Just in case you thought the ERG was acting on principle…

So Jacob Rees-Mogg, Boris and the rest of the European Research Group of 100 or so Tory backbenchers have been making an almighty fuss about the backstop. They don’t like the part of the EU Withdrawal Agreement that would keep the UK in a temporary customs union in the (highly likely) event of a full trade deal not being agreed by the end of the transition period in December 2020.

It has alway been clear that the EU will, quite rightly, to be honest, not consider any watering down of that commitment. There is no solution to the Irish border problem that doesn’t involve some sort of customs union. It is obvious.

But an article in today’s Mirror suggests that the ERG might give in and vote for May’s deal just to get us out of the EU – on condition that Theresa May goes after the local elections on May 2nd so they have a chance of getting Boris as PM.

Political editor Nigel Nelson suggests:

As things stand at least 20 hardcore ERG backbenchers will not back Mrs May’s deal – either with or without changes to the backstop.

But if they think they can get Boris for PM, it is expected they will back down.

With the ERG on board, and 20 Labour rebels who Mrs May is trying to bribe with cash for their constituencies, the PM will have enough votes to get across the line.

In essence, this doesn’t really change anything because the idea of the ERG caving to get us out has always been a possibility.

But it does give us the chance to reflect on why the deal passing is far from the end of the issue.

As I said the other week, the Deal itself is bloody awful. It kicks so much down the road that we have no idea what sort of economy we will end up with.

Bad as it is, it is a million times worse with an ERG PM driving the trade negotiations. The chance of us welcoming in 2020 (or even before) by jumping off a no deal cliff is high.

But this lot have another agenda. Theresa May is going on about workers’ rights in a bid to appease Labour MPs. Jo Swinson called bullshit on those claims this week.

But the ERG are a whole world of right wing small-state extremism away from even May’s Conservatives. Jacob Rees-Mogg and co praise Singapore, a place where you get 12 weeks maternity leave rather than the 12 months shared parental leave (thanks, Jo), where you only get 2 weeks paid holiday a year and where redundancy protection is not mandatory.

How long will it be before Boris as PM will be telling us that we can’t possibly expect to compete in the world if we don’t roll back workers’ rights? Will the penny drop with the low paid workers who voted Leave then? It will be too late to do anything about it by the time they are being stripped off their rights.

The ERG’s agenda is more to do with turning Britain into a regulation free environment for their rich business pals than anything else. If they get away with it we will all be worse off.

We know that most Tory members are now sympathetic to the ERG position. One of their number will almost certainly be on the ballot.

It’s not difficult to see a situation where the country is being run by them. And if Boris gets it, we’ll need to be very worried indeed given his repetition of Steve Bannon like “deep state” tropes.

In January, he talked about:

I think that people will feel betrayed. And I think they will feel that there has been a great conspiracy by the deep state of the UK, the people who really run the country, to overturn the verdict of the people.

Our Tom Brake took him to task for that at the time…

It serves nobody’s purpose, apart from Boris Johnson’s, to pretend the UK is descending into a Homeland-style showdown between a corrupt state and doomsday preppers.

The irresponsible ratcheting-up of the rhetoric by politicians who should know better has to stop. To resolve the UK’s constitutional and political crisis requires cool not hot heads.

If we don’t want to see a Trump mini-me in Downing Street within a matter of months, we need to act now to stop this nonsense.

I’m getting to the point where I don’t care whether this is by a People’s Vote or by straight out revoking Article 50, but all those sensible MPs who are appalled by what’s going on but have so far not voted against party lines will soon need to stand up and be counted for.

* 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.


  • There is a petiton on the government petition site calling for Article 50 to be revoked if there is no settlement by the 25th February. It had just on 115,000 signatures a few moments ago. Without article 50 would not need another referendum. Suggest Lib Dem Voice publicises immediately, encouraging readers and party members and supporters to sign.

  • The ERG group are nothing but a bunch of self serving hypocrites whose agenda has nothing to do with the best interests of the UK but all to do with their own version of control. There I have said it without all the bad language that normally accompanies my tirades about them

  • Lorenzo Cherin 17th Feb '19 - 1:19pm

    Yes and… not sure.

    The up side to the down side of some degree of staunch laissez-fairism, is civil liberties support on, really important, to them, and genuine, matters of principle.

    Rees-Mogg, was, as Liberal Democrats, supported, though watered down, Home Secretary May’s anti citizenship measures, stripping citizens of rights, a strong opponent, and eloquent proponent of the rights of those effected.

    He is maddening on Brexit, but is not lacking in some basic and genuine philosophy and integrity.

    We must recognise that this is also so worrying, this no deal, at all, not even in sight, we surely would be far better off with something, if the Brexit crowd can compromise, to allow for further negotiation.

  • John Marriott 17th Feb '19 - 3:49pm

    Be careful what verb you use. First start with ‘postpone’ before you consider ‘revoke’. Mind you, my money is still on a deal being struck; but not by May. Oh, I see that Britain’s richest entrepreneur and a Brexiteer to boot, is about to move his business to Monaco. As for Rees Mogg, come on Lorenzo, don’t butter him up. He’s the one who proposed giving Parliament a holiday until 29 March.

  • Tony Greaves 17th Feb '19 - 4:53pm

    There’s another big London march on 23rd March. I worry it may be too late but we will see. If it happens it will need 2 million people there. Everyone needs to go and take a dozen others with you.

  • David Becket 17th Feb '19 - 5:09pm

    The petition to leave without a deal has twice as many signatures.
    Come on LDV sign the Article 50 one

  • Peter Hirst 17th Feb '19 - 6:33pm

    I don’t understand why the ERG has so much support. They are a right wing pressure group of the Conservative Party, believing in low regulation, low taxation and low benefits. They are manipulating the Brexit agenda and if the mainstream Conservative MPs don’t stand up to them, they might succeed.

  • Peter Hurst “I don’t understand why the ERG has so much support!”. In the same way, many commentators, on this site and others, didn’t understand why UKIP had so much support a while back. Ditto, didn’t understand why “Leave” won. I believe that this is because there was/is a lack of understanding of those who consider themselves “left behind” politically and/or economically. Along with proposals for another referendum, Brexit delay or (better still) no Brexit, this group’s angst needs to be heard and some attempt made to redress the fact that they have been ignored for years. They cannot all be dismissed as racist, old and uneducated and in any case, if true, there’s nothing they can do about the last two so arguably to dismiss them is discriminatory anyway.

  • John Marriott 17th Feb '19 - 7:19pm

    @Peter Hirst
    You should get out more then. The U.K. is, in my humble opinion, one of the most politically unaware nations on earth. I’ve spent well over forty years knocking on doors for the various incarnations of the Liberal Party, and, for the past several decades, in one of the most conservative parts of it. You will notice that I don’t use the adjective ‘naive’, although I’m tempted to.

    Despite universal suffrage being around since the late 1920s, the decline in turnouts in all elections, but particularly at local level, especially since the 1960s illustrates for me an apathy which certain elements have exploited to their distinct advantage. Many people have no desire to drill down into any argument. As I have said many times, they live their life in black and white. The ability to see the other side of any argument is lacking. That’s one of the reasons why we hear the mantra “the people have spoken” when the subject of a hard Brexit crops up. It’s these people who support the ERG, who would like to return to a time, which may never have existed, or, if it did, was invariably a time when the few benefitted rather than the many. Like Mark Francois MP, many would appear still to be fighting WW2.

  • Interesting comments from John Marriott. As a grandson of a Women’s Suffrage Campaigner who has always voted (usually Lib/Lib Dem) at every opportunity, I also despair at people’s lack of interest in elections. I’m sure FPTP is one of the reasons “whoever I vote for, X will get in”, hence the high turnout in 2016 when every vote counted. Maybe this is why people feel so strongly, for once their vote mattered?

  • On question time Lord Wee Mogg mentioned Ineos had sent a complaining letter to the EU. He failed to mention they where spending 3 billion on a new chemical facility. Hurrah cry the brave Brexiteers is it in the UK, alas my brave Brexiteers it was not.


    Actions speak louder than words my brave Brexiteers. The Brexiteer leadership is voting with their feet and wallets and they ain’t voting to pay for your pensions or the services you depend on.

  • “brave Brexiteers”
    Frankie, you are being generous, or are you being gentle, given their leaders have revealed themselves to be “delicate flowers”?

  • John Chandler 18th Feb '19 - 8:16am

    Hmm. The petition to revoke Article 50 in the event of No Deal is no longer on the petitions website, as far as I can tell – when I signed last week it was at the 65K mark. There’s a similar (but different) one showing in the search, with only 34K signatures.

  • Frankly, I’m not very surprised. I went to a debate before the Referendum, and one of the speakers for LEAVE made the argument that we needed to leave the EU so our businesses could compete with places like Singapore and India.
    Which I took to mean reduce wages, drop workers rights, and revoke environmental and health and safety laws. No doubt others thought the same; on the show of hands at the end of the debate, hardly any hands went up for LEAVE.

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