Lib Dems overwhelmingly back referendum on Brexit deal

The Lib Dems are so far the only party to call for a referendum on the eventual Brexit deal. Conference overwhelmingly backed a motion lodged by the Federal Policy Committee.

Nick Clegg spoke in the debate and got a standing ovation, saying that

He got a standing ovation – even from some people who have spent the last six years heavily criticising him. Is the party learning to love its former leader again? To Nick’s credit, he immediately signalled to people to sit down so the debate could continue.

The motion also set out nine priorities (outlined below) for the Brexit negotiations, including securing Britain’s membership of the Single Market, and called for MPs to have a vote on the Government’s negotiating mandate before Article 50 is triggered.

Ming Campbell also spoke, joking that former leaders were like London buses – you can never get one when you want one but then two turn up at once.


Tim Farron said:

The British people were trusted with the question of our departure, they should be trusted with the question of our destination.

The terms of Brexit will have a huge impact on jobs, security and the opportunity to travel and live abroad.

It cannot be right that such a momentous choice is secretly stitched up by bureaucrats on both sides of the Channel without the British people or Parliament having a say.

The Liberal Democrats are now the only party who will give the public a vote on the final deal and who will campaign to remain in the EU.

We are now the real opposition to the Conservative Brexit government, fighting to keep Britain open, tolerant and united.


A summary of the Liberal Democrat Plan for Britain

AFTER THE REFERENDUM: Questions and Next Steps


Liberal Democrats continue to believe that the United Kingdom’s future is best served within theEuropean Union, a position held consistently for over fifty years. However, following the referendum, the Liberal Democrats are setting out clear answers to some of the big questions and what we think should happen next.

Key constitutional questions

  1. Should we re-run the referendum to overturn the results of the first?

No. We believe that the Leave campaign lied blatantly, leading many people to believe things such as a vote to leave would mean £350 million a week for the NHS. However, we should not keep re-running the last referendum in order to get the result we wanted.

  1. Should the British people have the final decision on the government’s negotiated deal?

Yes. In voting to leave, there was no opportunity to vote for how future trading relationships should be, or how we should work with other countries over things like criminal justice, law and order, ease of travel etc. Voting for a departure is not the same as voting for a destination. When the deal is negotiated, in however many years’ time, the British people must have a chance to say if they would prefer the new arrangement, outside the European Union, or would prefer to remain inside the European Union.

  1. Should young people (16-18) have a vote in a future referendum?

Yes. Liberal Democrats would introduce legislation to lower the voting age to sixteen.

  1. Should Parliament vote on Article 50?

Yes. Parliament is the supreme law-making body in the United Kingdom. There should be a formal vote in Parliament to give notice under Article 50 and trigger the process for withdrawal. Liberal Democrats will decide how they will vote after they see the terms on which the government proposes to negotiate.

Key issues for negotiation

  1. Protection of rights for EU citizens and UK citizens

Those who have made the United Kingdom their home should be allowed to stay. We will seek to secure the same for UK citizens living in European Union countries.

  1. Freedom of Movement and the Single Market

Any deal negotiated for the United Kingdom outside the European Union must include membership of the Single Market and protect freedom of movement.

  1. Maintaining environmental standards

We have a duty to future generations to protect our environment and tackle climate change. We will ensure that everything is done to maintain those high standards in UK law.

  1. Law enforcement and judicial co-operation

We must maintain maximum cooperation to ensure criminals are pursued quickly and effectively.

  1. Protection of Erasmus, investment in our universities and research networks

We should do everything we can to protect Erasmus, as well as other EU funded schemes increasing opportunities for young people. We will campaign to sustain the levels of investment in UK universities and their associated research networks.

  1. Travel and tourism

We must make every effort to ensure that we retain ‘soft’ traveller benefits such as the EuropeanHealth Insurance Card, reduced roaming charges and pet passports.

  1. British industries

The City of London must retain full rights in EU financial markets.  We must also protect the support provided by the European Union to domestic industries such as farming, tourism and the creative industries, as well as regional support for deprived areas.

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

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This entry was posted in Conference and News.


  • Lorenzo Cherin 19th Sep '16 - 1:18pm

    Thank you Caron, for your subtle comments posting here, to get support for this needs the cautious approach of our two former leaders , as well as the enthusiasm of our current one. Gung ho ,would alienate even members like me not greatly in love with the EU, who nonetheless voted to remain in it , as well as alienating many in the wider electorate.

    The approach in the article , does neither, rather it unifies , for democracy , not against it , indeed the phrase of Tim re departure and destination, is one we should utilise a lot .

    If Iam pleased , many must be more so , we must unite our party around this , but remember to be subtle and clever , not bull at a gate !

  • Dare I ask what would happen if the British people reject what ever terms are put to them?
    Can I also ask why people seem so confident that this (hypothetical) referendum will be fought on the issue in hand (unlike the last one) and if people think it will be more polite with less of the ‘project fear’ element of before?

  • @Paul
    “Dare I ask what would happen if the British people reject what ever terms are put to them?”

    We’d simply drop out as per Article 50. Or try to negotiate another deal. And then what, another referendum? All the signs are the EU want this over and done with pretty swiftly – they’re not going to wait around for years while we have multiple votes.

    This whole idea is a non-starter for one obvious reason: there is no political or legal mechanism for forcing the EU to respect a referendum of UK voters. Even if we had a vote and the people made it crystal clear what sort of agreement they wanted, it would only require one of the other 27 EU governments to say no and the whole thing would be rendered (expensively) pointless.

    No second vote is going to happen. The most useful thing opposition parties could be doing now is to fight for Parliamentary control over the exit negotiations.

  • PHIL THOMAS 19th Sep '16 - 4:05pm

    Have’nt the British people already voted ? Is it now the best of 3 ? No wonder the Lib Dems are under 10% in the polls.

  • Matt (Bristol) 19th Sep '16 - 4:24pm

    ” No wonder the Lib Dems are under 10% in the polls.”

    I am liberal enough to realise I can’t, but I do wish this phrase was banned on here.

    Basically because of our current poor showing and last year’s defeat, anyone with a criticism or a grievance has an open goal to insert rhetorical gripe, cheap potshot or question, and then add the above phrase with a sense of superiority.

    Now, the disconnect between the party and Brexit-voting voters may be one reason we are down to 10%, and the desire to see a referendum on the terms of the deal might be risky (which it is – but is it pointless? that’s different), but it is not necessarily A Truth Universally Acknowledged.

    More rational argument, less snide-ness, People Of The Internet.


    Who am I kidding?

    Keep it up, who needs facts or reasoning anyway?

  • Peter Hayes 19th Sep '16 - 4:37pm

    Those that did not want to join moaned and fought for over 40 years. I don’t see why those that wanted to remain should have to ‘put up and shut up’ when leave got a smaller majority this time than the original join majority. Keep on fighting for a Europe where all countries work towards shared goals for the common good.

  • Peter Watson 19th Sep '16 - 5:52pm

    @Stephen Johnson “Our ‘Remain’ position excludes perhaps 50% of the voters who aren’t going to vote Lib Dem anyway, but will make us the serious choice for all those who come to realise that the first referendum result was a mistake.”
    The Labour and Conservative parties have leaders who wanted to Remain, and both parties have significant figures (e.g. Jeremy Hunt and Owen Smith) who have called for a second referendum on the terms of Brexit. Whichever way the wind blows on Europe, either party can position itself as having wanted that all along and the current direction of travel will be excused as a democratic attempt to listen to the will of the people even if there is a complete reversal.
    In the meantime those parties get a media platform for all of the social and economic policies that have nothing to do with the EU, positioning themselves to gain/retain voters for whom membership of the EU is one of many important issues.
    Meanwhile, the Lib Dems are putting all of their eggs in one basket and risk appearing more like a single issue pressure group than a political party. The party should talk less about a second referendum, and more about exactly what it wants to do with our schools, hospitals, etc., inside or outside the EU.

  • Stevan Rose 19th Sep '16 - 7:39pm

    “or would prefer to remain inside the European Union”

    …is departure not destination. This is an attempted re-run of the first referendum rigged because Leave is split where Remain isn’t. Fool yourselves but the public won’t be especially after the Brexiteers have reminded them 100 times. It will never happen anyway.

  • “Have’nt the British people already voted ? Is it now the best of 3 ? No wonder the Lib Dems are under 10% in the polls.”

    It would be a curious case if “independence day”, as many pro-Brexit campaigners lauded it, would lead to an unelected PM and a government unrepresentative of the UK deciding behind closed doors what Brexit looked like when nothing was known about this when the vote occurred and nothing really is known still today. If people were truly sick of faceless bureaucrats making decisions for British people then surely they’d see the irony?

    Can you imagine if the timeline was reversed and the UK had voted to join only to be landed with the meager deal Cameron came back with to which no one was allowed to voice their disagreement because democracy means democracy?

    The only issues being a) do people want another referendum so soon b) how will you stop such a negative and misinforming campaign taking place again and c) if people vote against the deal May has then do we keep putting it to a national vote until a majority holds?

  • Bill le Breton 19th Sep '16 - 10:07pm

    @stephen johnson tells @peter watson “@Peter Watson: Because Europe is an issue that divides both the Conservative and Labour parties. They can’t flip flop because half their party won’t agree with the other half, so they won’t convince anyone. More to the point they will fight amongst themselves over it. ”

    But clearly has not been keeping up with today’s developments as Labour unite behind EEAminus (where the minus is Freedom of Movement). See Fabian Paper contributors + Rachael Reeves + Dan Hodges today.

    Some people here continue to underestimate the pragmatism and drive to power of both the Tory and Labour Parties. You just cannot rest a strategy on the premise that your opponents will be weakened by division. History is against you.

    Peter Watson always offers sense.

  • Andrew McCaig 19th Sep '16 - 10:51pm

    Trouble is that EEA minus is not on the table or likely to be.. A freeze, maybe, for a few years but the basic principle of Freedom of Movement is not going to be surrendered..

    We know the Tories will just blame the commission or the Poles for this, but if Labour do that they will lose a lot of activists..

  • I was very pleased to see Tim Farron on ITV South News this evening stating that the Liberal Democrats would only want the UK to re-join the EU if we can do it on the same terms we have now. This is great news for me, because it makes our re-joining unlikely and means we have an implied policy of not joining the EU if we have to have the Euro later. I am not convinced that being so pro-EU will bring any political gains in terms of getting new MPs elected. In fact I think if our main policy is to re-join the EU in 2020 rather than setting out how we would manage the economy to reduce economic inequalities outside the EU (something not possible in the EU with the free movement of people) we may well end up with fewer than the 5 MP low of November 1956 to March 1958.

  • ” Because Europe is an issue that divides both the Conservative and Labour parties.”

    Not forgetting that a third of Lib Dem voters voted Leave. From 8 seats to 5. Pro-European does not have to mean pro-EU. The EU is an expensive bloated bureaucratic shadow of its former promise. Peter Watson does offer sense. Other parties are listening and adapting while we offer denial and proposals with zero prospects. We will be annihilated if we don’t snap out of this irrational obsession.

  • I’ve been watching the many and similar debates on ldv regarding the referendum and have tried to avoid getting involved (until now anyway).

    @Stevan Rose
    “Not forgetting that a third of Lib Dem voters voted Leave.”
    I know that this wasn’t written in the context of stay in at all costs, but is it still a valid figure to use in debate. The latest polling that I’ve seen (21 Aug on UK Polling Report) seems to indicate that a majority of LD voters now think that the decision should be respected. The poll shows that 27% who voted leave and 36% who voted remain believe the Government has a duty to ensure that we leave. Potentially that is a lot of lost voters if they feel that the LDP is trying to undermine the result, isn’t it?

    The poll is worth a read as it does go through various scenarios, and it shows (imho) that it is a very complex problem, which is hardly surprising as people tend to be complex beings. (

  • Andrew McCaig 20th Sep '16 - 9:58am

    “30% of Lib Dem voters voted Leave”

    True, but over 50% of Labour voters and something like 40% of Tory voters voted Remain. What is more those % represent far more people. If people are going to change their vote on the basis of the EU we would clearly make a net gain. Meanwhile what we do know for sure is that our membership has gone up by 25% because of our policy on the EU.

    In present circumstances it would be brilliant if 15% of people supported us.. Then we would certainly gain seats in a General Election.. But this “we must not under any circumstances upset Leave voters because they make up 52% of the population” just shows a totally unrealistic idea of what we are trying to achieve. Shall we ditch our policies on overseas aid, hanging, grammar schools, housing benefit etc etc?? All those are opposed by far more people than our EU policy..

  • @Stevan Rose

    Yes, we voted Departure. So Destination is either Hard Brexit or Soft Brexit. EU is not part of the destination, UK voted to Leave.

  • Peter Watson 20th Sep '16 - 9:20pm

    This seems like an appropriate thread in which to throw a few reported comments from senior Lib Dems.
    Vince Cable stated, “We should never have had the referendum in the first place, but the public have voted, and I do think it’s seriously disrespectful and politically utterly counterproductive to say ‘sorry guys, you got it wrong, let’s try again’.”
    Lord Ashdown said, “Your presumption is that all the 48% who voted to remain in Europe would want to see a second referendum. I don’t think that’s true. I think there’s a huge number of them, who think ‘OK, it’s out, we don’t want to re-run that, but we do want the right solution.’”
    And apparently “Norman Lamb, openly said it was a terrible idea” ( and “Campaigning for a second referendum would be ‘disastrous’ to his prospects” (

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