Lib Dems react to Theresa May’s Florence speech

Vince said that it was no wonder the Brexiteers were terrified of giving the people a say on the deal:

Both the Conservatives and Labour have now essentially converged on the same position, which is to kick the can down the road and simply delay the economic pain caused by an extreme Brexit.

Neither are prepared to fight to keep Britain in the single market and customs union or to offer people a chance to exit from Brexit

Voters were promised £350m a week for the NHS, instead Theresa May is admitting the UK will have to pay a hefty Brexit bill worth billions of pounds.

No wonder the Brexiteers are terrified of giving the British people the final say through a referendum on the facts.

Willie Rennie said the “delinquent’ May was trashing our relationship with Europe.

Theresa May is kicking the can down the road. Sixteen months on from the Brexit referendum this delinquent Prime Minister is trashing our relationship with Europe.

She seems incapable of deciding what kind of relationship she wants with Europe and that prolonged uncertainty is causing economic damage.

We were promised Brexit would be an easy negotiation and that £350 million each week would be invested in the NHS. Neither are true.

This makes the compelling case for a Brexit deal referendum even stronger.

Yesterday, the Lib Dems laid out seven tests for Theresa May’s speech. Tom Brake said that only one of them was even slightly met. 

Theresa May’s speech in Florence was a failure. She ruled out staying in the single market, she failed to ring fence the rights of EU nationals, she has failed to take ‘no deal’ off the table.

Theresa May, six months since Article 50, has once again failed to give answers.

There was so much waffle in this speech she should have made it in Belgium.

The seven tests were:

  1. Clamp down on dissent within the Cabinet

❌ No evidence she has clamped down on dissent, Boris Johnson is still in the Cabinet.

  1. Seek to remain in the Single Market and Customs Union

❌ Confirmed we will not be in them long-term (although will be for the transition period).

  1. Try to secure the greatest possible degree of Freedom of Movement

❌ Confirmed Freedom of Movement will be scrapped long-term (although will be preserved during transition period).

  1. Ring-fence the negotiation on EU citizens’ rights

❌ Didn’t do this.

  1. Indicate how much the UK is willing to contribute to settle liabilities and participate in EU projects

✔️ May accepted there were liabilities and UK will be willing to contribute.

  1. Rule out the so-called ‘No Deal’ option which would have devastating consequences for UK Plc

❌ Didn’t do this.

  1. Announce you will legislate for a ‘Vote on the Facts’ (a referendum on the deal) before the UK leaves the EU

❌ Didn’t do this.



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  • John Chandler 22nd Sep '17 - 8:44pm

    Cringeworthy, waffly, at times a veiled cry for help. There were moments of highlighting all the good things we’ll be leaving behind, then the token trashing of the EU while simultaneously begging for a bit more time. Even if Brexit were stopped tomorrow, and we can only hope, the UK is going to spend years trying to recover its reputation.

    One thought though: kicking the Brexit can down the road until 2021 takes us pretty close to the next scheduled election. The Cons must realise they will be tarnished by Brexit and probably still weakened by in-fighting, which puts Labour in with a chance of inheriting the aftermath of Brexit. What better way for the Cons to damage their main rivals?

    Of course, in an ideal world neither party will win the election… which means we might end up with the mess.

  • Peter Martin 22nd Sep '17 - 8:56pm

    “We were promised Brexit would be an easy negotiation and that £350 million each week would be invested in the NHS.

    Who said Brexit would be easy?

    If you look at the wording on the red bus carefully, it should be clear that the phrase “would be invested” isn’t right either.

    I don’t know if I’m unusually observant, or even over-cynical, but I tend to spot these little details. I see an advert offering “Save Up to 20%” I immediately think that 1% is “up to 20%”. So is 0.1%.

    So read what things say and not what you think they might say. Or, even worse, what others want you to think they say!

  • Katharine Pindar 22nd Sep '17 - 9:13pm

    If the proposed two-year transition arrangement is ‘kicking the can down the road’, the logical follow-up is that we should oppose any such arrangement, and demand a referendum before March 2019 on what has been negotiated. This must as our policy reaffirmed at Bournemouth states include the option for the British people to turn it down and remain in the EU.

  • Andrew Fitton 22nd Sep '17 - 9:27pm

    The Conservative Party continues to tear themselves apart; not in public in parliament; even John Redwood bit his lip and said it was a good idea. At least he realises the only hope of the party surviving is Brexit is a roaring success. The rank and file Conservatives are split. Those who are aligned more to us and generally keeping quite. There concern is the economic impact of Brexit and they believe some damage limitation if the transitional period goes the course. They would vote remain again in a heart beat. The more regressive wing of the Conservative Party is apoplectic. They are calling for Farage. Labour must have mixed feelings. The Shadow Brexit secretary has been copied but he has to stride out ahead to differentiate again. Labour will feel more emboldened. We should think very carefully our next steps. We want the outcome of remain for good. How do we hold the need for an election and/or referendum in the next few years and what do we do if we get a change in PM and possibly another election in the coming twelve months.

  • A few weeks back Vince had a great line about David Davis wanting to spend billions of our money without us having a say. That – “Our Money, Our Say” could be (IMO) a great line which is simple and resonates (and can reach some leavers). Certainly seems to me better than the rather convoluted “a final say through a referendum on the facts.”

    The bigger problem though is if I don’t come here I don’t get to see even this.

  • Peter Martin asked

    Who said Brexit would be easy?

    Were to start Peter.

    Political commentator Simon Williams told us, “I remember last year that David Davis and his colleague Liam Fox both assured us that striking a Brexit deal with the EU would be ‘one of the easiest deals’ in human history, and that creating free trade deals outside of Europe would be a piece of cake.

    Appears someone said it would be, perhaps your not as observant as you think.

  • Tristan Ward 22nd Sep '17 - 11:14pm

    @ John Chandler

    The next election is key. The “out at all cost, as far away as possible” brigade will insist that any transition period ends before the next election is called. That way they achieve their goal. We will be out, and getting back would be hard; and no prospect of the transition continuing or being used as a springboard to get back in.

    In light of that I would expect the all costs brigade to do everything they can to prevent a long transition. Possibly enforcing a cliff edge Brexit.

    We “inners” have to nurture public opinion so that it becomes sufficient to embolden the soft remainders in parliament to stand and fight for the EU and a deciding referendum on the deal on offer. The more the Tories fight the better on tat score. Not easy, especially given the Labour Party leadership.

  • Malcolm Todd 22nd Sep '17 - 11:37pm

    Oh dear – did you not notice the bit at the top of the page you linked to? The strapline “UK Spoof news and satire” is a bit of a warning that you haven’t chosen your sources very well. Should we take this as representative of your attention to detail?

  • Malcolm Todd 22nd Sep '17 - 11:42pm

    Actually, I regret the slightly ad hominem tone of that last remark, and I apologise for it. However, the substantive point stands – have you got a non-spoof source for your claim?

  • Actually I have it’s an article in the Daily Mirror, the Guardian, the Independent et al. Unfortunately I’m on a mobile phone so to find them Google Brexit will be easy fox. They will all pop up, strangely enough they all read like the Dailyhump, if not as well written, we live in strange times when parody and reality do not differ by a whisker. Next time I’ll link the real newspaper but you won’t be able to tell the difference, such is the world Brexit has brought upon us.

  • Who said Brexit would be easy?
    Peter did you pay attention to anything that leading lights in the Leave campaign said, such as:
    Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson, Liam Fox, David Davies, etc. etc.

    From the response of the Brexiteers in last nights Question Time audience, it is clear that many of them believed they had been told that Brexit would be easy and in fact would have been completed last summer, if it wasn’t for the EU…

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 23rd Sep '17 - 5:40am

    Katharine, you say that we should oppose the idea of a transition period, and just insist on a referendum on whatever has been negotiated by 2019. But what if a majority of the public want to leave, with the transition period?
    The party have been accusing Theresa May of leading Britain to a “cliff edge”. So why raise objections if she seems to be trying to replace the “cliff edge” with a safe, easy path to the beach?

  • Can I please dissociate myself from an abusive fellow-member who calls our PM ‘delinquent’ ?

  • Andrew Tampion 23rd Sep '17 - 7:10am

    Andrew Fitton

    “The Conservative Party continues to tear themselves apart”

    That would be the Conservative Party that increased it’s vote share in the recent General Election by 5.5 percentiles to 42.3% whereas our vote share declined bt 0.5 percentiles to 7.4%. Perhaps we should start tearing ourselves apart?

  • Sandy Leslie 23rd Sep '17 - 8:11am

    If may understanding of artical 50 is wrong no doubt somebody will correct me.
    To get a 2 year extension will require the remaining 27 membeers to agree. I understand this has to be unanous. It also requires that our parliament would also need to agree.
    I am not sure that a 2 year extension will meterealise.

  • Arnold Kiel 23rd Sep '17 - 8:30am

    Remainers can be pleased with May’s speech. In essence, she asks for a 24 month prolongation of the Article 50 process, i.e. no change until 21. 3. 2021. That means, apart from their referendum result, the Brexit camp has achieved absolutely nothing tangible in 5 years, apart from stopping, possibly reversing an economic recovery that had just gained some traction, and a consequent downgrade by Moody’s. It is worth pointing out that the total EU budget contributions over that entire period are 50 billion, not 20, and that still excludes the final settlement.

    It is especially noteworthy, that the UK, in order to achieve this static non-result, still must satisfy the EU with respect to the three key separation issues. It s also clear, that continued ECJ jurisdiction and free movement until then are unavoidable. Registering EU immigrants would always have been possible, but the EU is now in a position to block even that, if it wished.

    On the other hand, business’ relief about this step will be shortlived. For them, uncertainty ends when all specifics of the final trade relationship are not only negotiated but also ratified. This end to uncertainty, btw, will not end desinvestment and hiring restraint, but will give way to clearly directed, purposeful restructuring, unlikely to the UK’s benefit. I would be surprised if the EU allowed a transitory member of the customs union to negotiate its own trade-agreements. Therefore, a cliff-edge fall from European markets might be turned into a controlled slide, but the exhausting climb to new trade-shores can only start 2021.

  • Arnold Kiel 23rd Sep '17 - 8:31am


    Transition might well add complacency to the complexity of reaching a final UK-EU trade agreement. It is quite likely that just the separation agreement and the rules of the transition period will be ratified by March 2019, which time-boxes the trade negotiations. Comes cliff-edge II with the possible implication of a prolongation of the transition period.

    I am suspecting (lawyers, please help) that this transition-phase, being more like a trade than a separation agreement, is not covered by Article 50’s qualified majority voting rule, but rather needs a unanimous vote, which would also subject the separation settlement to this more onerous (and risky) ratification mechanism.

    As I have argued before, this transition, but open-ended, could be achieved unilaterally and therefore risk-free by revoking the Article 50 notification.

    It would not only be a complete failure of Labor and Liberal Democrats, if this destructive Government lasted under these circumstances until the next election, it would have to be regarded a failure of UK democracy.

  • If you google (other search engines are available) “Brexit will be easy fox” many links pop up but to me one of the most interesting is that by Tim Worstall a Fellow at the Adam Smith Institute in London on the Forbes website, he begins

    Liam Fox Is Right, Brexit Is Easy – We’re Leaving, What’s Difficult About That?

    Given that I know people who know Liam Fox, who have and do work with him, of course I am going to say this. But he is quite right when he says that Brexit is simple–Britain is leaving the European Union. Once that simple fact is accepted by all then everything does become rather easy. We have our red lines–we’ll not accept freedom of movement in its totality, nor the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice–and so do the European Union have their red lines. Without both of those two things then we’ll not have free movement of goods, capital and companies. That also, obviously, means no membership of either the customs union nor the Single Market.

    OK, that does make it simple. We know roughly what the deal is going to be then. We might have some closer trading relationship, we might default back to World Trade Organisation terms. Everything else is just paperwork and it’s not as if the entire continent is short of people who shuffle that, is it? I am always rather hesitant to talk about political will of course, it smacks a bit too much of Leni Riefenstahl, but then again it is true. Once those basic building blocks are in place then everything else really just is a matter of squaring off the paperwork.

    Thus this seems right to me:

    This may explain why Liam Fox is so confident, saying on Thursday the Brexit agreement should be “the easiest deal in human history”.

    and he goes on and on in much the same vain. What strikes me are two things his staggering nativity and the fact as a fellow of the Adam Smith Institute he will have the ear of the hard Brexiteers. So here we have the view of a hard Brexiteer, so yes Martin people have said Brexit will be easy and where still saying it a few short months ago. Have they changed their mind I rather doubt it.

  • Arnold’s regarding your statement “Remainers can be pleased with May’s speech. ” you couldn’t be more wrong in my case. Her speech effectively says we can’t cope we have to kick the can at least two years down the road and for that we need to give up our voice in Europe and pay up. We will lose any influence we have and probably pay more hardly a reason to be pleased. The sad thing is in 18 months we will probably be asking for another couple of years as we are not quite ready to jump of the cliff.

  • Arnold Kiel 23rd Sep '17 - 7:46pm


    no problem, really. Remaining and paying annually is a good thing, and the UK having no voice or influence is well-established pre-Brexit practice.

  • Of cause it is Arnold, only in the world of the Daily Mail I fear. However if you are happy to be a tag along, who am I to stop you, personally i feel the UK can be so much more.

  • Katharine Pindar 24th Sep '17 - 12:49am

    That’s not a beach, Catherine, that’s a cliff edge. Not the bonny beaches of Bournemouth, but the white cliffs of Dover separating us fatally from our fond neighbours. The only sense of a transition period is to cushion the blow if we’ve left, and get through some of the multitudinous little changes required to unpick the relationship, with more happy days for civil servants and lawyers, and sterility at home. We Lib Dems want Exit from Brexit, which HAS TO BE ACHIEVED BY MARCH 2019. We’ve little over a year, then, to orchestrate the groundswell of opinion we need to call for the referendum on the facts and force the Government to grant it. Otherwise we’re out of our EU and there’s no going back.

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 24th Sep '17 - 8:01am

    Katharine, well of course both the cliff edge and the safe easy path to the beach are very poor analogies. I didn’t think the “cliff edge” analogy was meant to be about the White Cliffs of Dover particularly. I thought it was just meant to be any cliff, the idea being that leaving the EU without a proper deal would be a dangerous leap with nothing to cushion our fall.
    The opposite of this dangerous leap would be a “safe easy path to the beach”, wouldn’t it? Though I suppose the real opposite would be to turn back and walk in the opposite direction from the cliff. If the cliff is the White Cliffs of Dover, then wouldn’t turning and walking in the opposite direction from the cliff actually itself be an analogy of Brexit?
    These analogies get more nonsensical the more you think of them, but I suppose my point was that it isn’t quite fair to first accuse Theresa May of wanting the dangerous leap, then also condemning her when she seems to be trying to find a “safe easy path to the beach”. Though of course the safe path still doesn’t answer the question of what to do when you reach the beach.
    Anyway, although Dover isn’t Bournemouth, there is a Dover Beach, and your comment got me thinking about Matthew Arnold’s poem of that name, and re-reading it. I’m sure you could find many Brexit analogies in that poem, actually!

  • William Fowler 24th Sep '17 - 11:38am

    It is actually sensible to keep two more years worth of benefits to being in the EU (albeit without any MEPs) and pay what we have already committed to pay for the EU’s budget cycle… surely this should have been explained at the time of the referendum, though.

    Anyway, looks like the EU is going forward with getting everyone in the Euro and much more of a federal europe, not something you would ever win a referendum on in the UK. My take is that at the end of the process big business will be fine and UK citizens will lose out big time with loss of rights and ability to live/work in Europe.

  • Arnold Kiel 24th Sep '17 - 1:13pm

    Catherine Jane Crosland,

    don’t you see that May is maintaining an unspecified and irrational position as long as possible, and when she is about to hit a wall, she makes the smallest possible change to stay alive, continuing on an equally unspecified and irrational position? This transition “proposal” was always a necessity, but the Torys are able to defy any logic until the last second. It only serves to keep the May show on the road towards that wall. She has moved it back a bit, but is still racing towards it, and will continue to do so until even the blind in her cabinet (Leadsom, Fox, not Gove or Johnson, they just act blind) see it. She will then make the next smallest possible move…Delinquent is not too strong a word.

    The side-effect of this buying time strategy is that the real tradeoffs continue to be unaddressed, because that would expose this irrationality: the UK must choose between ideosycracy (I am not abusing the term sovereignty) and prosperity, between closed and open. Consequently, the negotiations cannot progress, because that would require rationality, a concept this Government cannot stomach. Therefore, the risk of stumbling over the deadline without agreement is very real. Once the people understand this, their choice will be clear.

    This will continue until Libdems, Labor, and responsible Tories stop this nightmare, and bring her Government down. Soon, unconditional remain will evidently become the only way to economic survival. Katharine is absolutely right: it must be done by March 2019.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 24th Sep '17 - 2:40pm

    Comments from Katharine and Catherine herein remind me why I am a Liberal Democrat.

    Yes indeed, for when I wonder , it is because looking at the polarised state of politics , even Liberal politics, I yearn for unity of purpose, and failing to often find this anywhere often, I hanker for friendly disagreement.

    Above , I find it. I shall take a side rather than ever sit on the fence, another analogy, and certainly shall not get so worked up about the EU or any issue that I would head for a cliff edge let alone jump, but believing the position of Catherine on this nearer mine than Katharine, I find two members who represent all I like about our attitude to disagreement and or agreement.

    Shan,t say that of too many too often but would yet like to !!!

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 24th Sep '17 - 2:48pm

    Lorenzo, thank you 🙂

  • paul barker 24th Sep '17 - 5:37pm

    On Topic.
    Labour are at least as divided as The Tories with an open letter this weekend calling for permanent membership of the single market & Manuel Cortes of The TSSA campaigning for Free Movement & a Referendum on the final deal. Corbyn is Leader but he is out of step with a lot of his members, including many on The Far Left.

  • Katharine Pindar 24th Sep '17 - 7:59pm

    Metaphors are fun, but we need some new ones. I think we Lib Dems must now be the super-hero moving nimbly to floor one opponent after another as they come from all directions. At the moment, we should face up to our more progressive friends in the Labour Party who declare via today’s Observer that we must stay in the EU internal market and the customs union indefinitely. How can that be possible without stopping Brexit? And how can Brexit be stopped, democratically, without a referendum being held before March 2019? And how can that referendum be won until the electorate is persuaded that stopping Brexit is not only possible but absolutely needed for the sake of the country? Labour progressives need to speak to the country, not just their party conference, and join us in this vital and urgent endeavour.

  • Katharine Pindar 24th Sep '17 - 11:41pm

    Martin, how could Britain remain in the Single Market and the Customs Union without accepting the four freedoms? And how stay in the Customs Union which would prevent us making separate trade deals with other countries? As far as I can see, there isn’t a half-in half-out position, however much the Government tries to make out that we can have a unique one. Let’s continue to enjoy participating in the democratic processes of the EU as now, and appreciate having equal benefit from the 45-plus free-trade agreements the EU has negotiated with the rest of the world. Oh, and remain one of the nine EU nations not in the Eurozone, happy to stay in that second tier which still allows us full involvement where we want to have it.

  • Richard Underhill 25th Sep '17 - 8:19am

    The appointment of the former Mayor of Greater London to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office was a surprise. Maybe he could learn on the job, maybe not. So he should be offered another job as George Osborne was.
    Failing which would the Daily or Sunday Telegraph make him editor?
    Bangladesh is one of the poorest countries in the world and has a huge influx of refugees.
    Boris should take his chequebook and go there urgently.

  • William Fowler 25th Sep '17 - 9:08am

    Merkel’s loss of voters to the far right possibly means euro integration is postponed and some harder lines drawn on freedom of movement (such as I keep suggesting, no access to benefits, social housing etc for the first five years, which Macron would also be up for) which might change things enough to make EU more acceptable, esp for Corbyn who is trying to keep the Unions happy.

  • The thing is both other Parties are doing what is best for their Party while playing to the media and supporters. They are therefore confusing, unclear and not acting in the nation’s interest. We, being more united can speak clearly. We ought to make more of this, pointing out they are speaking from fear (of losing votes) whereas we are speaking from love of our country.

  • It looks like poor David will be sent home again to do his homework. I can’t work out if he fails to do it hoping to be thrown out or he lacks the ability too; either way the cliff edge is getting closer and we don’t seem to have mastered the ability to fly. Still if we believe hard enough we will sprout wings and become faeries. All together now, we believe we can fly we believe we can reach the sky, tis the Brexiteers best plan.

  • Next time any of the free-trade Brexiteer fantasist’s turn up I’ll mutter but one word at them Bombardier and watch them run for the hills.

    Theresa May is “bitterly disappointed” the US has opted to impose a tax on the C-Series jet made by Bombardier, one of Northern Ireland’s biggest employers.

    The PM said the UK would work with Bombardier to protect “vital” jobs after the US Department of Commerce proposed the 220% import tariff.

    Rival Boeing complained Bombardier got unfair state subsidies from the UK and Canada, helping it win a major order.

    Bombardier said it would fight the “absurd” ruling.

    The government and trade unions fear the imposition of tariffs could make Bombardier question remaining in Northern Ireland, where it employs 4,100 people in four locations.

    Still as they are in Northern Ireland perhaps the EU will help them out, won’t be the case for the rest of us. Afloat on a stormy sea in a leaky lifeboat, crewed by Tinkerbell and the Clowns with the old Brexiteers refusing to row as everything will be fine.

  • Frankie, The Bombardier situation in NI has been running for years…The UK government and Northern Ireland Executive have poured tens, if not hundreds, of millions of pounds of taxpayer’s money into Bombardier down the years.

    Almost two years ago the BBC reported…”The C-Series wing factory – the biggest ever inward investment project for Northern Ireland – was helped with a £120m loan.
    Bombardier is also one of the most grant-aided firms in the history of Invest NI, the Executive’s job creation agency. It has offered Bombardier at least £65m in support.
    But recently the grant situation has been complicated by European Union rule changes making it tougher to assist big companies. Even if it were inclined to, the Executive cannot throw money at Bombardier, bail-out style……”

    ‘Chickens’ and ‘Roost’ comes to mind..

  • expats,

    i struggle to see the relevance of you’re comment. Bombardier are in trouble because the US intend to put a tariff of 219% on the C-Series, basing it on a claim they are state aided. The relevance to Brexit is only that many of the brave Brexit claimed free trade would make us all more wealthy, it appears free trade only exists in their heads, as in reality states especially the most powerful ones put up tariffs and support companies as and when it suits them.

    Ironically today in the Sun, Daniel Hannon is lauding free trade saying with an exit from the EU and our new free trade policy we will all be rich. How unfortunate for him that the Bombardier case seems to prove him to be totally deluded. The Sun again has started to blame the Remainers for the lack of progress and suggested we should crack on to WTO rules so we can become richer. As this will undoubtedly make us poorer they will only be left with the policy of blaming the remain side when it all goes wrong.

  • The PM said the UK would work with Bombardier to protect “vital” jobs after the US Department of Commerce proposed the 220% import tariff.
    Is it noteworthy that the PM hasn’t once mentioned the EU in all of this?
    Given the taxpayer-funded investments will have satisfied EU competition rules, surely there is a case to get the EU to issue warnings about implementing reciprocal tariffs. Perhaps T.May is not wanting to be seen to be providing a practical demonstration of the benefits of membership…

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