Is Vince Cable right to say that there is a 20% chance Brexit won’t happen?

Vince Cable told Sky News’ Niall Paterson this morning that there was a 20% chance that Brexit wouldn’t happen. He said:

The government is of course pressing ahead with negotiations but the sheer complexity, the practical difficulties, the fact that government is internally divided – we may get to the middle of next year and find this is just a horrible mess and there will be a growing political mood in the country and in parliament to find a way out and that’s why we think at the end of the day the public should have a choice as to whether they want to go ahead with Brexit when we’ve discovered what it’s about or whether they want an exit from Brexit.

I’ve been thinking for some time that we need a bit of a better roadmap to show the public exactly how it is possible to get out of this mess. Half the country, if it’s watching the news at all, is doing so from behind a cushion but is shrugging its shoulders because it thinks the course is set and that a damaging Brexit is inevitable.

I think that’s partly why Lord Kerr’s intervention the other week was helpful because it reminded people that Article 50 was revocable. We can actually get out of this mess if we want to. And he should know, given that he wrote the clause in question. Let’s remind ourselves of what he said:

It is not irrevocable.

You can change your mind while the process is going on.

During that period, if a country were to decide actually we don’t want to leave after all, everybody would be very cross about it being a waste of time.

They might try to extract a political price but legally they couldn’t insist that you leave.

Vince mentioned the practical difficulties and the “horrible mess” of it all. This was evident in the entirely divergent positions proffered by Ruth Davidson and Liam Fox just half an hour apart this morning.

Ruth was sent to be all smiley and unworried on Marr. We shouldn’t worry, she told us, because it would all be fine. We would end up with a bespoke deal with the EU which would be different than they had offered any other country because we were the only ones who had left.

Yes, wonder how that would work, Ruth.

As far as the Irish situation was concerned, again, we shouldn’t worry, ti would all be sorted within a couple of weeks.

I’ll take the precaution of continuing to breathe because I think that might be wise. Especially because Liam Fox, rambling round New Zealand in search of a trade deal, said something quite different:

Ruth also laughed off the dire OBR projections. It’ll all be fine when we get the actual figures, she said. Do you know who she reminded me of? Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon who, when confronted with some obvious flaw in their independence plans just smiled and pretty much said “It’ll all be fine.”

I think that what Vince needs to do now is not just say that we might get out of Brexit, but provide a fairly detailed roadmap as to how that happens. How do we actually gat the Government to agree to give the people the final say on the deal? We need some lovely graphic with lots of roads leading off to hell and handcarts and cliff edges and one  to a nice verdant sunny upland of Exit from Brexit with some key points along the way. The dots need to be joined up so that people can understand exactly how we could change course and stay in the EU and it’s up to us to do that work.


* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Tony Greaves 26th Nov '17 - 9:48pm

    There are people in the party working on it (a possible road map out of the swamp), including some in the Lords.

  • Pretty much the only road map is to withdraw the Art 50 notice though.

  • OnceALibDem 26th Nov ’17 – 10:47pm…………..Pretty much the only road map is to withdraw the Art 50 notice though……………

    Vince Cable says that there is a 20% chance Brexit won’t happen? Well ‘almost’ 20% of our MPS (Norman Lamb and Greg Mulholland) abstained from the vote on the Government’s proposed Article 50 Bill.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 27th Nov '17 - 12:41am

    Very strongly agree with the sentiment or substance of the article. But think Caron is very nice to think diagrams etc., might do it, think a bit more than that may be needed !

    Sir Vince and the team need to be more persuasive and the doom and gloom needs to be more about positive alternative ways forward.

    It can be done but it is a hard one.

    As for the percentage, I shall leave the figures to our economic wizard of a leader!

  • Tristan Ward 27th Nov '17 - 8:31am

    Our job “on the ground” is to help prepare the ground, to help make easier for public opinion to shift. We have to highlight the problems with Brexit and (somehow) argue the pro EU case. Every party member can play their part here, and in my experience there is enough of a receptive audience to make it worth doing. Last weekend I was at an installation of our new vicar. The local Tory district councillor asked to be put in touch with the local non-political pep EU group, and I had a spontainious offer to deliver leaflets from a local resident.

  • We need to argue the case for remaining in the EU…OK; where and how?

    Through the TV media? We have become a fringe party and TV invites are few and far between…
    Through the newspapers? Most are rabid pro-leave; even the ‘Guardian’ gives us little space…
    Through social media? The vast majority of users are the young and they left us in droves for Labour after our betrayal…
    Face to face? I’ve tried and Caron’s depiction of Ruth Davison could cover most of those in my ‘leaver circle’; an almost unshakeable belief that ‘things will work out for the best’…

    Our best hope is the utter incompetence of our negotiators to get anything right…After all, with Davis, Fox, Gove and Johnson ( overseen by Theresa (strong and stable) May), a
    “Party” in a brewery would be too much…

    I’m putting my hope in humming “Big Yellow Taxi”…You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone!

  • If the Irish situation is not resolved the position is difficult for the government. The customs/market border has to be somewhere. The DUP will not stand for it being the Irish Sea and Ireland (both bits) will not stand for it being between North and South. The odds of Brexiteers in the cabinet standing for remaining in the Single Market and Customs Union, the obvious solution, are remote. It could be the excuse for Theresa May to withdraw the Article 50 notice.

  • Steve Trevethan 27th Nov '17 - 10:36am

    Yes, the Irish border is serious for the government. It is even more serious for the citizens of Ireland, with “punishment” shooting increasing markedly.

    Might it be worth our changing policy to supporting the Norway model which would comply with the recent referendum, maintain economic agreements and reduce the likelihood of sectarian violence?
    We might get others, including some Conservatives, to join in with this approach.

    If we just abandon our trade agreements with Europe, how likely are others to trust our
    future agreements?

  • The “roadmap” leads so far offroad that it can be hardly drawn and neither conveyed nor marketed to the general public. What is required is nothing less than a coup d’etat by representative democracy overturning the rule of populism.

    No Tory-leader will support a second referendum or revoke Article 50 as May would not survive this, and no remainer can win the support of this party’s sclerotic membership.

    Therefore, a Corbyn-led majority is required first. That cannot be brought-about by the Brexit-question, as an open change in course by Labour would still be premature. I am confident that his team taking over the EU-negotiations will result in remaining, but Corbyn is not quite there yet.

    So a LibDem-roadmap would have support for Corbyn in a no-confidence-vote without a clear remain (or second referendum) -condition attached as a first step. I would fully support this, but it cannot be announced or proposed beforehand. The ensuing healthy chaos would scare even ardent remainers more than having a seemingly functioning Brexit Government.

    I hope the EU (or at least the Republic of Ireland) understands its unique chance to bring down this Government between now and March of next year and declares progress as insufficient. Better let them control the roadmap.

  • I wouldn’t dare suggest that you are a bunch of bad losers!

  • Yeovil Yokel 27th Nov '17 - 2:06pm

    Peter – we didn’t lose the EU Referendum, it was stolen.

  • Chris Lewcock 27th Nov '17 - 2:36pm

    “1066 and All That” had it about right: “Gladstone…spent his declining years trying to guess the answer to the Irish Question; unfortunately, whenever he was getting warm, the Irish secretly changed the Question.” They may have done it again?

  • Peter Hirst 27th Nov '17 - 2:39pm

    It’s not going to be easy reversing Brexit. First, we need a swing in the opinion polls. To get that people must believe it is possible. Winning by-elections helps. Also well known authorities saying it is in the nation’s interest. We need a sea swell and before it becomes irreversible. I think we need some resignations and defections.

  • Tristan Ward 27th Nov '17 - 3:24pm

    @ expats

    “We need to argue the case for remaining in the EU…OK; where and how?”

    In the way we had to and did before we were in government. “Put on a bit of paper and push it through the door”.

    And the modern equivalent – facebook, twitter etc etc – of course.

    If we don’t argue it on the ground nobody else will; and the consequences are potentially so dire that it is our duty to do so. If we do leave the EU we will at least have picked up some committed members/supporters.

  • David Evans 27th Nov '17 - 4:01pm


    Jeremy Corbyn fundamentally believes that the EU is a capitalist conspiracy. If we gave him a chance with no preconditions about EU membership, it would destroy what little is left of Liberal Democracy in the UK, and he would take us out of the EU, scooping up lots of anti EU votes for his extreme version of Labour as well.

    The only chance of remain is simultaneous open rebellion of those Labour and Conservatives with some sense, and as we are now so weak and disliked after the coalition debacle, the chance of that is frighteningly remote (much less than Vince’s 20%).

  • Tell me why it is better to join the Eurozone. Why I should look forward to central EU taxation, control of budgets, more loss of sovereignty and eventual federalisation?

    I’ve never, ever heard these arguments being put forward. Is it because there is nothing positive to say about them? The Lib Dem dream about reversing Brexit is just that, a dream with no positive reason that will ever convince the electorate.

    Most leavers would take any short term financial risk to avoid a lifetime of EU policies like the ones I’ve just listed – and these were not even on the cards at the time of the referendum.

  • David Evans 27th Nov ’17 – 4:01pm………Jeremy Corbyn fundamentally believes that the EU is a capitalist conspiracy. If we gave him a chance with no preconditions about EU membership, it would destroy what little is left of Liberal Democracy in the UK, and he would take us out of the EU, scooping up lots of anti EU votes for his extreme version of Labour as well…………………

    So his ‘7/10’ vote for remaining doesn’t count?
    Instead of ‘making up’ what you think he says, why not listen to what he actually says?

  • jayne Mansfield 27th Nov '17 - 8:30pm

    @ David Evans,
    I wonder if Theresa May has read your post. It would warm the cockles of her heart.

    I feel that you really haven’t really got to grips with the reasons why so many remain voters, myself included, voted Labour in 2015 and 2017.

    Arnold kiel is absolutely correct as far as I am concerned, and whatever one’s misgivings, if one really does believe that leaving the EU is an act of self -destruction, Labour is the party best able to prevent this happening.

    @ Tristan Ward,
    ‘If we do leave the EU at least we will at least have picked up some committed members / supporters’.

    Oh well, every cloud has a silver lining.

  • Peter Martin 27th Nov '17 - 8:47pm

    I’d say the odds of his being right are 4-1 🙂

  • Life in the “Echo Chamber”. An ever decreasing circle.

  • Denis Mollison 27th Nov '17 - 9:43pm

    What on earth are you on about? If we remain, we do not have to do any of the things you imply. And surely we’re beginning to see what utter nonsense the “sovereignty” / “take back control” arguments were, as we lose more and more of the influence our cooperative role in Europe gave us.

  • Arnold Kiel 27th Nov '17 - 9:47pm

    Thank you, jayne Mansfield;
    another thought, David Evans:
    imagine Starmer, Thornberry, Gardiner discussing matters with Barnier with all the competence, charm, and precision those three bring to the table. The atmosphere would change massively. Then imagine them reporting back honestly to the British public, exposing all the difficulties and trade-offs encountered. They would win over the British public within weeks to their conclusion that Brexit is not worth pursuing further. And they would take Corbyn along, because he cannot take over these negotiations: he is lacking understanding, international experience, and the negotiation skills. He would soon give up and go with this positive UK-EU flow.

  • Little Jackie Paper 27th Nov '17 - 9:53pm

    Arnold Kiel – You are Peter Mandelson and I claim my £5.

  • Peter Martin 27th Nov '17 - 10:04pm

    Brexit is going to cause havoc to the UK economy in the next few years. The government is struggling to balance its books and needs to borrow lots of money. But no-one wants to lend us any because they they think they’ll never get it back. Or, if they do, they think it will be repaid in “confetti money”. So interest rates on long term bonds have gone sky -high. Why else would any sensible person want to risk their capital? Right?

    Except it isn’t at all like that. The “market” doesn’t seem to be at all swayed by pro-Remain arguments. The yield on 5 year gilts? Just 0.75% !

  • Peter,

    UK bond holders

    Overseas investors 27%
    Bank of England 23%
    The other 50% is held by Private financial institutions – banks, pension funds, investment trusts and also private households.

    When you can borrow from the Bank of England, debt and bond yield appears not to be the issues you think they are. Now loss of confidence in the currency that could be nasty, but while confidence exists and you have the bank of England available to buy bonds, bond yield really isn’t an issue and neither is debt. The use of Quantitative Easing rather distorts the bond market. In many ways QE is the fabled magic money tree, but it only works if you believe in the fruits of the tree. If you lose a taste for the Sterling fruit, well Zimbabwe beckons.

  • Just to labour a point. As we own the bank of England we are effectively borrowing from ourselves. While the government does pay interest to the BOE on it’s bonds as it owns the bank it’s effectively a closed loop. So when the government says it pays x amount in interest it’s really x – 23%. That means they get to announce good news like this.

    Big cash balances amassed by the Bank of England as a result of its electronic money-creation programme will be used to pay down the national debt by £35bn over the next 18 months, the Treasury has said.

    You could actually at a stroke reduce the national debt by 23% by just cancelling the bonds held by the BoE, but that would never do as politicians wouldn’t be able to scare us with horror stories about how high the national debt was. In a stroke it would be below 70% of GDP. Perhaps Vince and Co should suggest it.

  • No support for the EU dream project, then?

  • Katharine Pindar 28th Nov '17 - 5:03pm

    Peter, I suspect there is not that much support for the ‘EU dream project’ even within the EU. Other states besides ours want some control of their own affairs, as witness the different outlooks of the leaders of Hungary and Poland on democratic leadership. It would be good as Stephen Johnson says to look for movement about internal migration from inside the EU, and this is possible – restricting how long people can stay looking for work, as has been explained on here before. I agree with Stephen too that we should look for more democratic engagement, with not only higher visibility for MEPs but also more power for the Parliament, less for the Commission. If we stay in, I believe we are not going to be facing an inflexible united bloc of states, even within the EZ.

    I also agree with Tristan Ward, that there may well be a silent increase among ordinary people believing that we would do better to stay in. Along with Tristan’s Tory counsellor and the person spontaneously offering to deliver leaflets, I can cite my non-political neighbour who ‘would like another referendum tomorrow!’ to vote to stay, and also the old lady at my church who spontaneously offered to sit on a street stall handing out leaflets and discussing the pro-remain case.

  • Katharine, thank you for your honest answer.

    It made me feel very sad. I have to say that I do not share your confidence that the EU will change for the better. It is not a happy organisation and could get much worse. I feel confident, on the other hand, that any problems associated with Brexit will eventually be overcome and then it will be up to all of us to seek a prosperous future. I would rather have ourselves in control than the EU.

  • Katharine Pindar 28th Nov '17 - 9:40pm

    Well, who can say, Peter? There isn’t much wisdom about, and maybe to feel sad and confused is to show more wisdom than shouting certainty. We certainly do see things very differently. I think we will actually be OUT of control if we leave, a poor diminished land with a begging bowl, being mocked by the big countries we try to make trade deals with, when we’ve opted out of 59 trade deals the EU negotiated for all its states. But I can claim no wisdom. How about, though, the British judge on the European Court of Justice, Ian Forrester, who has told Irish diplomats that he hopes there will be a slow realisation that preparing to leave is a great mistake? Peace be with you, anyway.

  • Arnold Kiel 29th Nov '17 - 7:44am

    do you think that the UK is a “happier” organization than the EU? An interesting yardstick to think about, but a useful one? Of course, the EU is full of tension (but more so than the UK?), but isn’t that its purpose: aligning, as far as possible, diverging interests?

    At least, in the EU, every little country has its say and can influence decisions. Here, a few radicals are bulldozering Government, Government is bulldozering Parliament, and Parliament is, so far, bulldozering openly 48%, in reality 99% of the population.

    I live in Wandsworth. I see sovereign people behind the darkened windows of their Bentleys if I cross the bridge to Chelsea and Kensington, but nowhere else. Nobody who lives on benefits, a minimum wage, tax credits, farming- or fishing subsidies, or even a decent salary is sovereign. No home-owner who struggles with his mortgage and rising costs of living is.

    How on earth can anybody believe that Brexit will improve the struggle of all these people living on the edge? How on earth can anybody entertain the slightly less deluded, but much more cynical illusion that making survival much harder for all these people will make them “happier” because they will be “sovereign”?

  • I doubt if the people of Greece would agree with you. They only remain in the Eurozone because they have no faith in their own politicians to manage a currency.

    I grew up in very severe poverty, much worse than that experienced by the people you mention, without benefits, minimum wage, tax credits or any sort of subsidy yet I was proud to be British and full of optimism that life would get better.

  • Peter,

    and life did get better, but not anymore. Optimism is dying, and if national pride becomes a substitute for economic progress look at history, or current Russia, Hungary, Catalunya etc.

  • Arnold, I thought we were discussing the UK exit from the EU.

  • Richard Underhill 29th Nov '17 - 10:50pm

    Vince Cable was also on Channel r News at about 7.50 pm with a patronising Tory who is some sort of junior minister.

  • Richard Underhill 29th Nov '17 - 11:04pm

    Liam Fox has also said that “They do not want to export”. No surprise really, Harold MacMillan has been quoted by Greg Clark, so ‘SuperMac’ also said “export or die” to the entire business economy. The education sector needs to understand that they must produce export salesmen and women because you can buy in English but you need to sell in the language of the customer.

  • If Greece,or any other country, announced it was leaving the Euro there would be a massive exodus of funds from the country. Think that’s why they stay in as the alternative is much worse on top of disfunctional political set up.

    Every little country may have a say,Arnold, but think they will listened to less and less in the future without major reform of EU structures.

  • Richard Underhill 30th Nov '17 - 9:18am

    It is possible to be in the customs union without being in the single market, that is as much as Turkey achieved under a previous Prime Minister, but she lost the ensuing general election.

  • Richard Underhill 30th Nov '17 - 9:28am

    jayne Mansfield 27th Nov ’17 – 8:30pm: Please see “All out war” When it really matter Jeremy Corbyn was asleep on the job or simply unavailable. In one of his leadership elections he claimed that he had voted to remain, which cannot be checked unless a court orders scrutiny of the ballot papers. He urged supporters to vote to change the EU, which might be beneficial, but was not on the ballot paper.

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