market representing 15% of the full EU potential, and that there is significant additional volume currently suppressed by EU membership. It further assumes that frictionless EU-trade can either be swiftly replicated by a EU-UK FTA, or the related losses compensated intercontinentally.

    2. Freedom from EU regulation: The argument assumes that EU regulation is largely excessive, that it makes sense for the UK to produce according to multiple specifications, depending on the target market, and that this is excluded today. It further assumes that British consumers are better served by local regulations adding complexity to UK export production.

    3. Freedom to lower import tariffs: the argument assumes that reduced protection of British farming and distinct supply-chains for EU-bound food processing are desirable.

    4. Growth-oriented immigration-strategy: The argument assumes that a significant part of current immigration is economically detrimental, and that a cost-efficient, well-performing selection method can be found and implemented.

    5. Lower Pound: The argument evidently only looks at the local value added to exports; it disregards imported materials/components and the British consumer of imports.

    6. Much more efficient corporate tax collection: This argument is not explained further.

    7. The single market does not cover services: So, as-is equals to-be. Why leave then?

    8. The EU-share of UK trade is falling: True, but jeopardising it makes sense only, if 1., above holds.

    9. The EU is in difficulty. True, but why is flee better than fight? It will continue to be the UK’s biggest export market in absolute terms for many years.

  • Arnold Kiel 16th Apr '17 - 8:28am

    continued, because of length

    10. Project fear is discredited by current economic data. Therefore, don’t listen to economists (or any expert) anymore: The UK is still a member with the additional benefit of GBP devaluation. The employment- and consumer confidence-effects of reduced FDI come with a time-lag, as does imported inflation.

    11. Apple, Google, Nissan, Snapchat, McDonalds, Adobe, IBM, have announced UK-investments: Apart from Nissan, these are all high-skill, London-centric services businesses. Their output is not physically trucked and shipped. They will not employ the typical leave-voter in the UK’s deprived areas. Concerning Nissan: Sunderland is one of 21 plants globally and serves 114 export markets. UK-sales are 190.000. We know nothing about Nissan’s alleged commitment, so let’s see.

  • Katharine Pindar 17th Apr '17 - 12:43am

    ‘There is a crying need for a coherent liberal patriotic party of the centre/centre left to fill the hole being left by the collapsing Labour Party.’ Just so, William Ross, and fortunately we are it. Sue Sutherland and Ruth Coleman Taylor, splendid contributions, good to read. Arnold Kiel, do please join us!

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