Lib Dems adopting re-join would cause Johnson to rejoice

I am passionately pro-European. I wish we were still part of the EU. I want our party to remain the most pro-European in the House of Commons. Most of all, however, I want us to actually win the argument over Europe, because if we see a future for Britain in Europe, we need to create one that ordinary people feel meets their hopes and dreams, not one that tells them how wrong they are for not supporting us.

The phrase “politics is about winning hearts and minds” means the hearts and minds of those with whom we initially disagree. It’s about winning their trust before we can win them over. One thing the Remain camp has been guilty of is patronising both those who voted Leave and those who voted Remain but think we just ‘need to get on with Brexit now’.

Until January 31st of this year, I worked for an MEP. I love the EU. I know we are worse off for leaving but I also know that since we adopted our revoke policy, people who are both Leavers and moderate Remainers see us as extreme on this issue. Making our target audience smaller won’t increase our vote share. Without increasing our vote share we don’t stand a chance of keeping Britain close to Europe. Unless we stay close to Europe, the chance of one day joining the EU again disappears.

But what of radicalism? What will we do to cut through? These are also vital questions but Europe isn’t the only issue on which we can be radical and gain cut-through. We’ve proved that in the past and it’s time to prove that again. Also, compare our 12% vote share on a revoke policy with our 20% vote share when we said to voters “we will give you the final say in a referendum”. Taking a hard line on rejoining might seem radical but I can’t see how it would be effective. I just see Boris Johnson rubbing his hands in glee as he puts out leaflets in key marginals about how extreme the Lib Dems are on Europe.

I know there will be some passionate views on this and I’m sure what I’m arguing won’t be popular with many. However when it comes to winning votes in those 80 seats where we are second to the Conservatives, I don’t believe Europe is the issue that will do it. We are more than a one issue party. We have plenty to be radical about. Taking seats from the Tories in 2024 is vital if we are to stop this authoritarian right wing government.

As passionately European as I am, I simply cannot see us winning hearts and minds by adopting a ‘rejoin’ policy. In fact, the only way I can see us rejoining is by first regaining trust with voters and we do that by engaging, listening and learning about the challenges in their lives and the aspirations they have. That will help us not only persuade on Europe but help clarify a new, radical agenda for the party.

I hope passionately that we rejoin the EU eventually, but in order to do that we need a bigger tent not a smaller one.

* Lloydie James Lloyd worked as Communications Manager for Bill Newton Dunn MEP from July 2019 until January 2020. He is Campaigns Coordinator for Nottingham Liberal Democrats and has worked in broadcasting and comms for 25 years.

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67 Comments

  • John Marriott 7th Sep '20 - 9:29am

    As far as the ultimate future of the EU is concerned, the Germans have a neat saying; “Abwarten und Tee trinken”. I’m sure you don’t require a translation. I think that a cautious, pragmatic even critical approach to our future relationship with our neighbours makes a great deal of sense, especially as it looks as if our imminent divorce could be quite messy.

  • Peter Rothery 7th Sep '20 - 9:55am

    Much I agree with here.

    For me the key point is the acceptance of the referendum result. I shall always think the nation made a mistake; I think in time the majority will come to see that. But now we have to make the best of it.

    I was pro-European because I am a liberal internationalist. I believe in free trade. I am a patriot, and love my country, but I don’t believe the UK is inter toy better or more worthy than any other country. We need to find new ways to pursue these things outside of the EU.

  • Christopher Curtis 7th Sep '20 - 10:01am

    My biggest area of discomfort in being a LibDem member, is just how often we seek to compromise what we believe in the (usually forlorn) hope of winning power. Of course you make more difference if you get elected and you make changes happen, but if salt loses its saltiness it gets thrown out. It’s useless.

    The revoke policy was an utter disaster not because it was fundamentally wrong but because it looked, yet again, like another example of the LibDems changing our position and policy for political expediency. Months of arguing for more democracy with a vote on the Brexit plan as it emerged was thrown away in an attempt to go after the remain vote.

    Saying that it is no longer our policy that the UK should be a full and committed member of the EU would be another disaster, and would certainly lose me as a member.

    It’s deeply dishonest. I’m all for pragmatism and making the best of a bad situation and we actually believe in democracy and won’t do anything without deep consensus and wide support, but we do want to re-join, surely? If we don’t, what have we been doing for the last four years – just remoaning?

    It’s very obviously going after votes we are not currently winning, most of which we have no chance of winning whatever we do. Giving people whatever they say they want is what got the country in this mess.

    Thirdly, why would anyone vote for us when we’ll deliver not what we have spent the last four years saying is critically important, but whatever a listening project says might be popular.

    I’m sorry, but at best this argument has been a PR disaster. At worst, the party is about to change direction and leave lots of its members and supporters behind. I’m waiting for conference to see which it is.

  • Alex Macfie 7th Sep '20 - 10:06am

    I agree with Nick & John here: the two election results are apples & oranges. People vote differently in the different types of election, especially when run under different systems. And both main parties sat the European election out.
    On the substantive of the article, IMO we need to keep rejoin as a long-term aspiration, but there’s no point in trying to argue loudly for it at the moment. We don’t yet know what post-Brexit Britain is going to look like, and we need to keep our powder dry. But we do need to keep it there, and maybe use it as a dog-whistle in Remain areas.

  • A a passionate remainer, I do not see a problem with our party reiterating that we are a pro european party and that when public opinion supports such action, we would rejoin. That we would campaign on that basis to obtain that public acceptance would be part of our policies re the effects of leaving. The tone has to be measured and all debate centering on facts.

  • Bob – I think the crucial point you make there is “when public opinion supports such a move”. I think we have much to do to be seen as a party that is willing to listen and engage. There are many who see some of our comms as “Party knows best” and that’s neither a very liberal attitude or a very effective one

  • Christopher Curtis 7th Sep '20 - 10:24am

    A political party that adopts whatever policies it thinks will be popular, isn’t a political party that is worth voting for. We’ve got to find a way of presenting what we believe and what we think should happen so that people can understand and identify with it: not keep changing our tune to dance to the popular mood.

  • Peter Martin 7th Sep '20 - 10:32am

    ” I love the EU ”

    The problem for Lib Dems, now, is that most Brits never have been in love with the EU. That’s not going to change.

    Even the Bair/Brown Labour govts of 1997 to 2010, which were the most pro EU we have ever had, wouldn’t be categorised as’ EU lovers’. They didn’t want the euro and they didn’t want Schengen. Their attitude was that it was better, on balance, to be in than out. To put an unkind spin on it all, we were only in it for what we could get out of it.

    That’s unlikely to change any time soon. Unless the EU offer us back our old terms and conditions, Lib Dems are going to have to come to terms that we’re out of the EU and we’re staying out for the foreseeable future. If you don’t you’ll lose any chance of a popular revival.

  • Martin Boffey 7th Sep '20 - 10:41am

    There is a difference between policy, campaigning priorities and what you put in your manifesto. I personally don’t mind too much if the party adopts a “Rejoin” policy. As long as it then gets put on the shelf where it belongs to gather dust, along with many other sensible and worthy but undeliverable policies – never to see the light of day. We’re pretty good at doing this as a party. This is one occasion on which I would be heartily pleased to see it happen.

  • When deciding on policy, Lib Dems should realise that not everyone shares their passion for the EU and re-joining would be massively more difficult than remaining. There are many reasons for this.

    People here scoff at the concept of sovereignty but it is the most important issue for most people because it concerns who makes our laws and regulations. I remember in pre- referendum days people here telling me that none of our laws came from the EU. Try telling them that next time.

    Re-joining the EU would involve further loss of sovereignty, specifically by being obliged to adopt the Euro as currency and Schengen on border regulation. Fiscal control is likely to follow, together with some central taxation. The UK would be liable for massively increased financial contributions. We would have no rebate and no opt outs. Future EU integration would simply be imposed.

    I estimate that about two thirds of the remain vote was driven by Project Fear. People feared damage to their wealth, businesses, lifestyle and employment and were eager to avoid all the uncertainty by remaining. This should not be confused with Europhilia. Re-joining would also represent more polarisation, argument, disruption and uncertainty and the fear factor would act the other way. People resist change, even if it is in reverse.

    For all of these reasons, I think that re-joining would be a huge struggle with a vanishingly small probability of happening. I don’t think our economy will fall apart, and obviously I hope it doesn’t. I think we would be more able to deal with such a crisis outside of the EU, just look at Greece.
    Even though I am a lifelong Brexiteer, that is my honest assessment. When formulating policy, the party must decide between practical policy and ideological pipe dream.

  • Christopher Curtis 7th Sep '20 - 11:18am

    “ I estimate that about two thirds of the remain vote was driven by Project Fear. People feared damage to their wealth, businesses, lifestyle and employment and were eager to avoid all the uncertainty by remaining.”

    They were right to be fearful, weren’t they? Brexit reality is very much worse than any of the warnings, even without the pandemic.

    I agree that does not equate to all people who voted remain being committed to the EU. Most people are pragmatic, most of the time. So far, the dire economic impacts are just numbers for most people, but lots of people really don’t like the country we’ve become since the referendum and threatening to break treaties won’t make us feel more secure or proud of ourselves.

    I remember joining the EU. It was all about hope: the chance that things might change for the better in what was a pretty bleak and stagnant country. Largely, it delivered, but was blamed for everything, while the things that have always crushed us as a country (government by privilege and entitlement, for example) were allowed to continue.

    When re-joining the EU is seen by people as a hope to make things better here, we will re-join. Most Brexiters are old. If the young continue to suffer hopelessness the move to rejoin could build quickly. Already a majority think Brexit was a mistake.

  • Matt (Bristol) 7th Sep '20 - 11:28am

    I’m not a member any more, so I’m not sure why I care, but…
    – if frustrates me that this issue which had been building for so long, is coming down to an artificial binary.

    – What does the party want for the country, that expresses the aspirations both of members and voters? I’m reasonably sure you could phrase it as ‘the closest possible formal relationship with Europe, with an opportunity for rejoining if there is a clear democratic mandate to do so, and a clear rejection of any alternative alignment with either Trump’s US, Putin’s Russia or a totalitarian China’. (what you do about Biden’s US, is another thing, you’re going to have to work through).

    – The question the party has to decide is not, when does the party want to go back in the EU, but, what constitutes a clear democratic mandate for beginning negotiations to rejoin (assuming proportional representation has not dropped out of the sky or the Labour party by the next general election) that would convince enough UK and external observers to be a reasonable start for negotations?

    – The next question is, if that test is not met, what meaningful policy proposals and campaigns does the party have for the interim period, so that rejoining remains an option longterm?

  • Nonconformistradical 7th Sep '20 - 11:50am

    @Martin Boffey
    “I personally don’t mind too much if the party adopts a “Rejoin” policy. As long as it then gets put on the shelf where it belongs to gather dust,…..”

    But whatever we did with it – in the current situation it wouldn’t be put on the shelf by our opponents.

  • I thought the revoke line was the right one to try at the time. There seemed to be quite a large number of people who were very keen to avoid leaving the EU and the Labour line was ambiguous at best. There was some sense in making a very clear pitch to those people.

    It didn’t work. At the time when it was pretty much the only game in town for remaining in the EU, it didn’t attract anywhere near enough support and it alienated others. At the end of the day, the hardcore remainers were happy to make noise, but not happy to actually vote for what they wanted.

    That battle is over now. It’s lost. The only thing to do is look to the future, to an open, pragmatic relationship with the EU that may one day involve rejoining but cannot just yet. When you’ve jumped from a plane there is no point in trying to get back in. The only thing for it is to find a way to slow the fall.

    I also disagree strongly with the idea that compromising on positions is a bad thing. There’s a reason why the government is nearly always Conservative, and it’s that they are prepared to compromise their positions for the sake of power where nobody else is. To be in power is to make compromises and sometimes to make choices you’d rather not have to make. But to not be in power is pointless. Simply flipping like a weather vane won’t go down well, but nor will continuing to fight a battle that has long since been lost.

  • Dan, I thought the Revoke like was right at the time too… and then I had hundreds of doorstep conversations. I was proved very wrong. I’m keen not to make the same mistake twice. I agree very much with what you say about compromise in order to get into power. There’s a reason the Tories continue to get elected!

  • James Fowler 7th Sep '20 - 12:45pm

    @ Dan Martin. Agreed.

  • Matt (Bristol) 7th Sep '20 - 12:48pm

    Lloydie, what do you think constitutes an appropriate mandate for any government to consider reopening negotiations that could lead to rejoining the EU?

    1) a majority of members of the HOC pledged to rejoin followed by an executive decision by government?
    2) a majority of members of the HOC pledged to rejoin, and a referendum to confirm that?
    3) a majority of members of the HOC pledged to either rejoin, or seek a closer formal relationship than that held by the UK at the time , and a two-stage, three option referendum to clarify which of these options plus status quo is closer to the national will?
    4) An executive decision by any government, however constituted, whatever it had pledged in a previous election.

  • For decades pro-Europe people in Britain said “Ordinary people don’t care about Europe, so let’s talk about the things they do care about like the NHS, schools, jobs and so on.” Meanwhile, the Euro-sceptics banged on about Europe, gradually built support, and eventually got their referendum.
    If we want Britain to be part of Europe, we have to talk about it and seek support for that view.

  • I am one of those who is strongly in favour of our being a member of the EU. I am also one of those who believed that the revoke proposal was something I could not support.
    I did vote For the party – in fact since I had a postal vote I voted as soon as I got the ballot paper. However as I began to realise that there seemed to be a serious proposal to simply ignore all that had happened I began to change my mind.
    I did not see the party as a strongly pro’European party. I saw it as a party which, whatever the personal views of members, in fact failed to present a strong pro-Europe case. Failed to ensure that the truth was used to persuade the electorate that most of the arguments used by Farage and company were based on distortions. Failed to understand that we have a better educated electorate than ever before, and that there was need a campaign which was credible.
    I only hope that somewhere there will be a political party which will present a rational approach to our relationship to Europe, and know how to use the very real problems which lie ahead to argue an internationalist case.

  • Julian Tisi 7th Sep '20 - 1:25pm

    @Pete
    “Re-joining the EU would involve further loss of sovereignty, specifically by being obliged to adopt the Euro as currency and Schengen on border regulation”
    On those specific points, not necessarily. A future Britain negotiating re-entry would have a lot more negotiating clout than a small country. On the wider point about sovereignty we’re going to find out shortly that there’s a difference between theory and practice – for example, trade deals are likely to result in some loss of sovereignty and the biggest deals we need (e.g. US or EU, depending on which way we go) will entail quite a bit of being required to abide by laws made by the larger party with no say in having made them. Far from increasing our sovereignty, leaving the EU has lessened it.

    Agree entirely with the main article BTW.

  • Absolutely agree with MCStyan. We need to start talking about the real Europe, and the reality of our place in the world. People are looking for a lead. Are we going to continue to fail them?

  • Sue Sutherland 7th Sep '20 - 2:26pm

    Lloydie I agree with you that politics is about winning hearts and minds. Unfortunately our party is 99.9% concerned with minds and only .1% with hearts. Even more unfortunately the Brexit vote was determined by peoples’ emotions far more than their intellects but we still fail to understand the need to appeal to people’s feelings.
    The vote was won by painting the EU as the enemy of British freedoms and by stirring up all the anti foreigner feelings that populism demands. Yet there are other emotions, equally strong, that people associate with our nationality: our sense of fair play, our humour, our community feeling and generosity to those who have fallen on hard times, our history of being a safe place for refugees and of self sacrifice for the sake of others.
    Martin Luther King said that the only way to overcome hatred is by love and we need to remind people of British virtues to give them an alternative, a way of feeling good about themselves.

  • I don’t think it’s predicated on a “sunny uplands” view at all.

    I think it’s about accepting the situation for what it is and making the best of it. There’s no point in obsessing over trying to prevent what has already happened and if things do turn out for the worst then I can’t see a line of “we told you so” going down particularly well with anyone.

    Norway+ may be unsustainable, but everything is. Nothing’s ever stayed the same for long and nor should it. Britain has spent at least 300 years veering one way or the other in its relationship with Europe and that’s never, ever, going to change. All that can be done is to push it in the direction we think it needs to go. Some form of single market membership is the most attainable step in that direction and it would be silly not to take it just because we’d like to go further.

  • Matt (Bristol) 7th Sep '20 - 3:31pm

    Are people who are ‘against rejoining’, against rejoining the EU:
    – in the foreseeable future, as it’s not practical politics
    – ever
    or not against it really, but desperately keen that we avoid discussing it as its become political poison?

    Are people who are in favour of ‘rejoin’ as policy:
    – urging for an unconditional and permanent commitment from the party, irrespective of the landscape?
    – content to have a manifesto that holds it out as a future hope?
    – Prepared to a policy of rejoining in future if certain conditions are met?

    It seems to me that many of you are all debating on the false understanding there are two sides (which I’d submit there are not) and then straw-manning the ‘opposition’…,

  • Paul Barker 7th Sep '20 - 3:41pm

    Well, No.
    We have to walk before we can run. Convincing Voters who disagree with us is something for Stage 2, when we are back over 20% in the Polls.
    For now & for the rest of this Parliament our job is to convince Voters who already agree with us but dont Vote for us.
    Labour will almost certainly run in 2024 on a platform of “closer links to the EU”, do we want to be saying the same as them ?
    I want to hear complex, nuanced arguments about this issue & I dont see them in this piece.
    For now I would say that we should simply say Rejoin, if asked. What sort of prominence we give Europe depends on how things pan out, its too soon to decide.

  • No one is ever going to believe the Lib Dems have suddenly accepted the referendum result and only want to rejoin if there is a public will to do so. I agree with Christopher Curtis that it would be extremely dishonest to pretend and, in my opinion if the party were to go down that route, it would leave you wide open to ridicule from any fairly competent interviewer.
    The Lib Dems as a party believe Brexit was ideologically wrong and would want to rejoin if possible even if, and I know for most it would be an infinitesimally small if, Brexit went ok. There is nothing wrong with that belief and I think only harm can come from pretending otherwise.
    I also agree with Pete, he’ll be surprised I know, on the grounds that others have also mentioned there is no overwhelming European identity and love for the E.U. in the U.K. as a whole. Convincing people that rejoining is a good idea will be difficult due to the fact that the terms will probably include joining Schengen and the Euro. The biggest problem will be getting people to accept the future direction of the E.U. greater shared sovereignty and a move to closer political and fiscal union, that’s what people will baulk at.
    But this is what the Lib Dems believe in you should proclaim it loudly at every opportunity to do otherwise will not work in your favour, don’t lie to children….or the electorate, unless you’re prepared to accept the backlash.

  • Presumably this “no rejoin” policy is aimed at England. I can’t see how it is going going to help the Lib Dems in Scotland where there are now 3 “no rejoin, defend the union parties”.

  • Martin,

    I’m not disagreeing with you. At least I don’t think I am. I think we both agree that a Norway-type position is unsustainable. The difference, maybe, is that I don’t believe that matters, as all political positions are essentially unsustainable.

    When Brexit bites, as I don’t doubt it will to some extent, the question will become “what to do about it”, and an EFTA-type position is a way of mitigating the damage without going back on the referendum result. Of course it’s not optimal, but it’s a way out of the worst of the situation without simply looking backwards.

    More than half the country voted for Brexit. If they’re suffering from job losses and food shortages then I don’t think they’re going to be very receptive to “I told you it was a stupid idea”. They might be receptive to “here’s how you get what you voted for, and also food”.

  • Christopher Curtis, you remember joining the E.U. or the E.C.?
    Obviously the E.U. has only existed since 1993, if the U.K. had been given a chance to vote on the Masstricht Treaty, as other countries were, things may have gone differently….or we may have just been told to vote again.

  • For those that want out of the EU without an agreement, how is China looking as a place to do business?

  • David Allen 7th Sep '20 - 5:39pm

    “I think it’s about accepting the situation for what it is and making the best of it.”

    That makes sense when the “situation” you wish to accept is a clear, definite, settled state of affairs. Brexit is a million miles away from that. Scenario 1, Brexit goes well, the UK gets some wins such as the first CoVID vaccine and better access to fishing, a clear majority in the polls think we did right to leave. Scenario 2, Brexit causes chaos, food and medicine shortages, riots in the streets, a mass demonstration which forces Johnson to resign. Which of these is the “situation”?

    Mightn’t it be sensible to watch what actually happens, and only then, decide what policy suits the reality?

  • Many here seem to believe that people will soon be begging to rejoin the EU if Brexit goes wrong. I don’t share that view and believe that about half of the electorate are prepared to put up with considerable pain if that is the price of sovereignty. Project fear lost for that reason. There is great passion on the Brexit side too, which people here tend to overlook.

    It boils down to this: you need to persuade a great many people that EU membership with the Euro, Shengen, huge financial cost, ever closer union and comprehensive loss of sovereignty is worth it because……..

    Now, I’m sure that every Lib Dem here must know the answer to that because you love the EU but as you realise, not many others do or even understand the attraction. I’ve never heard a good explanation of why you love the EU. Perhaps it is an ideological thing that the rest of us don’t get. Either way, you would need to find some convincing positive reasons for embracing ever closer union.

    It seems to me that every aspect of closer union impacts on a Europhile brain and Brexiteer brain in opposite ways. It is how our brains are wired. I avoided the word remainer because as someone said earlier many people made a practical decision.

  • John Marriott 7th Sep '20 - 6:26pm

    As someone, who always preferred to be inside the tent for purely economic reasons and had not particularly idealistic view of the EU, I’m pleased to see that many of the contributors to this thread have not indulged in the kind of federalist ‘Alle Menschen werden Brüder’ tosh, which we often heard from many of the remainers during the referendum.

    Yes, I would still rather be inside that tent with the opt outs still in place. There’s a fat chance of that happening now. We have made our bed so let’s not blame the EU and make the best of a bad job. Welcome to the real world, all you Brexiteers. As Sir Ed said in his acceptance speech, it really IS time to wake up and smell the coffee (as long as it’s fair trade)!

  • I think the biggest fallacy in this whole argument is that there is one path that brings us criticism and ridicule, and another than brings us praise and respect.

    There isn’t. Our political opponents and their tame press backers will attack us either way.

    Back Rejoin? – The Lib Dems are extremist traitors, totally out of touch with reality.
    Don’t back Rejoin? – Even the Lib Dems have given up on the failing EU project.

    Let’s decide what’s best for the country, and proudly make the case for it.

    Leave didn’t win by timidly waiting for the country to change its mind. It campaigned vocally and relentlessly over years, and eventually got what it wanted.

  • David Allen 7th Sep '20 - 8:05pm

    “Federalist ‘Alle Menschen werden Brüder’ tosh”

    It’s always easy to sneer at idealist ambition. So let’s look at the facts. The US, led by a second-rate racist mafioso. Russia, led by a first-rate racist mafioso. China and India, led by extreme nationalists with genocidal tendencies. Europe by contrast, led in the main by normal, reasonable, capable leaders, with a genuine belief in democracy, and a real willingness to find ways to get along with their neighbours and the wider world.

    We have walked away from the herd of herbivores. We have bravely thrown ourselves to the wolves. They are all ready to gobble us up.

  • There is no upside to being seen as vacillating on a core Party policy, especially one as distinctive (now) as being pro-Europe. If we abandon it, that is of absolutely no advantage no matter what happens; we become indistinguishable from Labour and the Tories. If we abandon it and then flip around again once being pro-Europe looks politically advantageous, we look like unprincipled opportunists.

    However, if we stay steadfastly pro-Europe, and public opinion remains anti-Europe, that doesn’t hurt us because that view of the Liberal Democrats is already fixed, and even if people disagree with us, they can at least respect that we stuck to our principles. But if public opinion recognizes that Brexit was and is a disaster, and we have maintained our pro-Europe position, then it becomes decidedly to our advantage.

  • David Allen 7th Sep '20 - 8:20pm

    Peter,

    “Many here seem to believe that people will soon be begging to rejoin the EU if Brexit goes wrong. I don’t share that view and believe that about half of the electorate are prepared to put up with considerable pain if that is the price of sovereignty. …. There is great passion on the Brexit side…”

    OK, so you are a Brexiteer zealot, and your advice to Lib Dems is to be cowed by Brexiteer rhetoric, to quieten down, to adopt complex nuanced positioning which will lose all traction. If you were a Manchester United fan, you would be trying to persuade your opponents from Chelsea to put the ball through their own goal, wouldn’t you?

  • The least people want is an orderly negotiated withdrawal from the EU and it is increasing looking unlikely. For certain Britain should keep its word in international agreements it has signed up to.

  • Peter Martin 8th Sep '20 - 5:17am

    @ Joe B,

    “Comparable levels of tax and benefits, econmic growth and standards of living to the Nordic/Northern European economies.”

    We might be geographically “Northern European” but our economy isn’t like our neighbours. They are mercantalistic by nature. They choose to depress domestic demand by having high levels of taxation and artificially depressing the value of their currency to discourage imports. This also enables their exporters to be internationally more competitive than they would otherwise be. It’s a way to divert production from domestic consumption to the export market.

    We’ve never been too good at running a surplus of exports and nor need we try to do that.
    It is not a model that leads to economic success on a global scale. The net exporters of the world need the net importers like the UK. Otherwise they’ll be continuously fighting each other. Mercantalism leads to trade wars which often lead to real wars.

    It isn’t such a good prospect electorally. Many consider the pound to be low enough as it is. Most voters don’t want it held artificially lower to boost exports. Neither is ” eliminating VAT exemption or zero-rating on many goods and services including food and transport” likely to be a big seller. If you have any ambitions to get back your vote share into at least double figures, proposing an extension of VAT isn’t the way to do it! Also we’d have to ‘harmonise’ the VAT base rate by copying their 25% rather than keeping our own 20%.

  • What damaged the LibDems at the last election was the perception by many that the referendum would be ignored undemocratically by the LibDems. Rejoining is not a practicable aim in the short term and, although it should certainly not be abandoned as long term aim, it should be made subject to a future referendum. In the short term campaigning should concentrate on achieving a close relationship with the EU, which a majority want. In particular we should try to counter the EU blame game which the present awful government will increasingly resort to. A close relationship with the EU is central to many of the many other things we want.

  • Antony Watts 8th Sep '20 - 9:14am

    I am way down the list but let me just say. Any policy must be positive, not negative. No good saying we made a mistake, we should rejoin.

    We have to say, repeatedly “Lib Dems think that the EU is doing a better job at …” And get people round to knowing and believing in the EU as their future.

  • John Marriott 8th Sep '20 - 9:18am

    @David Allen
    “You may say I’m a dreamer/ I’m not the only one”, as John Lennon told us in his 1971 hit ‘Imagine’. Judging from your comment on my quote from Schiller he clearly wasn’t. Perhaps the word ‘tosh’ might have been a bit strong; but I stick to my point that most citizens of Europe, and their governments for that matter, are in the EU for what they can get out of it – and who can blame them?

    Now, if the founding fathers (sorry ladies; but they were almost exclusively male) had stuck to trade and cooperation instead of aiming so high, and, indeed, had Attlee’s government started the ball rolling by joining the Iron and Steel Pact, which eventually gave birth to the Treaty of Rome, we might have been there at the start and have been able to inject a bit of common sense into the master plan. But we were too busy trying to play the rôle of ‘World Power’, which some Brexiteers would have use try to continue to play today.

    Finally, a storm warning. I see that Messrs Martin and Bourke might be cranking up the volume again. I’d better get my merry quips in now before their arguments overwhelm this thread.

  • Ianto Stevens 8th Sep '20 - 9:53am

    Everyone, especially us Liberals, should heed Dylan’s lyric:
    (And don’t speak too soon
    For the wheel’s still in spin
    And there’s no tellin’ who
    That it’s namin’).
    We can’t have much influence in the short term. What we do will be very heavily dependent on what (if any) EU deal Johnson makes, whether Trump wins and what happens in Ireland. Our new leader is right, we have a few months to think and listen and then we need passion and coherence.

  • Peter Hirst 8th Sep '20 - 11:55am

    This ironically is a time when we can come together as a country. We leave disunited and then comes the day when we see we have to rejoin or get closer to Europe. We can decide this collectively when it becomes obvious and move forward together. Until then, let’s campaign locally on what matters to the electorate and show our values as they pertain to modern Britain.

  • John Marriott 8th Sep '20 - 12:33pm

    It’s 12.30 and it looks as if I was wrong about Messrs Bourke and Martin. No, wait a minute, the latter appears to have switched his attention to Mr Belchamber’s latest article on the EU. I think I might join him, until I get the dreaded ‘Flood Warning’. Bye, folks!

  • David Allen 8th Sep '20 - 12:43pm

    John Marriott: “most citizens of Europe, and their governments for that matter, are in the EU for what they can get out of it”

    Oh, sure. No government, however idealist, will in the end sign up to an international agreement which does not give them what they want – or at least, gives them benefits which they judge are more worthwhile than any parallel sacrifices. Perhaps some of the early European rhetoric, with its overblown motherhood-and-apple-pie idealism, did unhelpfully tend to obscure that fact. However – and here I’ll stick to my point – it’s perfectly possible to combine a hard-nosed determination to make the deal work well for your own country, with an idealist aspiration to make the deal work well for the whole of Europe. As Merkel and Macron are doing. As Heath, Jenkins, and even Thatcher did do.

    The urge to abandon an ambition, because the compromise with others didn’t work out precisely the way you would have liked, should be resisted. I detect that you might have preferred a Common Market which didn’t try to do the extras like organising collaborative scientific research, or collaboratively fighting climate change, or avoiding a free-for-all on fishing. Others might have equally taken umbrage had those things NOT been included in the European project. If every individual insists that cricket must be played with their own pet version of the lbw rule, you’ll never get a game of cricket.

  • @Derek Hill: “Rejoining i… should be made subject to a future referendum.”

  • @Derek Hill: “Rejoining i… should be made subject to a future referendum.”

    Regardless of one’s view of our relations with the EU, I should have thought that the one thing that all Liberal Democrats could agree on at this point is that plebiscites are the worst possible ways of making policy.

  • Wow! This has certainly produced a huge amount of comment and I have to admit I have not read every one. But surely the point here is not theoretical at all. We would commit suicide if we ardently tried to rejoin now. What we must do is remain generally pro our ties with Europe and just wait while all the chaos that we can foresee comes to pass. Then we can make our move.
    Meanwhile if all goes smoothly in leaving Europe, we will have to bite our tongues until such time as the general public begins to realise that they don’t have all the things they had before.

  • Peter Watson 8th Sep '20 - 4:13pm

    @David-1 “I should have thought that the one thing that all Liberal Democrats could agree on at this point is that plebiscites are the worst possible ways of making policy.”
    Which would certainly reflect a change in attitude!
    The 2010 manifesto offered referendums on in/out of the EU, joining the euro, and a written constitution. Before then, Lib Dems had also been big fans of a referendum on the Lisbon treaty. And in Government the party delivered referendums on Scottish independence, Welsh devolution, and the Alternative Vote.
    Given that the alternative is implementation of manifesto policy by a Government elected under an unfair and unrepresentative system which is opposed by Lib Dems (which made the 2019 Revoke policy look like a clumsy – and backfiring – positioning tactic by the party), I think the party should restore its enthusiasm for plebiscites and just accept that you can’t win ’em all.

  • Nigel Quinton 8th Sep '20 - 4:54pm

    This is such a depressing debate. So much fatalism and lack of vision it is no wonder we are where we are in the polls.

    Some facts (or opinions if you like but I will defend their factual basis):

    1. There is no clear majority in the country to leave the EU. There never was, and there certainly wasn’t last year. The biggest political petition ever of 6 million plus asked the government to revoke Article 50. 2 million or more marched in London. Many more elsewhere.These are not insignificant numbers just because they are less than 17 million who voted to leave in 2016.

    2. The vote in 2016 was invalid for so many reasons – foreign interference, lack of controls on spending, advertising etc. The government’s own lawyers accepted that had it been binding it would have had to be redone. I despair at our willingness to accept the tabloid narrative that we have to accept the result.

    3. The problem with the revoke policy was that it should have been “Revoke in order to hold a second referendum” – this would have made sense, to buy the county time to allow a proper review and second referendum to take place and would not have alienated many of the campaigners I was working with in the Peoples Vote/European Movement campaigns who were utterly confused by our change of tack.

    4. To argue that a Rejoin message will go down badly in Tory facing seats where we lie second is total nonsense. The reason we were second in many such seats (eg Hitchin & Harpenden where we helped Sam Collins get the fourth largest swing in the country) was because many Tory voters do not want to leave, see the mess that Johnson is making of everything and saw us as a sane pro-European alternative.

    We should be very clear. We want this country to be a member of the EU. This cannot be done without a new referendum, or a massive parliamentary vote in favour of parties proposing this in their manifesto. It may not be straightforward to rejoin and the first priority may be to regain access to the single market and to minimise the damage in the short term. But we must stick to our core belief that our future is part of a reformed EU and be proud of it.

  • neil sandison 8th Sep '20 - 5:12pm

    Spot-on Lloydie now is not the time .Point out blundering Boris and his henchmen making a right pigs ear of Brexit and what gigantic whoppers they mis=led the public with frequently ,but rejoining now would just give them an even bigger stick to hit us with.
    We can promote European partnership working on key issues like the climate emergency, asylum and refugees status . economic co-operation to green European future employment opportunities both here and in Ireland and across the channel . demonstrate co=operation has significant advantages for all.

  • David Garlick 8th Sep '20 - 8:14pm

    I fully expect Brexit to be a disaster in one form or another and if that happens then is the time to think about this option. Until then forget it.

  • @Peter Watson

    The one thing all the referendum proposals and actual referenda you mention have in common (*except* for the independence vote, which is obviously *not* a matter of government policy) is that they are cowardly attempts by governments and Parliaments to kick decisions that they *should* be making into another arena where they won’t have to take responsibility for the results. And we have seen that the results can be disastrous.

    Plebiscites are not more democratic than legislation; they are not proposed by the people, worded by the people, legally defined by the people, or even on issues that the people necessarily want to make choices about. And they certainly are not decided after full consideration of their consequences. No, plebiscites are just whatever a government with a parliamentary majority decides they should be, and if a government can take responsibility for framing a plebiscite, they must also take responsibility for the outcome of the vote, whatever it is. Which ultimately means that there is no excuse for the expense and disruption of the referendum at all.

  • Jeremy Davis 9th Sep '20 - 12:29am

    I wonder, if there was a referendum on the death penalty, abortion or equal marriage and the result, by a tiny majority was against Party policy, would the Party just decide to change its position?

  • Peter Watson 9th Sep '20 - 9:37am

    @Jeremy Davis “would the Party just decide to change its position?”
    I don’t think anybody is contemplating the party changing its position as a pro-EU party; the debate seems to be all about electoral tactics and precisely what message to communicate. Maintaining a good close working relationship with the EU, aspiring to rejoin when the time is right, etc. are all consistent with the party’s position, as is demanding we rejoin immediately, and as was switching from prioritising a second referendum to revoke. Some tactics are just worse than others! 😉
    Personally, based on a few parallel threads here on LDV, it looks like the party risks continuing to bang on about the EU and stopping or reversing Brexit, and worst, some appear to relish the prospect of social and economic damage to the country because of Brexit in order to be able to say “told you so”. This strategy was an electoral disaster in 2017 and 2019, but what the heck, maybe third time lucky!

  • Jeremy Davis 9th Sep '20 - 2:59pm

    @Peter Watson
    It would have better if I had been more precise. “Forget about them as live issues” might have been more appropriate.
    Perhaps I am not ambitious enough, but at this stage I don’t think it’s worth going after the votes of those who actively support Brexit. I cannot blame the Party’s Revoke stance for the the disappointment of the last three general elections. It probably did have a negative impact in certain constituencies, but it was a crucial positive factor in seats like Richmond Park and Twickenham.
    The deciding factor for many people who ended up by voting Conservative rather than Lib Dem was the fear of a Corbyn government, not of rejoining the EU, or of us not being democratic enough. There is a danger in listening to criticism from people who will never vote Lib Dem as if it comes from people who might.

  • Peter Watson 9th Sep '20 - 5:41pm

    @Jeremy Davis “it was a crucial positive factor in seats like Richmond Park and Twickenham”
    I don’t think there was – or is or will be! – any doubt that the Lib Dems are a pro-EU party, so I suspect that even in those target seats there was not – is not and will not be! – the need to drown out all other issues by continually reminding people.
    Though I was a bit surprised and disappointed that when push came to shove in the General Election and Labour offered the possibility of a referendum and remaining, anti-Corbyn seemed to trump anti-Brexit for the Lib Dems as well as those soft Tory target voters. Personally I think that a referendum under Corbyn (who in general would probably have been severely restricted by opposition in his own party as well as outside it) would have been preferable to Brexit under Johnson, but then I’m not a Lib Dem strategist so what do I know? Perhaps refusing to compromise on a softer Brexit and the subsequent election strategy is all part of some master plan for a glorious 2024 recovery and a Lib Dem Government leading us into the sunlit uplands of full EU membership with the euro, Schengen, and all that jazz! 😉

  • Kieran Seale 10th Sep '20 - 11:54am

    People in the UK have lots rights and opportunities as a result of leaving the EU. We should focus on how to restore those rights and opportunities – rather than the institutions themselves. Restoring freedom of movement is an obvious place to start – it is popular, deliverable and good for the economy.

  • Charles Smith 11th Sep '20 - 11:48am

    With London and Brussels at loggerheads on the subject of a post-Brexit trade deal more than four years after the UK voted to leave the European Union, Roger Koeppel, a member of Switzerland‘s National Council, believes the warning signs were there even then. Mr Koeppel was speaking in advance of a crunch referendum in his country later this month which will consider whether to stick with the EU’s rules on freedom of movement – or seek to renegotiate the treaty.
    https://worldabcnews.com/brexit-news-the-crunch-vote-which-predicted-britains-decision-to-quit-bloc-world-news/

  • Clive Sneddon 13th Sep '20 - 9:32pm

    I have suggested on another thread the UK proposing a cooperation treaty, the sole point of which is to bring individual countries together to cooperate on anything they have decided they want to cooperate on. That probably means a UN Convention rather than a Council of Europe Convention. though both are conceivable. The EU is still constructing a United States of Europe, which at the moment no electorate in Europe actually wants. What my proposal says in practical terms is that we are willing to cooperate with any country that wants to work with us. We are maintaining our internationalist position by saying that. Both Norway and Switzerland have stayed out of the EU, and in their various ways have sought accommodation with it. It sounds from Charles Smith as if Switzerland may be coming to the end of that road. After the last four years, we cannot expect the EU to agree with anything we propose any time soon. Sweden has tried to get round that problem on the Euro by joining it, but ensuring it never met the Maastricht criteria for implementing it. I think the current EU demands on fishing access to UK waters will guarantee no deal for the foreseeable future. Let us try and cooperate with individual states on what we can agree we want to cooperate on. I do not see this as a tactic, but as a way to show the voters that we are trying to work with others to deliver results that help people in Britain while remaining true to our internationalist beliefs.

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