Lamb and Mulholland to abstain on Article 50 vote – what does this mean for the party?

In news which should surprise nobody, both Norman Lamb and Greg Mulholland have said today that they will be abstaining rather than voting against the Article 50 Bill.

The three-line whip tells MPs to vote against if there is no referendum on the final deal with an option to remain in the EU.

Greg Mulholland explained his decision to the Yorkshire Post:

“The outcome of these negotiations is hugely important to the British economy… So I support there being a referendum on the terms of exit so the British people are the ones who decide what our relationship with these nations will be,” he said. “[But] as I have made clear, including to constituents, I do think that these negotiations should be allowed to commence and that I would not block them doing so, so I will not be voting against Article 50. “What is crucial is that all MPs scrutinise the progress of the negotiations and continue to push the Government to ensure British businesses have access to the biggest market in the world. “I will support sensible amendments to the Bill to ensure the Government does keep Parliament and the British people informed, that our NHS is protected and that British businesses do continue to be allowed to trade with European nations without damaging and costly tariffs and barriers that would harm them and the British economy. I also believe that we should seek to agree that British people living on the continent should be allowed to stay and that EU workers who moved here because we were part of the EU should also be permitted to stay and contribute to our economy and public services.”

Norman wrote about his decision in an article on his website

I fully believe that Remain voters and politicians across all parties must play a key role in influencing negotiations, to ensure that we avoid the damage to the economy and the country’s international status that a Hard Brexit would bring. My personal preference is for the Government to fight for full access to, and preferably membership of, the Single Market, and I will continue, alongside my Liberal Democrat colleagues, to seek to achieve this. I continue to give my full support to Open Britain’s campaign “to keep Britain tolerant, inclusive and open to Europe and the world”.

The Liberal Democrats are united in our opposition to a damaging hard Brexit, united on the Single Market, and united in our determination to make sure the British people have the final say over the final Brexit deal. I fully support our leader Tim Farron and my colleagues inside and outside parliament in campaigning for these outcomes.

However, I have already committed, in public, not to block the triggering of Article 50. It’s no secret that I have an honest disagreement with the party’s position to vote against the triggering of Article 50 unless the Government guarantees a referendum on the terms of the final Brexit deal. Given the vote of the British people on June 23rd, I am not prepared to vote to block the triggering of Article 50 when the bill is brought before Parliament.

Irrespective of my views of the outcome of the referendum, there is a democratic principle at stake, and I feel very strongly about this. When we voted to hold the referendum, we did not set out any preconditions for triggering Article 50, in the event of a vote to leave the EU. I do not see how we can introduce them now. I have therefore made the difficult decision to abstain on this vote.

No Liberal Democrat MP will vote to trigger Article 50

So what does this mean for the party?

There is no “split”. Greg and Norman are absolutely behind everything that we are saying on a referendum on the deal and all the stuff we are saying about the single market. There is actually very little to divide us and the conversations that have been happening have been perfectly amicable. They have concluded that they can’t vote against something that the majority of the people decided was happening.

Personally, I veer more towards the A C Grayling line that Parliament should just vote the whole thing down. I certainly think that the Government should be made to go for a “Norway” style solution rather than just jump off the cliff from the single market and that Parliament could defeat the Bill unless they changed course on that.

We aren’t in an ideal world, however. We have Labour, an opposition in name only,  giving the government a blank cheque by actually voting for the Bill regardless. I’m just reading  the bit in Tim Shipman’s book on the referendum campaign where he outlines in detail the extent of Corbyn’s ambivalence and how his aides undermined the Remain campaign both internally and externally. The Bill is going to pass and while I might be less than pleased with Norman’s and Greg’s approach, I’m not going to get too cross or lose too much sleep over it. I have a huge respect for them both and I know that they have reached their decision from instinctive liberal principles.

Be like Charles

There is no doubt, however, that some party members will be upset about this. To them, I’d say that I can’t help but cast my mind back to the Syria vote at the end of 2015 when Tim Farron and 5 others voted in favour of intervention. I was totally opposed to it, but I  understood why Tim had taken a different view. I wrote about my mixed emotions then and mused what the very much missed Charles Kennedy would have done:

Yesterday was 6 months since we’d woken up to the awful news that he had died. We loved him so much and we miss him intensely. That feeling of loss isn’t going to go away any time soon. We can’t know for certain how he would have voted yesterday. However, we can be absolutely certain that he would have behaved with absolute respect and generosity of spirit for those who didn’t share his view and that’s an example we should always strive to follow.

I would be much more concerned  if the vote were going to be close, or if they were actually voting in favour of Article 50.

I would much rather we were saying, however, that all our MPs voted against the Bill, just for simplicity’s sake. Our opponents will make hay. It really doesn’t help us in Scotland where the SNP will make out that this was more than it is, especially as it seems they are about to ditch their support for EU membership in case it gets in the way of independence. It doesn’t change the fact, though, that we are the only party prepared to give the Government some serious pain on their Brexit plans across the whole UK. They should both be aware that their decision puts some obstacles in our way. We can deal with them, but we have to recognise that they are there.

The fight goes on

Our fight for a referendum on the deal is not going to end with this Bill. This will be a difficult week, but we will get through it and get on with making the case for continued membership  of the single market. That we must and will do together. The people of this country, particularly the future generations whose future is so jeopardised by Brexit, require us to do so.

UPDATED to include an excerpt from Greg’s statement on his website:

My own view is that seeking or being seen to try to block the negotiations starting (and therefore seeking to defy the result of the referendum) gives less opportunity to then actually influence those negotiations and to campaign for important things like access to the single market and for cooperation on things such as on international crime, on climate change, on preventing terrorism. Campaigning to retain such cooperation is clearly something we should and must do.

So what is crucial, once this stage is out of the way and the negotiations actually start (as they will) is that all MPs scrutinise the progress of the negotiations and continue to push the Government to ensure British businesses have access to the biggest market in the world.

In the passage of the Bill today and tomorrow, I will support sensible amendments to the Bill to ensure that the Government does keep Parliament and the British people informed, that our NHS is protected and that British businesses do continue to be allowed to trade with European nations without damaging and costly tariffs and barriers that would harm them and the British economy.

Comments on this post will be pre-moderated.

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

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This entry was posted in News and Op-eds.


  • Abstention is a cop out. If Messrs Lamb and Mulholland actually want these negotiations to start, then they should vote for that. The media will interpret their actions as a fundamental split in the party, a major rebellion, a gauntlet thrown down at the leadership. It looks terrible and will undermine everything that the leadership is attempting to say to the electorate on this matter. Does abstaining do less damage to the Party than voting for? I very much doubt it.

    By the way, what does it say about our democracy if the views of 48% of the electorate is represented by only seven MPs?

  • I’m a Lib Dem member and fully support Norman and Greg’s position. The only thing I disagree with them on is the 2nd referendum (I don’t support one). We never once argued for such a thing during the campaign, so I think it is wrong to start calling for it now. I also see no appetite from the general public for one.

    I was, and am, gutted about the result, but I also accept it. Vote ‘Leave’ won, therefore it is now up to the UK Government to respond to that result. It is entirely right that our party argues for full access to single market and a Norway-style soft brexit and continues to hold UK govt to account. But we shouldn’t block the UK Government’s ability to trigger negotiations.

  • You say that things you aren’t so concerned as the vote won’t be close. I’m sure we’ll all be very happy and accept it when Labour MPs use that excuse. We’d tear them to shreds for that – and rightly so. Every vote matters. You don’t just give up. The Tories have a majority. Under your logic there is no point in turning up to any vote.

    Unlike you Caron, I’m massively cross. I hope that – come the next election – the resources of members’ time and money are focused on constituencies where Lib Dem MPs can be relied on to vote the liberal way on the most important issue of the decade.

  • Im disappointed in them. Brexit is an omnishambles and they wont be on the right side of history.

  • @William: I said I’d be a lot angrier if this vote was going to be close – i.e. if Labour were not backing the Government at every turn. If the Bill passed by a vote and theirs could have made the difference, then we would all rightly be furious.

    You can’t extrapolate that out to every single vote and every single circumstance.

  • @Caron: There’s no difference between Labour letting this through and Norman and Greg doing the same. To claim that Norman and Greg are not as bad is just wrong (unless you accept that they are?)

    We will throw their refusal to do the right thing at Labour MPs as we campaign against them. I’d rather not be a hypocrite. Norman and Greg are just as wrong here.

  • There is a massive difference between Labour voting FOR the bill and Norman and Greg not voting at all. As I say, I’m not best pleased with them but they are at least prepared to fight for the things we all believe in like the single market and a referendum on the deal.

  • Tony Greaves 31st Jan '17 - 9:32pm

    Not a lot.

  • If there is an election at which Brexit and the Lib Dem opposition to it is the key issue Norman and Greg can’t credibly be Liberal Democrat candidates.

    If you won’t vote to block Art 50 you support it. If you support Art 50 you support the UK leaving the EU. This is not complicated.

    It leaves Tim as a seriously weakened leader though. Which is not exactly surprising as fundamentally he’s not very good at it.

  • What shape is Greg and Norman’s fight taking if our amendments are not accepted by parliament? Can you share evidence of this continued fight from them?

    You don’t just go – “oh, the government want to fundamentally hurt the country” and then “I’ll let them” when they oppose your argument. You keep fighting to stop that hurt. Otherwise it’s not actually fighting. It’s folding like a deck chair.

    This will hurt the country – and the party. We’re already being mocked for their abstentions on twitter and it will be noticed in the 48% groups.

    Anyway – I doubt we’ll agree. Thanks for allowing my comments through moderation, and thanks for engaging. I’ll let you have the last word and I’ll shut up before I completely monopolise the comment thread.

  • Shrug. Can’t get very worked up about this, and what does a three line whip even mean when you have nine MPs? This is a matter of tactics not principle and there are more important fights to come than this one which is going through overwhelmingly.

  • Jonathan Brown 31st Jan '17 - 9:41pm

    I’m certainly upset by their decision – actually I’m pretty angry. It undermines the party and muddies the message that the party – with massive internal support – is trying to make to the public.

    That said, members – even MPs – will have principled but fundamental disagreements over policy from time to time, and I wouldn’t want to be a member of a party that was free from dissent. Abstention is an honourable response to a ‘rock and a hard place’ decision of choosing between great principles – not least because it _doesn’t_ insulate them from criticism.

    They also both have a record of principled action on behalf of their constituents and the country, and that counts for something. Indeed, it counts for quite a lot.

    Although our image and our message will be damaged, it is also important to remember that our leader and our party policy is pro-European, anti-Brexit and anti-triggering article 50. Though it doesn’t make sense to dwell on them, our MPs who won’t be voting with us are rebels. In Labour and the Conservative Party, the only anti-Brexiters are acting in opposition to their party.

  • Peter Watson 31st Jan '17 - 9:59pm

    @Tpfkar “what does a three line whip even mean when you have nine MPs?”
    It means that just 2 MPs failing to toe the party line represents more than 20% of the parliamentary party and the Lib Dems look as disunited as Labour and the Tories.

  • A more positive way to look at this.

    2 out of 9 MP’s equates to 22.22222% of the parliamentary party
    If another MP abstains that will increase to 33.33333%
    That would be pretty much in line with the number of Libdem Voters who voted to leave the EU.
    You could say they are representing the demographics of the party

    I think Norman Lamb is exactly right when he says
    “there is a democratic principle at stake, and I feel very strongly about this. When we voted to hold the referendum, we did not set out any preconditions for triggering Article 50, in the event of a vote to leave the EU. I do not see how we can introduce them now.”

  • Eddie Sammon 31st Jan '17 - 10:07pm

    It’s a difficult one. Will there be another vote at the end of article 50? If so, then there’s no need to block the triggering of Article 50.

  • Sue Sutherland 31st Jan '17 - 10:18pm

    Oh for goodness sake! We’ve only got 9 or is it 10 MPs, lots of us oldies we’re horrified at some of the things that happened under Coalition but we stuck with the party, lots of new members have joined because they’re desperate about leaving the EU, Norman Lamb wanted to be party leader and these two have decided that party loyalty doesn’t matter. It’s a disgrace and I don’t care what their reasons are. What was the point of Richmond if you’re now going to undo it all and depress people who are looking to our party to fight for what we believe in. The EU.

  • Well, I wish they wouldnt but I dont think we should get too upset about it. Leading The Libdems has always been like herding cats. Most voters wont notice & what they will remember is our relentless opposition to Brexit.

  • They are entitled to their views; I’m just grateful the party chose Tim and not Norman. I suspect that the progress made under Tim (and it is being made) would not have been made with any other leader. I don’t feel Tim matches up to Charles, but in my opinion he’s doing his best to get there.

  • I think it’s a shame the party couldn’t manage to vote in a unified way. The fact MP’s within the party have differing interpretations of the meaning of democracy is worrying.

  • Gregory Connor 31st Jan '17 - 10:52pm

    I am a Lib Dem remainer. The referendum result was a painful and avoidable defeat for a lot of things I hold dear and I am very very angry and upset about it.

    Parliament agreed an in/out choice without giving too much though to the consequences and now parliament must face up to the fact that it has to enact Brexit which is the will of the people as recorded through the mechanism it approved. Theresa May has indicated that the form of Brexit she intends (with no mandate) is one that is very damaging to our national interest. This is the complex issue at the heart of the vote on article 50.

    It is therefore quite compatible with Lib Dem principles to vote against (the form of Brexit on offer) or abstain (disagree with proposed form but do not want to frustrate the result of the referendum which was to trigger article 50 in order to leave). Quite apart from the view that Lib Dem MPs should be able to vote with their consciences and take the consequences.

    So Norman and Greg aren’t villains here and it is OK to say that the second referendum idea is coherent but not the only true path. The job of the Lib Dems is to campaign to win the argument about why a soft Brexit with doors open to rejoin a reformed EU is the best option for the UK. Every day as the consequences of a hard Brexit unfold (mythical trade deals, holding our noses to suck up to regimes who might offer us a few bob, European Medicines Agency, research and development funding, nuclear safety etc etc) that argument becomes stronger and stronger.

    Electorally that campaign will re-energise a good proportion of the 48% and reach out to our compatriots in the 52% who are overwhelmingly neither idiots nor knaves.

  • I recently joined the party having previously been a Labour member. This is the second time that I have joined – the last time was after Iraq and the ID card fiascos. This time I am pretty sure I will stay and am reconciled to being a LibDem, especially as Labour drifts toward being a narrow economic interest group party with hardline ideology. This said, I do expect a very clear party line on carrying on the fight to remain in the EU. I believe that this is vital to attract more like me from the left and the right, who like many of the 48% are desperate for a coherent and clear voice. So, I cannot pretent I am not disappointed by the stance taken by these two MPs. Indeed, it will be played up by the media and may give pause to those thinking of joining (or supporting) the party.

  • Paul Kennedy 31st Jan '17 - 11:15pm

    This is very disappointing and bad politics, but fortunately the headlines will be about our MPs who have kept faith with members. I wish Norman and Greg had been at our South-East Regional Conference last year. In the morning, Tom Brake as Chief Whip explained our (then provisional) party line of abstaining with a heavy heart on Article 50. A string of speakers from the floor challenged this line, several pointing out that they had joined the Lib Dems to fight Brexit and that they would resign if we abstained. By the afternoon Tim had changed the line to voting against unless we secured a referendum on the final deal. We all felt much happier. As others have said, abstaining is a copout, and will appease nobody while disappointing our supporters. Norman and Greg should note that none of our MPs who abstained on the tuition fees vote kept their seats in 2015.

  • It’s all very well saying it doesn’t matter because the vote isn’t going to be close, but I can’t help but think a lot of Labour and even a few Tory MPs are thinking along those lines too. They’d risk a backlash from the party or even constituency if they thought it would make a difference, but there’s no point for them if they won’t influence the direction of the vote.

    If you genuinely think that Brexit will be bad for your constituents, and that includes the ones who were too young to vote last Summer, then you should step up and try to stop it. It’s all very well saying you want to represent the views of constituents, but not everyone got a vote, and unless your constituency was strongly Leave, then I don’t think that obliges you to go along with whatever it is May has in mind. IMO, if your constituency was <55% Leave, then you have reasonable wriggle room, given that younger people were more likely to vote Remain, which means those currently 14-18 could plausibly have tipped the balance if they had a say.

  • Maurice Leeke 31st Jan '17 - 11:48pm

    The lack of a united position on voting against Article 50 is already costing us. The news bulletins today have consistently been saying that the SNP will be voting against – with no mention of the LDs at all. Presumably because we do not have (or are not perceived as having) a consistent line on this bill.

  • Should they not have the whip withdrawn ? Tim Farron has to take action against these 2 disloyal MP’s. The Party is giving one impression about Europe on the TV and 2 of the MP’s are doing the opposite in Parliament ?

  • I’m disappointed with them, mainly because the principle of party unity was undermined. But for exactly that reason I’m disappointed with those calling for their heads.

    Re-group and move on.

  • Norman Lamb’s and Greg Mulholland,s sentiments reflect almost exactly the policy of Jeremy Corbyn….
    “The electorate voted to leave and honouring that vote means not blocking the triggering of Article 50″…”Holding the government to account, in parliament, for their negotiations is the task we will face”

  • Well it is not surprising to see that some people do not only have illiberal attitudes towards us Brexiters, but also towards members of their own parliamentary party when they don’t conform and toe the line
    I really cannot believe that some even go as far to think that their parliamentary career should come to an end.
    Well, I think we have seen over the last few months in my opinion the “undemocratic” attitudes of some people within the party; it was only a matter of time before the “liberal” aspect came into question.
    “given that younger people were more likely to vote Remain, which means those currently 14-18 could plausibly have tipped the balance if they had a say.” Are things getting that desperate now that you would like to see the voting age reduced to 14?
    This kind of reminds me of what Clegg was saying today, that people should think about the younger generation first and how Brexit will affect them and then should vote according to their conscience. Sorry but since when did democracy have to give priority to the younger generations? I am 40 years old, I have lived my entire life as part of this EU project and until now, I have never had a say on the matter. With any luck, I shall live for another 40 years, why should my generation who has potentially another 4 decades to live have to put our wants and needs and beliefs aside for younger and future generations, we have to live in this country as well and have just as much right to say how we believe it should be run.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 1st Feb '17 - 12:38am

    I read words like ” disgrace “, here, to describe excellent colleagues voting exactly as their individual consciences incline these fine Liberals and Democrats to.

    I see mention of taking the whip away from them!

    I am shocked at the suggestion that it does not matter because the vote is not close, but if otherwise, they would be raked over the coals , as though they are not entitled to go with anything apart from calculation.

    When I think , all this, and they are abstaining , what if they actually voted with the government , oh my?! They would be exercising the right of individual decision making .

    Suppose they were for Brexit ?! Is that not allowed?!

    When was the belief in an institution such that it is ahead of a personal opinion ?!

    We need more voting according to conscience in politics not less !

    I bet Tim Farron understands. He is a Liberal and a Democrat !

  • Mark Goodrich 1st Feb '17 - 1:01am

    I think my views on this are well known from articles on this site. I am disappointed that they are abstaining (and as an aside, it makes me glad that we didn’t end up with Norman as leader although in general I am a fan). I agree that abstaining is a bit of a cop-out – ultimately, you have to decide where you stand and I would have much preferred party unity on the vote.

    Norman clearly has some pressure from being in a strong Leave constituency – however, that doesn’t apply to Greg whose constituency would have voted Remain. All that said, withdrawing the whip or some actions of that kind would just make it a bigger story than it is.

    I can also understand the argument that we have to let negotiations commence (and, indeed, our policy is that we would have voted for triggering Article 50 if there was to be a referendu on the result). To me, the real test is what we do when the Tories come back with their hard Brexit deal (it’s clear that’s what it will be). I would hope that *every* member of the parliamentary party would vote against such a deal and I would much prefer that we press Greg and Norman on that rather than worry about their abstention here.

  • Their point of principle is fair enough, and to some extent I agree, but it’s bad politics and so ultimately rather self-indulgent.

  • More power to them and any who will stand against a majority. I would be surprised if they are not fully aware of the consequences and yet they did it anyway if I were going to vote,that is the sort of people we need representing us. Some might say they should resign then and maybe they will.

  • I’m surprised and quite chuffed.

  • I suppose we should all be relieved that the membership decided in their wisdom not to vote for Norman as I suspect we would not have seen the dramatic improvement in our fortunes nor see the distinctive Internationalism on which our party is famed for through this Brexit shambles. Both his and Greg’s statement give the Party enough room to manoeuvre as they support our wider stance on the EU, its just a shame when people ask them in the future what they did they can say weight up all the options of the most important decision in a generation and er ……abstained.

  • There are a number of reasons why I’m disappointed in this, but I’m going to focus on two.

    Firstly, I’m fed up with our MPs ignoring the party membership and party policy when it suits them. It’s almost as if we learnt nothing about this from the coalition. I understand both their positions with regards to their electorate, but they need to be brave enough to stand up and say “I’m a Liberal Democrat, I support membership of the European Union and I will vote to retain it” even if that means they lose their seats at the next election.

    Secondly, it completely undermines Tim. He has set out a clear line on our policy, he has gained support and significant kudos for doing this – not bad for a Lib Dem leader normally, even more so now – but 2 of our MPs (one of whom stood for leader) have chosen not to support his viewpoint and to do so repeatedly and publicly.

    Unusually for this sort of thing, I feel strongly about it. I would like to hear from both to find out why they feel taking the position they have can sit comfortably with their continued membership of the parliamentary party.

  • Eddie Sammon 1st Feb '17 - 8:53am

    I’ve done some google searches and I can only find an obligation for parliament to offer a vote on Article 50. Is there not going to be a parliamentary vote on the final deal? That would be my preferred option, rather than another referendum.

    I share Lorenzo’s concerns about the tone and people suggesting Lamb and Mulholland should no longer be Lib Dem MPs for abstaining on a vote on Europe.

  • @matt, I’m not claiming that today’s 14 year olds get priority over today’s 40 year olds,. I’m saying that their rights and opportunities on Europe should not be ignored, just because they weren’t old enough to vote. We know that there is a very strong correlation between age and attitudes towards the EU, with teens and people in their twenties much more pro-EU than those over 50. That’s a national trend. We don’t ignore under 18s when it comes to other policy proposals, so why on the EU?

    It’s nothing to do with lowering the voting age, but using a bit of gumption to think what is best for all constituents, and not just those who were over 18 last June. Politics is filled with decisions made on behalf of under-18s, and it is the responsibility of MPs to consider the impact on them as well as those of voting age, and the EU should be no exception.

    I’m talking about MPs who genuinely believe that leaving the EU will be damaging for the UK and their constituents. If an MP really does think leaving the EU will be good, or even OK, then they can delegate all responsibility to the referendum result with a clean conscience. I’d even say that if an MP is strongly Remain, but their constituency was strongly Leave, they can reasonably accept that as the “will of the people”, but the overall vote was very close, and if the vote was close in their constituency, then it really is their choice.

    I didn’t even mention the interference and campaign lies and misinformation, or that people voting leave were promised different things. The idea that MPs should simply ignore the many problems with the campaigning, and permanently commit the entire population to something they consider damaging based on a very close vote is bizarre.

    I’m afraid that many of these MPs (probably not the LDs to be fair), are far more interested in their own jobs and the future of their political party, rather than the jobs of their constituents.

  • Little Jackie Paper 1st Feb '17 - 9:14am

    Mark Goodrich – Having passed the legislation for a referendum I fail to see how Parliament can just say they don’t want to take the result forward. But I agree with you that it’s the actual future that matters, not the current vote. However I’m starting to think that the idea of ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ conceptions of leaving the EU might not be all that helpful to anyone.

    Pick the most obvious example – free movement. It appears that a significant number of REMAIN voters (possibly even a majority) want at least some level of greater control than we currently have. Why they hold that view doesn’t matter. If we take a ‘hard’ exit as meaning ANY greater form of control on immigration, however light, then that’s a pretty dogmatic view. Perhaps one that a non-trivial number of REMAIN voters don’t want.

    Similarly many LEAVE voters would be quite relaxed about a Ukraine-type agreement. I personally would not call something like the Ukraine agreement a ‘hard’ leave. There is a lot of subjectivity here, it may well be that remain voters would be content with such an agreement. I don’t think you can work on the assumption that leavers en bloc will vote for nothing other than pulling up the drawbridge.

    I just get a bit bothered when I see lines like, ‘when the Tories come back with their hard Brexit deal.’ Surely what the referendum showed that severe reservations about the EU in its current form extend well beyond internal Tory melodrama. In the order of a third of the LDP vote broke for LEAVE, and that should give some food for thought.

    So whilst I agree with you that A50 being triggered in itself probably isn’t a big controversy, we do I think need to look beyond the ideas of ‘hard’ and ‘soft.’ Aside from them not being very helpful on a conceptual level I don’t think that an absolutism about a pre-conceived ‘soft’ is smart politics. And as I have said on here previously I am very concerned that a second referendum will simply lead to a third, fourth and so on. That is in no one’s interests.

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 1st Feb '17 - 9:16am

    Norman Lamb and Greg Mulholland have both made a principled, honourable decision, which must have taken some courage. For this, they should be respected, even by those who disagree with their position. Norman Lamb made a similarly brave, principled decision when he was one of two Lib Dem MPs who refused to vote for the bombing of Syria. Surely we want MPs like these, who will always be true to their principles and follow their consciences.
    I absolutely agree with Lorenzo’s comments above. I have been shocked and distressed to see the hostile comments that Lib Dem members have been making, on Lib Dem Voice and on twitter, about two fine MPs of whom we should be proud.
    Both Norman Lamb and Greg Mulholland have been very loyal, and have avoided public criticism of Tim Farron. Norman Lamb’s behaviour ever since the leadership contest has been exemplary. Things could have been awkward, as quite a large section of the party would have preferred Norman as leader. But Norman has done everything he can for party unity, making it clear that he wholeheartedly supports Tim’s leadership. We should all be proud of Norman’s tireless campaigning on mental health issues.
    Both Norman Lamb and Greg Mulholland have explained, on their websites, their reasons for abstaining in the Article 50 vote. Both make it clear that they oppose a “hard Brexit”, and support the policy of a “referendum on the deal”. So their approach is not really so very different from Tim Farron’s. They just consider that it would be wrong to prevent negotiations from beginning. Norman Lamb makes the point that Lib Dem MPs voted for the EU referendum to be held, and never suggested that a “referendum on the deal” would be a necessary condition for triggering Article 50 in the event of a leave vote, so he does not feel that it is right for the party to insist on such a condition now.
    After all, Conference never actually voted on whether MPs should vote for or against Article 50 – the motion at Autumn Conference focused on the “referendum on the deal”, and did not mention the issue of what would happen in a parliamentary vote. So the party does not actually have an official policy on this, and therefore Norman Lamb and Greg Mulholland are not opposing any official party policy.

  • If Mark Goodrich is correct then Greg Mulholland’s is wrong to neither follow the party line nor represent his majority Remain constituents. I too am happy that Norman Lamb is not leader.

    (I find it very strange that people think Tim is doing worse than Chares as leader. I don’t recall being inspired by Charles’ leadership. Ashdown was a more inspirational leader. My issue with Tim was his record as President, but the decline in our party leadership got worse under Kennedy, with the Parliamentary party ignoring the membership’s views.)

    I also agree with Keith Legg that after the experience of coalition is it time that our MPs took much more notice of the views of the party membership. Perhaps ignoring us was the result of the 1997 general election when we more than doubled our number of MPs (gaining 30 new constituencies) and made worse by the 2001 general election. I wonder if our MPs from then no longer were made up of a majority of people like our membership and were more prepared to believe they knew better than the membership.

  • suzanne fletcher 1st Feb '17 - 10:12am

    can anyone put into no more than 2 sentences why 2 of our MPs are abstaining please. A long article has its place, of course, and thanks for putting it together, but I couldn’t begin to explain it to anyone else.

  • AC Trussell 1st Feb '17 - 10:13am

    We live in a parliamentary democracy. The MPs are representatives of their voters- not delegates. They are there to do what THEY think is right.

  • @Suzanne: Norman’s constituency voted heavily to leave so he is under a huge amount of pressure locally. He also thinks that we didn’t set out pre-conditions in the Bill enabling the recollection so MPs have no right to stop Article 50 being triggered now.

    Greg said this on his website

    My own view is that seeking or being seen to try to block the negotiations starting (and therefore seeking to defy the result of the referendum) gives less opportunity to then actually influence those negotiations and to campaign for important things like access to the single market and for cooperation on things such as on international crime, on climate change, on preventing terrorism. Campaigning to retain such cooperation is clearly something we should and must do.

  • David Evershed 1st Feb '17 - 10:50am

    Having supported having a referendum on membership of the EU over very many years, the Lib Dem party should accept the democratic result of the referendum and vote for Article 50.

    I can understand Norman Lamb and Greg Mulholland abstaining rather than voting to trigger Article 50 because of the loyalty pressures from party colleagues. But supporting democracy is surely a matter of principle which should override everything else.

    All Lib Dem MPs should be voting to implement the result of the referendum if they support democracy.

  • @Catherine – trying to say that it’s not party policy because it’s not precisely what Conference voted for is akin to disputing the number of angels dancing on the head of a pin. Regardless of the party constitutional intricacies, Tim has said it as Leader and it will be interpreted as policy whether we like it or not. And whether or not they have avoided direct criticism is pointless – they have criticised a policy which Tim has made the number 1 policy for the party, so any criticism of it will be interpreted as a criticism of him.

    And let’s take the point about “principled, honourable decisions.” If, say, Tim (or any MP, for that matter) were to say publicly that he did not approve of gay marriage because of his religious beliefs, that would also be a principled, honourable decision. It is also one which would result in many people in the party being equally upset and hurt, many personally. And questions would have to be asked about his continued membership of the parliamentary party too.

    Based on this policy, I’m glad Tim is our leader right now. We need someone with a strong pro-European conviction who is prepared to say to the electorate “you got this wrong, and this is what we’re going to do about it.”

  • Peter Watson 1st Feb '17 - 11:28am

    I was bitterly disappointed by those Lib Dem MPs who abstained in the vote on tuition fees and the vote on whether or not to refer Jeremy Hunt to the independent adviser on ministers’ interests.
    In this instance, it strikes me that Lamb and Mulholland (and also Pugh) have explained their position very clearly on an issue which crosses party lines and which divides Lib Dem voters, supporters and members (albeit less than some other parties) despite the impression that some may give.

  • I think that most people probably considered what is best for everyone including those under 18 yrs and should continue to do so, the issue is we have different ideas as to what that best future is.
    Many of the young people I know may be pro travel and open to meeting people of different countries that is not the same as saying they are broadly pro the E.U. Most of those I speak to are not clearly aware of how the E.U. works and could not explain the difference between the European Council and the Council of Europe. One of my fave pubs in York is also frequented by many student societies, often they join in some of the conversations going on,such as Brexit more often than not they bemoan the fact that they are being pulled out of Europe then show surprise that we will still be a member of the Council of Europe often add state that they didn’t vote anyway.

  • Andrew McCaig 1st Feb '17 - 1:20pm

    Personally I think the whole idea of a “3-line whip” is quite illiberal. This idea of Party discipline above all else comes from the totalitarian wing of British politics.

    Tim Farron has defied the Party Whip on several occasions…. I am not sure if there was a whip on tuition fees but he certainly defied his Leader over it… Good for him! He kept his promise to his electorate, which was much more important in my opinion.

    People on here who want to have a Witch Hunt against Greg Mulholland and Norman Lamb really should look at their own consciences, and perhaps the Preamble to our Constitution in my opinion. Liberalism is all about respect for individual rights, and listening to local people and trying to give them what they want. MP’s need to be allowed to make their own judgements on that, so long as they do not go against what all would agree are liberal principles.

    I agree completely with Party Policy here, which is to have another referendum. That is clearly a democratic choice. I hope everyone would respect the result of that referendum. By voting against article 50 now if it is not amended in the way we want we are weakening our democratic position, although given that the vote is entirely symbolic since it is going to go through anyway, I am OK with it. It gives us a distinctive position on the issue and from a political point of view I like that. By taking this position Tim has been able to get on the tv in ways he never has before… On the doorstep if challenged I will say “we voted FOR democracy because we believe the British people need a second vote once the terms are clear. Tories and Labour voted AGAINST democracy”.

    In contrast to Caron however I would be extremely concerned if our votes were actually going to stop Article 50 being triggered and we were just going to Remain in the EU despite the referendum vote. That would damage British democracy badly and could lead to the rise of fascism or something similar, I fear. And all this talk of an “advisory” referendum is casuistry. Almost no-one who voted on 23rd June thought that.. I think this is the position that Norman and Greg pictured themselves in, and I don’t think either of them are doing it for populist reasons (certainly not Greg, who has one of the most pro_Remain seats outside London).

    So anyway, lets all calm down! Leave our MPs to vote with their conscience, while supporting Party Policy on the new referendum!

  • @ Caron ‘ I’d be a lot angrier if this vote was going to be close”.

    I’m sorry, Caron, but I’m afraid that’s missing the point. If the vote ‘doesn’t matter’ , then they should weigh even more heavily their duty to Tim.

    In fact it does matter. The Party’s recovery since 2015 is mostly a result of the strong lead given by Tim (and Nick) on Brexit and our differentiation from the Conservative Party. Given that, our M.P.’s should consider the impact of any perceived dissension or mixed messages, Norman especially (as the leadership runner up) has a duty to give loyal support to his leader. Anything else is self indulgent and will be used as a weapon. by our opponents.

    Already, at today’s PMQ’s, Peter Bone predictably picked it up just as Tim was about to ask his question. The laughter and derision did not make good Lib Dem television.

    @ Lorenzo Of course Tim will say he doesn’t mind. I expect nothing less – but he has to say tha, but it is naive if you think he will be thrilled by their behaviour. How can we possibly claim to be ‘the real opposition to the Tories’ if two of our MP’s are all over the place and ‘gone fishing’..

  • Alex Macfie 1st Feb '17 - 1:44pm

    @Jules: But Lib Dems are not the government. We no more have to follow the Leave result and all its consequences than we have to support Tory government policy because the Tories won the last election.

  • paul holmes 1st Feb '17 - 1:50pm

    @Suzanne Fletcher. I think I can do it in one sentence.

    “Because in a very clear, single issue, single question, Referendum the electorate voted to Leave rather than Remain”.

    I agree with Catherine Jane Crosland and Mark Wright’s comments above.

    I voted and campaigned for Remain in 2016 and voted Remain in 1975 but we lost the vote on June 23rd 2016. Argue for future Referendums, campaign for Soft Brexit, highlight lies about £350 Million for the NHS that’s fine. But do not seek to block a direct, democratic vote to start Leave proceedings.

  • Sue Sutherland 1st Feb '17 - 2:09pm

    I’m sure I’m one of those terrible people that some have criticised for being against the freedom of MPs to vote with their consciences and therefore not truly Liberal. So hopefully here are my more coherent reasons for being so cross.
    The country is in a mess and Liberalism itself is fighting for survival but we have an encouraging record over the last year’s local by elections even in areas that voted Leave. I believe that we must all do what we can to keep the voice of Liberalism heard because, for me, it is the only solution to our country’s problems. Those problems are a major reason for the rise of UKIP and the Brexit result which has given hope and courage to the bigots and racists in this country who now feel able to behave as they like. May gives in to them, Corbyn is weak so neither of them are going to stand up to the tyranny of the right which is shaking off its shackles and rearing up with renewed strength in America and here and also in other European countries.
    In these circumstances should our tiny little party shout with one voice “No” or should we weakly say “some of us say no but others aren’t really sure”? If we are accused of being divided Tim and our party will be derided and there will be no one left to shout for our vision of an open, tolerant and inclusive Britain. This, for me, is the matter of conscience not the EU itself or Article 50 or the terms of Brexit. That’s the detail but our beliefs, our Preamble, the reason why we exist, they are surely what must guide our conscience and that of our MPs.

  • If you’re in a leave constituency, I’m fine with abstaining. It’s not fair to your voters if you ignore them, and we should have learned from 2015 the fate of MPs that put Westminister politicking above local sentiment.

  • Whilst I hear what Greg and Norman are saying, I’m afraid, as a libdem member, I am very disappointed in their decision. It’s all about the message. They may only be 2 in number, but as a percentage of our overall presence in parliament, that is a pretty high number. I belong to the lib dem newbies and several other, pro EU, groups on fb. People are joining us in droves and, in these desperate times, I believe that is because of the CLEAR pro EU message the libdems are giving. In my view, their decision weakens our position and will make many of the new members (especially those who have left other parties) feel disillusioned and possibly even regret their decision. It’s just made a very depressing week even worse and, to be frank, I feel like walking away from it all. Hopefully, I will feel better tomorrow and ready (though slightly less committed) to fight another day.

  • Let us concentrate on getting two more TOTALLY committed remain candidates elected in Stoke and Copeland by-elections. Will make these two a smaller % of Parliamentary Party. All the time people have spent writing here, they could have made a on-line donation to the By-elections, booked travel to the by elections, made calls for the by-elections 🙂
    Hope i see all these writers when i am in Stoke at the weekeend 🙂

  • Peter Watson 1st Feb '17 - 3:55pm

    @Andrew McCaig “Tim Farron has defied the Party Whip on several occasions”
    Back in 2008, Tim Farron (and Alistair Carmichael) stood down from the Lib Dem front bench and defied party orders by voting for a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty instead of abstaining (because party policy was for an In/Out Referendum on EU membership).

    How times have changed.

  • Peter Watson 1st Feb '17 - 3:58pm

    @Andrew McCaig “casuistry”
    A brilliant word – I had to google it. A day without learning is a day wasted.

  • David Allen 1st Feb '17 - 4:43pm

    Yes it’s a shame. No, it isn’t a disaster. Awkward MPs who do awkward things based on idiosyncratic individual principles will always be with us. The Tories have them, Labour have them, why shouldn’t we have them? Would we really be proud to claim that we were more tightly disciplined, and less free to think as individuals, than Labour and the Tories are?

    Nobody will much notice that, just like the bigger parties, we are not totally united. Nobody will notice, unless we ourselves make a fuss and insist on telling people about it. Let’s just pull the majority firmly behind Tim Farron’s sound leadership and keep on fighting.

  • @Sue Sutherland: I do absolutely see what you are saying. As I said above, Norman’s and Greg’s decisions do put obstacles in our path, but we just have to deal with that. The most important thing is that we are united absolutely on everything else – the referendum on the deal, the single market, EU nationals’ rights etc. With all the polarisation in politics at the moment, I think it is a very good look for a party to have an honest disagreement one one issue and for it not to be a massive, toxic fallout – for everybody just to keep going fighting for the things we must fight for. Getting too distracted by this one vote would be very unhelpful. Norman and Greg are good people – and Norman was meeting the PM today to try to take forward the health and social care commission stuff.

    I don’t agree with his or Greg’s decision, but I respect them so much as individuals – particularly Norman who was one of the best health ministers we have ever had. That department has felt his loss acutely over the last 20 months.

  • Rich Wilsher 1st Feb '17 - 4:57pm

    As a new member and keen activist I am devastated by this. How can I look people in the eye when I canvass next and state that the Lib Dems are a party united against Brexit? And even if I can manage it, what riposte do I offer to anyone that mentions the fact that two Lib Dem MPs did not vote against A50.

    This decision betrays the fundamental reason the party is growing. It betrays the tens of thousands that saw LDs as a bastion against the storm.

    You compare this to the vote on Syria. That’s disingenuous in the extreme. Syria did not, and never would have, generated as much growth and base level enthusiasm as Brexit.

    We had a clarion position on the defining issue for generations. We spoke to and for nearly half of the electorate. That’s just been thrown away.

  • Peter Kemp’s comment should be put in bold and enlarged font!
    Whichever side you are on, the best place to have this debate will be in whatever lucky Stoke pub Ed Fordham has chosen as the LibDem campaign’s PLRC (Post-Leafleting Relaxation Centre). Or if you can’t go, make a donation.
    (With sincere apologies to the team in Copeland. But Stoke is winnable.)

  • @David Allen
    “Nobody will much notice that, just like the bigger parties, we are not totally united…”

    I’ve always maintained there is nothing wrong with people disagreeing within parties. In fact it would be downright odd if it didn’t happen. I just find it regrettable that, until yesterday, the Lib Dems were seeking to make huge capital out of disagreements within other parties…

  • @Stuart: The point about other parties is that their whipped position is to vote for the Bill. That may be fair enough for the Government, but for the opposition, it is a total abdication of responsibility.

    Disagreeing with any party line isn’t wrong in itself – everybody does it from time to time. As far as Labour are concerned on this, it is quite a virtue to do so.

    In Greg and Norman’s case, the only point of disagreement is how to vote on Article 50 itself. They are behind every bit of our substantive policy on the issue.

    There is also nothing wrong with inviting those in other parties to vote with us. Why wouldn’t we encourage those who agree with us to vote with us?

  • “We had a clarion position on the defining issue for generations. We spoke to and for nearly half of the electorate. That’s just been thrown away.”

    This is pretty much my view as well.
    Of course Greg and Norman should be allowed to vote however their conscience tells them, and they may well have principled reasons for doing so. That does not mean it’s not immensely damaging to the party, and nor does it mean that they should not be told it’s immensely damaging to the party.

  • David Evershed 1st Feb '17 - 6:07pm

    Rich Wilsher

    Welcome to politics and to the Lib Dems.

    You will find that all political parties are coalitions.

    None of us will find a party to join that exactly matches our own opinions unless we want to be in a party of one. Plus our precise viewpoints will change from time to time as will the issues. We may all see things differently in retrospect. Best not to be too dogmatic.

  • Frank Bowles 1st Feb '17 - 6:22pm

    Parliament as a whole has a lot to answer for when it comes to the referendum Bill they overwhelmingly endorsed, never believing the referendum could be lost. It should have required a result (a super majority, a majority of the administrations or whatever) that would have been decisive and the will of the people across the UK to have been truly clear. So, livid as I am at all that has happened since, I understand those who don’t want to be seen to blame the rules when they lost the game. I don’t agree with them, I believe MPs should vote with their consciences and face their electors at the next election, but I understand Greg and Norman’s conflict and their abstentions (especially when the vote is unlikely to be close) should be accepted gracefully by the Party. I can’t see it undermining Tim’s authority.

  • Colin Paine 1st Feb '17 - 6:40pm

    Wrong call. A shame that the SNP are united on this and not us. Let’s hope the two just abstain, as the BBC is saying Lamb will vote for 50. As a Leeds NW campaigner this also seems like a poor payback from Greg, great MP as he undoubtedly is in other respects.

  • Matt (Bristol) 1st Feb '17 - 8:06pm

    You can never be more (outwardly) united than the SNP as they have banned their own MPs from criticising the party in public. We can’t win that contest.

    It’s not a great situation, but the policy (with which I am in agreement) was hastily announced and is, still, a compromise in which it is possible to pick holes. I suspect that had Sarah Olney not won the RP byelection, more of our MPs might has been tempted to rock the boat. Abstention is …just… tolerable, and not as insane as Labour’s position (although that’s saying not much).

    At least Norman and Greg are standing by what they said previously; so far I note that several Labour MPs who said they would support a second referendum (naming no leadership candidates) have been conspicuous by the absence of their support for the LibDem position and proposed amendment.

    However, I feel Nick and Tim have it right (which is why Tim also had it right on tuition fees and the bedroom tax under the Coalition) — you won’t get an emboldened government to come to terms and alter reduce the impact of a policy upon which it is determined, by abstaining – they need to know the opposition means business, before they will treat with them.

    If I were designing a parliamentary process it wouldn’t look like this, but I’m not.

    Showing the authors of legislation that you are prepared to vote that legislation down is how you change the content of that legislation.

  • Interestingly enough, no-one is picking up on the 2 abstentions – they’ll be forgotten by next week – but they are picking up on the Lib Dems not being present at the debate. Hard to rota things with only 9MPs but if we claim this is our defining issue and we are leading he opposition, we have to be seen to be leading it.

  • Steve Atkinson 1st Feb '17 - 9:45pm

    Because I’m Liberal I’m willing to respect the alternative decision of 2 of our MP’s. It might provide ammunition for our opponents, but frankly that’s Ok, I’d actually like to draw attention to ourselves on other issues now, not just Europe, we can’t be a 1 trick party come 2020, it’s not enough for me.

  • ethicsgradient 2nd Feb '17 - 12:45am

    I will just give a view of an outsider looking in/looking past.

    Lib Dems will be fine and suffer no blow-back from having Lamb and Mulholland abstaining.

    Already it is lost in the news where the splits in Labour (3 whips not following the whip, new reshuffle, can Corbyn even fill all the roles?) and the nature of such a history making vote is the headlines, comment pieces and the topics in the ether.

    Lib Dems will suffer no damage from this an you will remain the part for the remainers.

  • What a disappointment, 22% of our MP’s abstained against 20 % of Labour MP’s who voted against the Article 50 Bill. It’s already being touted as Tim Farron’s ‘mini-rebellion’.
    What this says to new members of the party like me is that once again the views and concerns of the 48% have been lost in a haze of nuances and hot-air.
    This was a time for all our MP’s to stand up and be counted

  • Mark Humble 2nd Feb '17 - 9:06am

    I fully support the stance taken by Norman and Greg. It is what they believe. MPs are not delegates and they must vote according to their own beliefs and conscience.

    I’ve been a member of the party for more than 40 years and I’m increasingly disappointed at how illiberal the party has become in many ways. I did vote Remain but with some hesitation in view of the often centralised, bureaucratic, authoritarian and unaccountable nature of the EU and the shameful levels of unemployment in Southern Europe exacerbated by the common currency – all things that Liberals must surely fight against.

  • Leekliberal 2nd Feb '17 - 10:15am

    Liberals will always respect the right to a conscience of our MPs, but the political damage to the clarity of our position on Section 50 was apparent on the 8 10 am interview on BBC Radio 4s ‘Today’ programme this morning. Labour’s John McDonnell was floundering as he tried to defend their shambolic performance in Parliament so he grabbed at the only straw available saying that the LibDems had only 9 MPs and 2 of them took a different line in the vote, which as a proportion of Lib Dem MPs was the same as the Labour rebellion, showing that all the parties were divided on this issue. Expect to hear this charge repeated against us ad nauseum!

  • Well, well. It looks as if our two chaps owe Diane Abbott a vote of thanks for taking the heat off.

  • Robert Green 2nd Feb '17 - 12:04pm

    I left the Labour Party last autumn, largely over its stance on Brexit. Enthused by Tim Farron’s clear position, I donated to the Richmond Park campaign and was about to join the Lib Dems. But then I heard the shocking news that the party couldn’t even get all its nine MPs to oppose the Brexit Bill. I can’t see the point of joining a party that portrays itself as the voice of the 48% but turns out to be so flaky. Thanks to Lamb and Mulholland you’ve lost one potential member, and I guess rather more than that.

  • Piers Allen 2nd Feb '17 - 12:23pm

    And the result? No Liberal Democrat MP voted in favour to trigger Article 50 (in contrast to 167 Labour MPs who did, and 47 Labour MPs who didn’t). 8 Lib Dem MPs (including Norman Lamb) voted against the programme for the third reading of the bill, together with 44 Labour MPs: no Labour MPs voted Aye in Dividion 136. So no great sign last night of Labour coming together for the later, amendment stages of the Bill, whereas Dick Newby was quite clear on the Today programme this morning (8:45) on how the Lib Dems will tackle this in the Lords.

  • Sir Norfolk Passmore 2nd Feb '17 - 1:40pm

    Personally, I don’t think any party should have three line whipped this vote.

    It put our MPs in Leave constituencies in an invidious position (i.e. the abstainers plus probably Tom Brake – although the count area was larger than his seat and the result was fairly tight in Sutton). Ditto Labour and Tory MPs in Remain constituencies.

    There should have been greater acceptance of the fact that MPs had to balance the expressed wishes of the country, the expressed wishes of their constituency, and their own judgment as to the merits of Brexit. Whilst the first is clear and third broadly agreed between Lib Dem MPs, the second varied widely.

  • Just to say firstly I voted Remain. I am now gong to hypothesise that the coalition had continued after 2015. There would have been a referendum, in both Conservative and our manifestos. If leave won in those circumstances would Nick et al vote to trigger Article 50, abstain or cause a general election? The example of the Syria vote gives some idea.

    Let’s not knock our MPs who abstained on a matter of principle. I rather think in the event of a coalition, that would have been, at best, the party line.

  • Well done, Lamb and Mulholland. This member is happy with them, at least.

  • Daniel Walker 2nd Feb '17 - 3:49pm

    @Sir Norfolk Passmore “It put our MPs in Leave constituencies in an invidious position (i.e. the abstainers plus probably Tom Brake…”

    That might be true of Norman Lamb, but Leeds North West (Greg Mulholland) is pretty solid Remain (estimated, obviously, but it’s a big student area)

  • Katharine Pindar 3rd Feb '17 - 12:03am

    I think we can trust all our MPs to fight the good fight in the coming months and years to obtain the results we all agree to seek at the end of the negotiations with the EU. But ho! all you Londoners and Brummies and other denizens of traffic-ridden air-polluted cities and towns of south and central England, why would you choose to spend your spare time cooped up in yet another city, when you can come to the most beautiful part of England and help us win in Copeland? See again the glorious fells and lakes, or walk as I did today by wind-tossed surging sea, delivering addressed surveys on health issues to the people of Seascale. You will be healthier yourselves, have the chance of experiencing as I did the other day such transforming moments as Skiddaw rearing sunlit beyond a misty Latrigg, and join in Rebecca Hanson’s stimulating campaign as it accelerates.
    Winning in Stoke? Rebecca has the same chance here and absolutely the same intention of rapidly gaining support, which is growing fast from a low base against enfeebled opposition. The would-be emperor UKIP has no clothes, no credence, no policies and no future; the Tory candidate now has to live down May’s dalliance with Trump as well as proposing a hard Brexit; the Labour candidate has to choose between a Corbynite or a Blairite future. We are unencumbered, our only challenge the size of this lovely constituency. Come and help us, fellow Liberal Democrats, and be sure of a hearty Northern welcome, and a great and worthwhile campaign.

  • Simon Freeman 3rd Feb '17 - 11:57am

    The difference between voting against Article 50 and abstaining is just tactical. The party needs to avoid getting steamed up and falling out with one another over honest differences. Concentrate on pushing for access to the single market, safeguarding the rights of UK citizens in Europe and EU citizens living here. Fight to ensure environmental protection and employee rights laws and consumer protection laws are enshrined in UK law. What we don’t want is to become an offshore tax haven with even lower business taxes and more tax avoidance and evasion which just means even more spending cuts. And we don’t want our only friend in the world to be Donald Trump. I worry that he will shaft the UK in any trade deal which could be disastrous for the NHS if it leads to American Private Health Care Firms bidding for contracts. And we certainly don’t want US gun laws. we do need to recognise that a lot of EU citizens contribute positively to the UK by working in theNHS, in agriculture, in leisure, tourism and hospitality but many other areas and by paying their taxes.

  • Robert Mason 3rd Feb '17 - 2:50pm

    I’m bemused by the notion that somehow unity and loyalty are defined as never disagreeing? There are I suspect a myriad of views represented among us, and reasons why we support something avidly, tepidly or couldn’t give a monkeys about it.

    Perhaps, if we want to be principled and be seen to be welcoming and have a voice for every liberal mind and heart our words should not be just a tag line, perhaps Open, Tolerant and United should mean more than ‘belong to a majority view or else’.. ?

  • George Lawrence 6th Feb '17 - 3:21pm

    This country has a -representative- democratic system – we don’t do direct democracy. So I have little sympathy for MPs like Greg and Norman who seem to be saying that they just do whatever the majority of their constituents say they are to do. Parliament’s job (as the name implies) is to discuss matters and, under our constitution, reach an implementable solution that best meets everyone’s needs. There has been no analysis of what ‘leavers’ actually wanted when voting in the binary referendum and how these wants can best be brought into a solution that meets the whole population’s needs. This is not a football game (despite the tone of ‘brexit’ rhetoric) – it’s deadly serious, but not a zero-sum game. If our MPs can be arsed, a solution to meet all our needs can be found. Abstaining is a cop out.

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