Is it time to come out in favour of rejoining the EU?

Recently we’ve seen a Yougov poll putting support for Brexit at new lows, with just 32% of the British public overall and 70% of those who voted Leave thinking it was the right decision. We’ve seen stories of both the Tories and Labour denying that they have plans to rejoin the Single Market and/or Customs Union — with the implication that there is something to deny.

For a while I’ve thought the opposite on the grounds that people who voted Leave might find it easier to change their minds if we’re not telling them they were wrong. But, if 30% have already done that, things are different.

With neither Labour nor the Tories speaking up for the majority who now think Brexit was a mistake, is it time for Liberal Democrats to say what others are whispering: we need to rejoin? That’s about speaking up for the EU vision of a peaceful, stable and prosperous Europe with deep respect for democratic values as well undoing the economic harm done by leaving.

Experience may make us wary. In 2019 our promise to cancel the Article 50 notice if we formed the next government backfired: getting enough Liberal Democrat MPs elected to form a government would have been a political earthquake big enough to be a mandate for cancelling Brexit, but people recognised that earthquake wasn’t going to happen.  Now we are in a different place. Starting the process of rejoining now would need enough support to mean that neither the EU nor the UK thought we’d try to leave again. That support would need to be shown at the ballot box.  Are we at the point when Liberal Democrats can be the nucleus around which it can form?

Several things are striking me:

  • The Cost of Living crisis is partly about the invasion of Ukraine, and partly about the fallout of Covid19, but Brexit is adding a whole extra layer of self-inflicted pain — pushing up inflation and reducing growth. Economic reality is pushing the UK to rejoining and it’s easier for Liberal Democrats to say that than for parties ideologically committed to Brexit.
  • The UK rightly supports Ukraine in seeking to throw off the Russian invaders: how long can we ignore the fact that they are also seeking to join the EU?
  • Boris Johnson’s government sat on the report on Russia Report on interference in the British politics, including the referendum, until they’d won an election and made Brexit a reality. Putin’s behaviour over Ukraine underscores the seriousness of this. On top of doing serious harm to the UK’s economy and standing in the world, Brexit has heightened divisions in the UK. There’s an urgency to undoing it before the economic harm makes those divisions worse.

We may be ever further down the path than the Yougov data suggests. The Tories and Labour supporting Brexit gives it credibility: how many among their supporters would switch to supporting Rejoin if their party did?

After the next General Election?

Some Liberal Democrats might be wary because a clear commitment to rejoin the EU would rule out a formal arrangement to support a minority Labour government after the next General Election unless Labour changed their position. I think that is an exaggerated fear.  We’re already at a point where a substantial proportion of our members and of those who vote for us would feel betrayed if supporting Labour made us “Brexit enablers”.

In any case Labour’s lead in the polls makes a minority government seem much less likely. But we are in a strange place where this is as much about a rejection of the Tories as it is active support for Labour. With no party clearly pushing for the UK to rejoin, it’s entirely possible that we will go into the next General Election with both Labour and Tories promising to continue with Brexit, taking for granted those who support rejoining, and claim the result as a mandate to prolong Brexit.  If Liberal Democrats can put rejoining the EU on the agenda now we have the possibility of changing that, either by getting many more Liberal Democrat MPs elected, or by that prospect prompting Labour to change direction.

* Mark Argent was the Liberal Democrat candidate in Huntingdon Constituency in 2019 and blogs at

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  • David Evans 11th Dec '22 - 1:02pm

    Mark I totally agree. We also need to do it now. After years of prevarication by our leaders, we are losing our edge in this area. If we leave it any longer, no-one will notice except to say – “Much too little. Much too late.”

  • I also agree. As things stand, Lib Dems aren’t getting my vote for the first time in 20 years: just too loud on areas where I don’t agree with them, and too timid where I want them to shout louder such as on roadmap back to Europe.

    2 strategic points:

    1-Labour can’t move till we do, as they did on a second referendum.
    2-If the LDs don’t, someone will. A reverse UKIP will be formed. May be Rejoin EU, may be the Greens, may not be formed yet. But it’s coming and if we don’t shape it then it will inevitably shape us and LDs will miss the moment and get left behind.

  • Martin Gray 11th Dec '22 - 1:47pm

    @tpfkar….Rejoin the EU already exists . At the last two parliamentary by-elections it polled 150 & 270 votes .
    Rejoining the EU would mean eurozone status – an almost impossible sell to the voting public.
    Labour would need to win back those 60 seats it lost at the 19 GE – 52 voted to leave.
    There’s never been any deep affection for the EU for millions of British people – EU election turnouts was mid 30%, the lowest being 24%….The only time the electorate came out in numbers was the referendum itself. FOM facilitated Brexit & gave rise to populist sloganeering that stuck …The euro elections in 2019 should of been a huge warning to parties advocating a 2nd referendum – it was ignored & we paid the price.

  • Mark, you say, “is it time for Liberal Democrats to say what others are whispering: we need to rejoin ?” It most certainly is, although there seems to be a certain silent reluctance amongst the Lib Dem leadership.

    Just so you know, the two parties in government in Scotland aren’t whispering about it, …. they’re shouting about it. “We need to rejoin the EU”…… something which 62% of the Scottish electorate voted for back in 2016.

  • I think a commitment to secure full EU membership would be a mistake. The polls favour the Remainers now, but as was discovered in 2016, the Brexiteers are a formidable political force.

    I think that we stress the aim of re-establishing trading and political cooperation links with the EU. The exact format and structure of those links are left to detailed negotiations.

    Once some sort of arrangement is in place Remainers stress the benefits that are accrued and the further benefits that would result from full membership. The British public has never been properly educated about the EU.

    I think also, that it is important than we stress now that the binary nature of the 2016 referendum was a major error. Most people’s view of the EU is more nuanced than a simple in-out. This was not reflected on the referendum ballot paper and should be remedied in all discussions and decisions going forward.

  • Barry Lofty 11th Dec '22 - 2:38pm

    I agree with Mark Argent and regarding the massive lead in the polls for Labour I also agree that much of it is down to the unpopularity of the Tory party and why not, they have been nothing short of a disaster especially since the last election, still plenty of room for the Lib Dems to improve their ratings IF they play their cards right?

  • George Thomas 11th Dec '22 - 3:08pm

    “I think that we stress the aim of re-establishing trading and political cooperation links with the EU. The exact format and structure of those links are left to detailed negotiations.”

    I agree with this. I would add that The EU we left no longer exists; it wasn’t perfect when we were in it (hence David Cameron suggesting “remain and reform” as opposite choice to Brexit) and it’s been changing without our influence for several years now.

    LD’s don’t have to be party of rejoin at the moment, just have to want a closer relationship that Labour or Tories.

  • Stephen Skinner 11th Dec '22 - 3:23pm

    With regard to Martin Gray’s comments about the low turnout at European Parliament Elections in the UK, how do you square this with the turnout at this year’s Lib Dem Presidential elections? Only 14% voted, just over 9,000 people. As for the Euro Elections in 2019, the Lib Dems did well at them. The failure in the 2019 General Election wasn’t only due to the EU policy but our leader who was deeply unpopular.

  • John McHugo 11th Dec '22 - 3:33pm

    What we need is a policy that would put us closer to the EU than the other two parties, and at the same time embarrass them.

    How about the following suggestion: ask the Government to provide compensation for businesses that have suffered as a result of Brexit.

  • Jenny Barnes 11th Dec '22 - 3:34pm

    We clearly wouldn’t be able to get the same deal we had before leaving. In particular we would probably have to join the Euro. While I voted remain, there is no way I could support a deal that gave up our own currency. Single Market, FoM, Customs union all ok, but without our own fiat currency we would be at risk of turning into Greece, only without the sunshine.

  • A fall in support for Brexit does not mean an increase in support for rejoin. The Tory media would dream up all sorts of fake stories that would hurt our chances of winning in places like Cornwall and Powys. What little media time we get should be aimed at cost of living NHS etc.

  • Alex Macfie 11th Dec '22 - 5:13pm

    People don’t vote for single-issue parties, unless they are advocating something that a large proportion of people consider a high priority and that no mainstream party is advocating. This means that the prospects of the “Rejoin EU” party are close to nil. Rejoining the EU is not something that can happen immediately; it isn’t a prioirty even among people who think Brexit was a bad idea, and it is part of the policy platforms of several mainstream political parties. Regardless of whether you think the Lib Dems shout loudly enough about it, the fact is that the party supports rejoining the EU as a long-term aspiration. Green Party is similar. To be saying “I’m not voting Lib Dem because we’re not shouting loudly enough about it” and potentially voting for some microparty instead is childish and futile.

  • The UK could join the European Free Trade Association (EFTA). It could then participate in the EEA agreement,an arrangement bringing together the EFTA member states with the EU in a single market. Non-EU countries are expected to adhere to EU laws covering the free movement of goods, services, persons and capital.
    The EEA is well established and the obligations and benefits are clear. It would offer valuable certainty and clarity about the future.
    Although inside the EEA single market, the UK would remain outside the customs union with a free trade agreement Frequently asked questions on EFTA, the EEA, EFTA membership and Brexit

  • We should be saying loud and clear that we want to rejoin the EEA, single market and customs union and highlighting that Brexit isn’t working.

    Until recently it was said that you couldn’t question the relevance of this party because of the stance taken on Iraq, the financial crisis and Brexit. Now however it is hard to say what the party is actually for at all which is reflected in the polls.

  • Leek Liberal 11th Dec '22 - 7:00pm

    Closer links with the EU is the elephant in Ed Davey’s room. As we languish in the polls, occasionally being below the ghastly Reform Party, he is failing to take advantage of Labour’s fear of offending his red wall voters. A clear pushing of the UK’s need to come to a less punishing Brexit arrangement with the EU could garner Labour and soft-Tory votes to our great advantage. Why are we hearing nothing from him?

  • We have to let this develop naturally, do no force it, advocate another referendum yes but no more. If we do as the submission suggests we will stay at 12 per cent and 12 MPs

  • Peter Watson 11th Dec '22 - 11:02pm

    @Alex Macfie “the party supports rejoining the EU as a long-term aspiration”
    Depressingly, that reminds me that “aspiration” was also used to describe the Lib Dem position on scrapping tuition fees sometime after … well, we all know what and how that panned out! 🙁

  • Peter Watson 11th Dec '22 - 11:17pm

    @Joe Bourke “The UK could join the European Free Trade Association (EFTA).”
    I predicted the outcome of the 2016 referendum, but I was completely wrong about what would happen afterwards. I expected some sort of soft “Brexit-in-name-only” compromise such as this, rather than the “all or nothing” gamble of the Remain campaign.
    While I did not agree with the “one-trick pony” Lib Dem strategy after 2016 of only talking about stopping Brexit, I feel the party has swung too far in the opposite direction by not talking at all about rejoining.
    It beggars belief that Lib Dems can appear so directionless on the policy with which they have chosen to define themselves since the coalition!

  • Colin Bloodworth 12th Dec '22 - 1:01am

    Agree that a return to Europe is critical. Brexit was a huge gift from Boris Johnson to Putin. It probably even encouraged him to attack Ukraine, believing that the EU was now too weak to resist. Countries bordering and close to Russia are clamoring to join the EU while Britain is now left out in the cold. It’s time to eat some humble pie and join the queue to get back in!

  • Martin Gray 12th Dec '22 - 7:18am

    Brexit party dominated the 19 EU elections – that should of rung alarm bells , but alas it didn’t …The we know best brigade handed Johnson Brexit on a plate …
    EEA single market CU etc would mean FOM – even now that would be a difficult sell on the doorstep. As for the eurozone – you can forget that , anyone who thinks the British public would agree to that has obviously never canvassed !

  • Roger Roberts 12th Dec '22 - 7:47am

    On Saturday I attended a Chutrch event with my Euro star bag The lady at the Till who had already told me she was inclined to vote Lib Dem, on seeing my bag “That clinches it – you have my vote. Rejoining the E.U. is not only the right and necessary thing to do but, I believe, a long term vote winner!”

  • Chris Moore 12th Dec '22 - 9:01am

    Oh dear, we are now going to base our electoral strategy on the huge, highly representative sample of the lady at the till at the church. Another psephological disaster in the making.

    We can only have an influence on Britain’s future direction, if we increase significantly our representation in parliament.

    Our single issue stance at the last election was very unpopular and predictably so. Nobody at the top of the party wanted to hear from those few of us who tried to draw some basic psephological facts to the attention of leadership.

    I agree with Martin: we do need to point out Brexit damage; we do need to argue for closer relations with Europe. Those are givens, in my opinion.

    But what we don’t need is to centre our campaign on this. Overall, there are few voters who make Europe a top priority. And those few who do – like the lady at the till – often already vote for us.

    We need support from Leavers to get us across the line in many constituencies: we were able to do this at the three winning by-elections, two in Leave territory and one in Remain, by focusing relentlessly on everyday issues: ambulance times, GP appointments, river pollution etc. Remember in Remain constituencies there are large minorities of Leave voters. We can’t do without them.

    Triangulation suggests we don’t to be strident or make unrealisable promises on Europe to win a significant percentage of Remain voters. We are the most pro-European party already.

  • Barry Lofty 12th Dec '22 - 9:42am

    I do not think there are many of us who would advocate going into an election campaign solely on the basis of rejoin, but there is no harm in the party highlighting the many negatives inflicted on us all due to the Brexit vote, that , and the appalling mess Johnson, Truss and others in their party have put our country into should also be part of the mix.

  • Chris Moore 12th Dec ’22 – 9:01am……….We can only have an influence on Britain’s future direction, if we increase significantly our representation in parliament….

    Exactly! To do that we must trade on this government’s failures on the things that actually exercise voters: cost of living, NHS, the ‘heat or eat’ dilemma facing many ordinary people, etc.
    We should not shy away from the fact that ‘governments lose elections’ rather than opposition parties winning them. Attacking their record on their ineptitude and intransigence will lead to the ‘but what would you do differently?” question. However, using ‘Rejoin the EU’ as a panacea, or even the first response, will result in losing far many more ‘undecideds’ than conversions.

  • Much as I’d love us to return to the EU as if we’d never left, that’s unlikely to happen for the moment (if at all).

    EFTA makes a lot more sense right now, bringing us back into the EEA and hopefully easing or resolving a lot of issues such as Northern Ireland and the increased costs and bureaucracy imposed on trade, to name but two. It’s probably also the easiest option to sell to many Leavers, given it was an option popular with many Brexiters before they all began to try and out-Brexit each other with more and more extreme forms of leaving.

    There’s also an argument to be made that bringing the UK back into EFTA would also provide the organisation with more political clout and influence.

  • We shouldn’t assume that voters will refuse to vote for us just because they disagree with one policy even if they are very annoyed about it.

    What studies have been done into the 2019 election suggest that where the Lib Dems went wrong was not telling voters what they stood for apart from stopping Brexit.

    Nobody is advocating becoming a single issue party. The key is to have a range of memorable policies of which reversing Brexit or parts of it is one.

  • Vigorous campaign to Rejoin now means LD MPs in single figures. Woopee!

    Please try to temper your enthusiasm with a smidgeon of psephological understanding.

  • Arthur Clive Trussel 12th Dec '22 - 11:42am

    Many people feel lost and without hope
    We must make very clear that we are the party to go to if people feel that the decision was wrong and that they would like to join a friendly Party that will endeavour to get closer to the EU; and perhaps, if the majority is there for it – another chance to vote.

  • A bit of a conceit, surely, to think that ordinary voters care what a small self-selecting group of people say on a partisan blog, let alone base their voting decisions on it. Our poll ratings are mostly determined by media cut-through, and do not reflect what happens during an election campaign when people are forced to think about who can win locally. Thus, Lib Dems getting fewer votes than Reform? Not going to happen in a real nationwide election.

  • mark sullivan 12th Dec '22 - 12:21pm

    Davey’s Lib Dems seem scarred by the 2019 election and the false lure of “Get(ting) Brexit Done”. But now we know, if we didn’t already, that Brexit can never be done – it’s not only directly damaging, but also indirectly – by forcing policy into all sorts of contortions in a continually failing attempt to make the ideology work.

  • Peter Davies 12th Dec '22 - 1:20pm

    The Tories and their propaganda sheets will tell anyone who dislikes the idea that we want to rejoin the EU. We can’t deny it convincingly. Those who agree with us will only convert that into votes if we are strident and consistent on the subject.

  • Peter Martin 12th Dec '22 - 2:03pm

    @ Tom Arms,

    “The British public has never been properly educated about the EU”.

    I’d have to agree.

    For example, some remainers/rejoiners are saying that “Nothing says ‘backwards Brexit Britain’ better than a new coal mine” Google {brexit cumbrian mine}

    If they had been better informed they might be aware that in Germany, a wind farm has been dismantled to make way for an expanded lignite coal mine. Google {germany dismantling wind turbines}

  • Michael Chandler 12th Dec '22 - 2:34pm

    There will, I think, be two issues that will fought over in the next GE. The #1 issue at the next election will be the state of the economy and how, based on the current evidence and projections, the economy is now weaker. The #2 issue will be the decline in the UKs political standing in the world.

    Both of these issues are inextricably linked to brexit. No election campaign or manifesto can ignore this. And, while there is an argument to be had about whether the electorate is open to the argument that the UK should rejoin the EU, there is no doubt that voters see the current relationship as economically and politically bad for the UK.

    The Tories and Labour seem to want to keep the EU not just at a arms length but a 10′ barge pole away from the UK. The relationship with the EU, that they seem to want, is delusional. Neither offer a real solution.

    Voters are looking for a solution which will help the UKs economy and political standing and one of things that was clear from the North Shropshire and Tiverton & Honiton by-elections is that there is a large swathe of voters who are tired of the sleaze and lack of decency in the Tory party and are not happy with with being taken for granted by both the Tories and Labour.

    It seems to me that the Liberal Democrats can build on this

  • If a declaration of our desire to re-join the EU ‘will radically increase our appeal might I ask why, when this party is already well known for ‘re-join’ (We can’t deny it convincingly), our current standing is so poor…

  • Nigel Jones 12th Dec '22 - 4:17pm

    Tactics are important and must take account of our relationship with the EU being such an emotional issue, not just about facts and our standing in the world. Layla Moran spoke well about it on Any Questions last Friday, essentially that we plug away at information about the negative effects of Brexit and the benefits of a closer relationship; then as more people come to agree these, we can start talking about a formal closer relationship overall and eventually about rejoining. Tom Arms suggests this above.
    I seem to remember that for decades, the Brexiteers kept dripping over and over again, criticism of the EU and blaming it for our woes but were not explicit about a vote to leave until they felt that would get traction.

  • Martin Gray 12th Dec '22 - 5:01pm

    @michael chandler …
    I’m not sure someone struggling to get a GP appointment , someone on the housing waiting list , someone waiting for an op – is at all concerned about Britain’s standing in the world . They couldn’t give a fig about being at the big boys table – spouting meaningless political speak…

  • @ Alex Macfie “Lib Dems getting fewer votes than Reform? Not going to happen”

    Why are you so sure? In 2015 UKIP got more votes than the Lib Dems. Indeed I am surprised that people are so dismissive of the prospects of single issue parties given Farage’s success with them. He’s now aiming for another comeback…

    Furthermore if 1 in 5 remain voters rallied round one of the anti-Brexit “microparties” then they would outpoll the Lib Dems at the moment.

  • Michael Chandler 12th Dec '22 - 9:12pm

    @martin gray the UKs standing in the world is not about being at a “big boys table” It is about the UK’s status as a democratic country with a competent government which follows the rules of law.

    Successive Tory governments have trashed that reputational status. As an example, the Tory government under Johnson agreed a treaty with the EU and Parliament voted it into law. Subsequently, the government has said that it plans to unilaterally abrogate parts of that treaty.

    The governments of countries around the world may wonder whether a treaty with the UK on, for example, trade is going to be worth the paper that it is written on. And companies that might have thought about investing here could be put off by the worry
    of arbitrary and inconsistent laws and regulations.

    The Uks political standing in the world is very much related to its economic well-being and that is connected to having enough GPs available for appointments, having enough doctors, nurses and ancillary staff in hospitals to reduce waiting times to a minimum and having the resources to build decent social housing for people.

  • <This is all very interesting. But like so much LD thinking it is marginal and too retrospective. Now is the time to take a more prominent role in a more prominent but still neglected topic. I mean PR.

    We are all indebted to the Boris Johnson for conspicuously demonstrating how dangerous, and how ludicrous our electoral system is. The first party to draw attention to that fact would certainly, I consider, get far more attention by pointing a searchlight on what will soon be with us. I mean PR.

    There will, I suggest, be about ten parties jostling for influence and strength. Who will lead them as PM? How will an annual Budget work? Will Caroline Lucas's suggestion that Economic interest should shift from the profiteering parties' GDP to what we might call the Man in the Street's National Income figures. That will better serve a PR Government. And its populace.

    And that is the direction our party should be looking and talking and taking. Might it even help us to forget Big Bad Brexit, simply by our getting less unlike all our natural and national friends; more savvy , and more united, within our borders and beyond?

  • David Garlick 13th Dec '22 - 10:53am

    WE are in favour and that should be plain to see as a Policy decision. It needs to be tempered by the When it is right and When it makes sense for the UK. That then requires it to be right for the EU!

  • Peter Watson 13th Dec '22 - 12:49pm

    @Marco “Nobody is advocating becoming a single issue party. The key is to have a range of memorable policies of which reversing Brexit or parts of it is one.”
    Frankly, it seems bizarre – and it damages the party’s already weakened credibility – that the leader can declare that the Lib Dems “are not a rejoin party” given its stance in recent years.
    Even this thread seems to show a shared desire to rejoin the EU – perhaps the only thing on which Lib Dems agree! 😉 – but a debate over whether or not to keep the party’s principles a secret from the voters! 🙁
    I don’t understand why it is so hard to say – if asked about EU membership – “Of course, Lib Dems want to rejoin the EU”, while also avoiding the mistake in 2017 and 2019 of responding to every question about every topic with an answer about Brexit!

  • Now is not the time to come out in favour of rejoining the EU even if we said that it would only happen after a referendum in favour of joining. Doing so would be a repeat of the mistake we made on revoking Brexit without a referendum in 2019. I am surprised members have not learnt the lesson of 2019 no matter how keen they are to rejoin the EU.

    Jenny Barnes is correct we will not be able to get the great deal we had before we left and it is unlikely that the public would support us committing to give up the pound and use the Euro.

    I think we should come out in favour of joining the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and joining the Single Market only after a vote to do so in a referendum.

    There was a majority to leave the EU in 2016 referendum and any move to bring back membership of the Single Market with us having little say or influence on any new rules and regulations and accepting the four freedoms should involve a referendum. In 2019 we said we would revoke Brexit if we had a majority in Parliament. This was unrealistic but it did mean that the public would have a vote on the issue in that general election.

    Liberals trust the people and therefore we should support referendums. In the same way we support general elections but have not won a majority in one since 1906.

  • Peter Watson 13th Dec '22 - 10:29pm

    @Martin “that is the conference ratified policy”
    Sadly, based upon conference votes on grammar schools and faith schools that I often mention, my impression is that there is a significant gap between what party members vote for at conference and what their representatives choose to tell voters about, to the extent that I am not sure of the status of those conference-supported so-called “policies”. 🙁

  • @Marco: In 2015 no mainstream party supported withdrawal from the EU. UKIP is thus an exceptional case as I mentioned where single-issue parties can succeed. Having a unique policy position is a necessary but not sufficient condition for success by a single-issue party — the Pro-Life Alliance failed because although its anti-abortion platform differentiated it from all mainstream parties in Great Britain, it was not and is not a popular policy position, and not one that shifts votes here (unlike in, say, the US).

    Rejoin EU’s one policy is neither unique nor (at present) popular. While rejoining the EU is likely to become an increasingly popular position in the next few years, it is already part of the platform of several mainstream political parties, including the Lib Dems. There is thus no need for a party like Rejoin EU. So the scenario of 1 in 5 remainers supporting them isn’t at all likely.

  • @ Alex Macfie – I would say the reason the anti Brexit parties aren’t making a breakthrough is due to a lack of financial backing and a low profile. However it is not fanciful to think that a rejoin party backed by a figure such as Gina Miller could get to 10% in the polls.

    The problem at the moment is our silence about the impact of Brexit (debates about whether it should be the EU EEA or EFTA we rejoin may miss the point a bit). Saying we have a long term aim doesn’t cut the mustard hence the low poll %.

  • Martin,

    This article calls for the party to come out in favour of rejoining the EU. Therefore Mark Argent and many of those who have commented do not think “we have come out in favour of rejoining the EU”. Party policy is “to support for a longer-term objective of UK membership of the EU, and to recommend roadmaps for the UK to rejoin the Customs Union, Single Market and other EU agencies and programmes as appropriate”.

    You posted a link to the Policy Paper 144 “Rebuilding Trade and Cooperation with Europe” passed at our Spring Conference which you described as a good policy. It sets out a four stage process. Stage four is applying to join the Single Market not rejoining the EU. There is no timescale for this process. The paper does state we should apply to join the EFTA as a preliminary to joining the Single Market.

    While there is no timescale for joining the Single Market, joining the EU is not even in the process.

  • Peter Hirst 15th Dec '22 - 3:08pm

    We also need to be aware of the political landscape. It will be interesting to see how Rejoinuk do in today’s by-election. We run the risk of being out flanked by a pro-rejoin Party with a clear position on one of the defining issues of this decade. There is little to lose in more clearly defining our policy with regard to collaboration with the EU.

  • Alex Macfie 15th Dec '22 - 6:30pm

    @Marco: James Goldsmith’s Referendum Party secured just 2.6% of the vote nationwide in 1997. The idea that big money can lead a microparty to breakthrough is a myth in this country. All the money in the world will not help if the party has no grassroots organisation. Political parties succeed thorugh bottom-up not top-down organisation.
    Of course while the Referendum Party itself failed (it disbanded soon after the 1997 GE) its supporters achieved their objective some 20 years later; however, this was principally through moving the main parties (principally the Tories) towards their position, not through direct success at the ballot box by small single-issue parties (except UKIP/Brexit in Euro-elections, but that was a proxy since the European Parliament has no powers to either force national referendms or affect a country’s membership of the EU).

    I’d fogotten there was a Parliamentary by-election today. I certainly haven’t seen any call to acion on it from Lib Dem HQ. It’ll be similar to City of Chester 2 weeks ago, with us running a campaign in wards where we are normally strong to consolidate our vote. At Chester we increased our vote share and saved our deposit. As for Rejoin UK, I’d be most surprised if it got more than the ~1% that it obtained in City of Chester.

  • Alex Macfie 15th Dec '22 - 6:31pm

    s/Rejoin UK/Rejoin EU/

  • Andrew Tampion 16th Dec '22 - 7:09am

    Peter Hirst & Martin:
    In the Stretford and Urmaston by-election Rejoin EU secured 1.3% of the votes cast, less than half the votes secured by Reform UK (formerly known as the Brexit Party) who got 3.5%. The Liberal Democrats secured 3.6% (in fact only 9 votes ahead of Reform UK).
    I leave readers to draw their own conclusions.

  • Peter Watson 16th Dec '22 - 8:59am

    Perhaps (perhaps!) it is noteworthy that the Greens – who increased their vote share and pushed the Lib Dems into 4th place – manage to have a policy of rejoining the EU while not being a one-trick pony (well, not that one trick, anyway! 😉 ).

  • To get 3.6% and a lost deposit is a poor result. 659 votes represents the activist base in the seat and little more than that. Talk of “focusing on wards where we strong” does not face up to the reality that in many parts of the country the core Lib Dem vote is almost non-existent.

    It is clear that the party needs to give people better reasons to vote for it. In the 90’s there were byelections where the LD vote went up more than the Lab vote.

  • Three-quarters of the fall in the Libdems vote share can be explained by the intervention of Rejoin & The SDP. 4 Weeks ago our share went up in a similar By-election. I don’t attach much significance to either result.

    In General Elections our Polling often improves as the Media are forced to give us more coverage.

  • Stretford was the sort of seat where betweern 1979 and 2010 we would have come second with about 35 – 40% of the vote. In those days we made an effort.
    Not now it seems, simply if you do not put in the work you will be punished.
    The party needs to review its attitude towards by elections and quickly. This sort of result is an acute embarrasment.

  • Peter Martin 16th Dec '22 - 10:50am

    The turnout of 25.8% of the electorate, at a time of political and economic turmoil, is perhaps the most significant number of all. This means that almost 3 in every 4 registered electors couldn’t find enough motivation to turn out and vote. There will be plenty of others who haven’t even got as far as registering. The “they are all the same” party won comfortably.

    If any party can whip up some enthusiasm at the next election there are potentially more than 50,000 votes to be gained.

  • I am surprised by the reaction by some to the result in Stretford and Urmaston. Do you want the party to focus its effort on target and Blue Wall seats? Or do you think we should be throwing all our resources at every single seat?
    My post about the Win As Won campaign ( drew support here. Although many of us are against the kind of progressive alliance in which parties do not put up candidates in some seats, I think we all support tactical voting. And that surely is what happened in this by-election. It was nothing to do with Brexit but everything to do with making sure the Tories were defeated. If I had been a voter I might well have used my vote tactically.

  • Alex Macfie 16th Dec '22 - 1:27pm

    The highest ever vote share for the Lib Dems in Stretford & Urmaston was 16.9% in 2010.
    It has never been the case that we would fight every Parliamentary by-election to win. We just remember the ones where we did win. There were several by-elections in the 1992–1997 Parliament, the last time the Tories were in power and deeply unpopular, where we did poorly and left the field to Labour, e.g. South East Staffordshire (present-day Tamworth constituency) 1996, where our vote share more than halved to 4.7% and Labour won with a 22% swing from the Tories. South Ribble in 1997 (shortly before the GE) was similar. In the 1987 Parliament the 1990 Mid-Staffs by-election springs to mind (although in that one we had the complication of the SDP tick).
    No-one (except political nerds) is going to care about our performance in this by-election. We went on to win North Shropshire soon after flopping in OB&S. As for the low turnout in S&U, most likely it was seen as a foregone conclusoin.

  • Peter Hirst 16th Dec '22 - 1:31pm

    It was a disappointing result for everyone bar Labour and perhaps the Greens. Turning out when you have no chance of winning requires commitment. If we continue without a defined national message we run the risk of the latter overtaking us and that would be a shame.

  • Peter Watson 16th Dec '22 - 2:06pm

    @Mary Reid “Do you want the party to focus its effort on target and Blue Wall seats? Or do you think we should be throwing all our resources at every single seat?”
    Is it really a binary choice between those two options?
    I understand the need to target limited resources, but the party’s overwhelming focus on its Blue Wall strategy risks making Lib Dems look increasingly irrelevant to anybody who is not a soft Tory and/or living relatively comfortably in the home counties. 🙁

  • Peter Watson 16th Dec '22 - 2:25pm

    @Peter Watson “I understand the need to target limited resources…”
    Bad netiquette, replying to myself, but on reflection, I think the problem is perhaps not so much the targeting of limited resources, but more the narrow breadth of the messaging of the party.
    Not talking about whether or not Lib Dems want to rejoin the EU – indeed, giving the impression that they do not – is one symptom of this, but what other Lib Dem ideas are suppressed or even reversed in order to avoid scaring those target voters? In Chesham & Amersham, the party opposed HS2 and development. Conference votes against academic and faith-based selection by schools have been ignored. What about Universal or Guaranteed Basic Income?

  • Peter Martin 16th Dec '22 - 3:58pm

    Alex Macafie,

    “As for the low turnout in S&U, most likely it was seen as a foregone conclusion.”

    There have been many elections where everyone has known well in advance who was going to win but have had much larger turnouts.

    The ultra low turnout is a sign of the widespread discontent, and disillusion, with all mainstream political parties. I often listen to the political conversations in my local pub. The opportunities for those on what might be termed the extreme right or left have never been higher. Unfortunately the former are in pole position and can only get stronger as the international economic crisis worsens.

  • Alex Macfie 16th Dec '22 - 4:11pm

    In my comment of 16th Dec ’22 – 1:27pm, I meant “Wirral South”, not “South Ribble”.

  • Nonconformistradical 16th Dec '22 - 4:33pm

    I share the concerns of Peter Watson 16th Dec ’22 – 2:06pm

    Also on the turnout figure – what was the weather like and I wonder what the turnout among postal voters was.

  • Chris Moore 16th Dec '22 - 4:40pm

    What a meal is being made out of a no-hoper by-election for the LDs! No general conclusion can be drawn.

    We didn’t campaign and rightly so.

    If we have a promising seat, we will campaign and we will win.

    It’s like 95-97 again: Tories very unpopular, Labour riding high in the polls, LDs getting scant media attention with poor poll ratings. Don’t panic!

    We must hold our nerve and focus relentlessly on the sort of bread-and-butter issues that are so important for electors currently: not the sort of issues that excite LD activists: i.e. PR and Rejoin.

  • Chris Moore 16th Dec '22 - 5:02pm

    @Peter Watson: Blue Wall is merely a graphic metaphor, that has been taken up by media and heavierweight political analysts. So a success in that sense, which is helping in bringing positive media attention in the relevant seats.

    There are many LD target seats outside the home counties. And also active parties gaining ground locally outside realistic target seats for 2024. Let’s not invent a problem, where there isn’t one.

  • If we aren’t going to campaign we might as well not stand a candidate as a lost deposit is a waste of people’s donations.

    Tactical voting wasn’t needed in S&U as the Tories have never come close to winning it unlike some of the other seats mentioned above. People.may want to look up Bradford South and Rotherham from the early 90s.

    The concern is that nationally the LD vote is collapsing into the Lab vote which in a GE could lead to Lab leapfrogging us in target seats.

  • Chris Moore 16th Dec '22 - 7:11pm

    Hi Marco, there were a couple of seats in 97, where Labour overtook us from third. Nonetheless, in general, voters knew who to vote for tactically.

    Our vote isn’t collapsing. Let’s not exaggerate.

    Beat on against the current. It’s Labours moment, but we are not out. Our moment will come.

  • Peter Watson 16th Dec '22 - 7:48pm

    @Chris Moore “Our vote isn’t collapsing.”
    Agreed. But that’s largely because it collapsed a decade ago, and the problem is that its recovery is still far from certain! 🙁

  • Chris Moore 17th Dec '22 - 9:27am

    Yes, recovery is definitely uncertain.

    We will only recover, if we are relevant to voters’ concerns: we mustn’t believe the voters as a whole have the same priorities as LD members.

    Only tiny fractions of the electorate salivate over PR and Rejoin and they already mostly vote for us.

  • Peter Martin 20th Dec '22 - 9:05am

    “The Cost of Living crisis is partly about the invasion of Ukraine, and partly about the fallout of Covid19, but Brexit is adding a whole extra layer of self-inflicted pain — pushing up inflation and reducing growth.”

    We’ve seen a lot of similar claims recently. Which would be fair enough if they were true. But are they? Maybe it is my scientific training, but if I were writing on the topic I’d consider it essential to back any statements up with some kind of reference. This would have to be somewhat more credible than something I might have read on the “Rejoin the EU” Facebook page.

    This corresponds with the stated Lib Dem approach which, as I understand it, is that political debate should be fact based, and not based on made-up statistics.

    A simple check via Google reveals that:

    “European Union annual inflation was 11.5% in October 2022, up from 10.9% in September. A year earlier, the rate was 4.4%”

    Also according to the Trading Economics website our inflation rate was slightly lower than the EU average.

  • Peter Martin 20th Dec '22 - 8:04pm

    @ Martin,

    With all due respect to the Centre for European Reform they can hardly be considered impartial. They have a circle of stars as part of their logo. I wouldn’t insult the intelligence of LDV readers by quoting from the European Reform Group, which might have similar wording in their name but, as we all know, have a totally different viewpoint.

    Can you find something from a more impartial source?

  • I hit the send button too soon on my previous post. My view is that whomever of the two major parties commits to re-joining the single market with a view to eventually re-joining the EU will win the next election. They will split the opposing parties vote so much that the victory will be convincing. However that ground is currently a swamp infested with mines and no one wants to go there. Perhaps they will venture forth when the situation becomes too desperate not too for them closer to the next GE. At the moment the Tories are hoping the country can get through the next 12 months with relatively little damage from recession etc whilst Labour are hoping the Tories will find another rope to potentially hang themselves on. When neither event occurs there may a rush into the swamp of Brexit as the only thing to swing the voters their way.

  • In fact thinking about this a little more, if the LibDems were to take the official line of re-joining the single market / EU they would have little to loose and potentially a lot more to gain. There is no way they can win an election so they are not risking loosing power in some way because they have none. However, if they took the official pro EU stance they would collect votes from both labour and tory potentially increasing their number of seats significantly. So really, this Brexit swamp is nowhere near as dangerous to the LibDems as it is to other parties.

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