Lib Dem policy is to withdraw Article 50 if we can’t get an extension for referendum or extra negotiations

This seems to be a good moment to remind you all of the motion passed at Liberal Democrat Conference in Brighton. Essentially, if we can’t get an extension for a People’s Vote, or for extra negotiating time to avoid a no deal, we think that Article 50 should be withdrawn. And the ruling from the European Court of Justice yesterday proves that it can be done.

Read, learn and inwardly digest this paragraph:

(Conference calls for)The Government to seek to extend Article 50 if required to legislate for a referendum on the deal, or to provide enough negotiating time to avoid a catastrophic no-deal scenario, and if such extension is not agreed to withdraw the Article 50 notification.

Here’s the motion in full:

Conference notes that:

A.The Conservative Government are making a mess of Brexit and Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party are helping them to deliver this destructive Brexit.

B.Liberal Democrats campaigned to remain in the EU during the 2016 referendum and have since campaigned for the people to have the final say on the Brexit deal, including the option to remain in the EU.

C.The Treasury have stated that a no-deal Brexit could require the UK to borrow œ80 billion more by 2033, the Conservative Government have begun releasing the 84 no-deal technical notes, and the UK health sector are stockpiling medicines in case of a no-deal.

D.The Chequers plan is unworkable, rejected by both the EU and Conservative European Research Group MPs.

E.A conclusive agreement has not yet been reached on many of the issues arising from the Brexit referendum, including Government red lines, and both sides have stated that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed”.

F.Whilst the principle of a Northern Ireland backstop has been agreed, the UK’s plan to temporarily avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland has not been agreed and there is still no agreement on a long-term solution.

G.During the transition period, which is due to end in 2020, the UK will remain in the Single Market and Customs Union.

H.The draft Withdrawal Agreement stipulated that EU citizens will have to apply for pre-settled or settled status and if they fail to do so will be at risk of deportation; Irish citizens do not have to apply but can if they choose to.

I.EU citizens, who are not Irish or Commonwealth citizens, living in the UK are excluded from voting in UK General Elections or referendums and voting rights have been left outside the scope of Brexit negotiations by the EU Commission.

J.The 2016 EU referendum gave no clear destination for Brexit, as the terms of the deal were not yet known.

Conference believes that:

i) There is no deal that could be negotiated through the Article 50 process that could be more beneficial than continued membership of the EU, leaving the EU would therefore be damaging to the UK’s fundamental national interests.

ii) Given the assertion that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed”, the risk of a no-deal remains, which would mean the UK crashes out of the EU without any final Withdrawal Agreement in place.

iii) The recent shifts in global affairs, including the USA withdrawing from the UNHRC, re-emphasise the vital importance of UK membership of the EU and the values upon which the EU was formed.

iv) The 2016 referendum and subsequent General Election had a severe impact on EU citizens living in the UK, leaving them in a place of uncertainty; referendums and elections will also disproportionately impact these citizens for decades to come.

Conference condemns the Conservative Government’s ideological, disastrous approach to Brexit negotiations.

Conference urges the Labour Party to work in the national interest and reflect the views of its members by campaigning for the people to have the final say on the Brexit deal and a chance to exit from Brexit, challenging Jeremy Corbyn’s position as Leader if he refuses to do so too.

Conference further condemns the exclusion of EU citizens’ voices from political decisions that have had an unprecedented impact upon their lives.

Conference reaffirms the Liberal Democrat commitment to:

a) Fight for an “exit from Brexit” referendum to be held once the outcome of the UK-EU negotiations is known, for the public to choose between “the deal” or Britain remaining a full member of the EU.

b) Campaign for Britain to remain a full and active member of the EU.

c) Enable all UK citizens living abroad to vote for MPs in separate overseas constituencies, and to participate in UK referendums.

d) Introduce votes at 16 for all elections and referendums across the UK.

Conference calls for:

1. The Government to release full impact assessments of all options, prior to any meaningful parliamentary vote, thereby demonstrating that there is no Brexit deal on offer that will deliver the promises of the Leave campaign.

2.The Government to seek to extend Article 50 if required to legislate for a referendum on the deal, or to provide enough negotiating time to avoid a catastrophic no-deal scenario, and if such extension is not agreed to withdraw the Article 50 notification.

3. The right to full participation in civic life, including the ability to stand for office or vote in UK referendums and General Elections, to be extended to all EU citizens not already entitled to vote as Irish or Commonwealth citizens, who have lived in the UK for five years or longer.

4.The UK Government to guarantee unilaterally in law, including in a no-deal scenario, the rights of all EU citizens living in theUK, ringfencing the Withdrawal Agreement’s Chapter on citizens’ rights.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • John Marriott 11th Dec '18 - 10:02am

    I would have thought that withdrawal/suspension/suspension of Article 50 was a no brainier!

    As to what happens after that depends, as Harold Macmillan famously said, “on events, dear boy”. I know that most Lib Dems are wedded to another referendum. For me that would be absolutely the last resort. The facts would indicate that around a third, and a very vociferous third at that, will always favour Brexit whatever dire warnings of such a move are presented. Around a third, but possibly increasing, will always favour remain. The rest appear not to be bothered either way, so you could argue that they might, if pushed, prefer the status quo ante.

    It’s hard to remember that far back; but wasn’t ‘Europe’ around number 14 on the public’s concern list before Cameron decided to run with it? In a recent book, ‘Divided. Why we’re living in an Age of Walls’, Tim Marshall argued that geography played a significant role in how nations positioned themselves. For example, except for a skirmish in the 1960s, why have Indian and China (so far) never fought a major war? Mr Marshall argues that it could be something to do with the Himalayas? Similarly, why do we Brits on the whole fail to identify with the European mainland? Could it have something to do with water?

    Whatever emerges from the omnishambles still emerging before our eyes, it will require a bit more than party loyalty and a willingness to compromise. For a change, why can’t politicians be ‘perfectly clear’ about this.

  • Bill le Breton 11th Dec '18 - 11:55am

    @Keynes wrote, “Words ought to be a little wild, for they are the assault of thoughts upon the unthinking, but when the seats of power and authority have been attained there should be no more poetic license. On the contrary, we have to count the cost down to the penny which our rhetoric has despised.” HT: Robert Skidelsky.

    See Skidelsky’s “The Brexit End Game”

    He has just told Bloomberg, “We shall not suffer as much from leaving the EU as we did from the 2008 banking crisis.”

    It’s about culture even more than economics. As he writes, “Britain’s Leave campaign was a revolt against not only economic mismanagement, but also the pretension of supranational government. So Brexit’s outcome may indicate how the dialectic between supranationalism and nationalism will play out in much of the rest of the world as well, where it is the stuff of current politics.”

    His conclusion should be a pointer to we Liberals, “Thus, the Brexit compromise, if it happens, may be a moderately optimistic foretaste of the fate of populism in our century. The resurgence of economic nationalism which unites Brexit, Trumpism, and the European far right will not lead to the breakdown of trade, hot wars, dictatorship, or rapid de-globalization. Rather, it is a loud warning to the political center – one that may cause even the current crop of extremists to shrink from the consequences of their words.”

    There is a huge price to be paid if we are not a part of the force for compromise.

    Worth keeping up-to-date with him at

  • It is reassuring to know we voted for something that is still relevant. Yes, if we can’t avoid a no deal except by revoking Article 50, we should do that. It still leaves open the referendum result though as it is advisory it might be technically possible to ignore it due to the failed negotiations. Better to revisit the question with more information and a much improved process.

  • Wiliam Fowler 11th Dec '18 - 3:09pm

    If there is a snap election, let’s hope Labour is still vague and mealy-mouthed on Brexit so that a manifesto that states the LibDems will revoke article 50 gets through to the populace.

  • David Becket 11th Dec '18 - 4:55pm

    It would be helpful if our leader would spell out to members what his strategy is now, how he will achieve it and how he will sell it to his members and the public.
    As it is we are as much in the dark as are Tories and Labour. The country is steering for the rocks and appears rudderless. There is a complete lack of leadership.

  • I agree with David Becket on strategy. I watched our leader on TV this morning. Although I understood what he was saying, I could not work out why he was saying it.
    Surely the only job we have now is to be enthusiastic about the EU, including giving an accurate account of the real EU. If a firm majority were in favour of staying then everything would follow. In fact they are not. If we have a referendum and get a majority in favour of leaving, what happens then?

  • David Goble 12th Dec '18 - 9:41am

    Surely, part of the reason we have this problem lies in the fact that the vote was so evenly split – just over one-third voted to leave, just over one-third voted to remain and just under one-third didn’t vote. Who is going to say that the result of a People’s Vote would be any different?

  • I have been campaigning for a Peoples Vote and will be out in Became on Saturday morning. I don’t want a Peoples Vote though because it could very well produce the same result or a marginal victory for Remain which won’t resolve the situation.
    I, along with a lot of my LibDem colleagues, support the Peoples Vote because there isn’t anything else.
    The events this morning may well end in suspension of Article 50. Labour needs to come off the fence and support membership of the EU. We all know why their manifesto was to respect the referendum – a cynical attempt to keep Leavers on their side and gain power – they’re still trying to sit on the fence.
    Both main parties have painted themselves into a corner to keep a minority of their voters on side – that isn’t democracy.
    If we stay in the EU the real issues that caused people to want to leave need to be addressed. Some of them are about the EU but many are really about the unfairness of our electoral system and the disenfranchisement of millions of voters who live in safe seats. They had a voice in 2016 but, in last year’s GE, it went back to business as usual. That political vacuum is storing up trouble for the future and needs to be addressed.

  • That should have been “I will be out in Bedale on Saturday”!

  • Re my earlier post about the Referendum result and the inconclusiveness of the result. Bearing in mind that it was called as an advisory referendum and has only become such a hot potato because the Government of the day said that they would implement the result, would it not be possible to say that the result was, as I have said, too evenly-split to be conclusive? Article 50 could then be revoked, the law saying that we leave the EU on 29 March next year could be repealed and the business of governing the country could resume.

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