LibLink: Nick Clegg: MPs deserve a vote on the final Brexit plan not a vague sketch

Nick Clegg’s latest iNews column casts a depressing eye over the debate over the EU Withdrawal Bill this week.

First of all, he looks at the ridiculous date of exit issue:

Putting the Brexit date – March 29th 2019 – into legislation is a particularly specious gesture. It may act as catnip to the increasingly agitated Brexiteers, but to our European partners the sight of the British government shutting down the possibility of extending the Brexit talks must look absurd. As they know, and as I do from my time working in the EU, deadlines can be, and are, frequently missed. And the suggestion from the Government that if MPs have the temerity to reject the Brexit deal they will be responsible for the chaos of no deal is as thuggish as it is misleading – if MPs were to reject a bad deal, the EU would pause the Article 50 timetable rather than push us over the edge of the Brexit cliff.

The whole idea of a meaningful vote on a deal is also ridiculous as we won’t have a deal about our future relationship with the EU before we formally leave. As Nick puts it:

So there is now a high likelihood that MPs will be asked to give their consent to Britain’s departure from the EU before knowing the detail of our future relationship with the EU. It will be like buying a house on the basis of a few grainy photos from a dodgy estate agent who won’t allow you to visit the inside. ‘Members of Parliament must hold firm and reject the government’s tactics’ On a recent trip to Brussels, it was made quite clear to me that the two negotiating teams are aiming for no more than a “heads of agreement” deal by the time Britain reaches its Article 50 deadline. This means that David Davis will return with little more than an outline of detail-free pledges on areas like security and combating terrorism, and a vague promise to strike a Canada-style free trade agreement

MPs have one job, Nick argues:

Members of Parliament must set aside their party ties, put country first, and be clear that they will not accept anything other than a meaningful vote on a detailed proposal about Britain’s future outside the EU.

You can read the whole article here.

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  • The decision to leave was taken a year ago and endorsed by parliament.

    The people who voted to leave are mature enough to understand that a negotiation will determine the the future relationship with the EU. There are risks in the short term. The longer term is full of opportunity.

  • Allan Brame 17th Nov '17 - 7:35pm

    No doubt some people will be happy to accept any deal David Davis manages to cobble together.
    Others would prefer to have the chance to endorse (or reject) the outcome of his negotiations.
    It might just be worth checking that the will of the people supports the reality of Brexit as opposed to the idea of it

  • John Dinnie 17th Nov '17 - 8:02pm

    The 27 will not negotiate. They will tell us what we can have and we either accept, crash out or stay in. This latter being the only acceptable answer.

  • Little Jackie Paper 17th Nov '17 - 8:30pm

    ‘It might just be worth checking that the will of the people supports the reality of Brexit as opposed to the idea of it’

    So what the argument here is what – people want to leave the EU, but they just have to lump it. At best that a sullen acceptance. At worst it’s proving the critics’ exact point.

    I just don’t get the reluctance of REMAINers to ask why it is that people voted to leave and, more significantly perhaps, what to do about it. It’s just a bizarre mix of ambitionless fatalism and self-satisfied narcissism. Wouldn’t a better idea be to try to work out what the problem was, rectify it and then ask the voters?

    Look, with respect, the Cameron message of, ‘come on – it’s not THAT bad,’ didn’t work. REMAIN thinking hasn’t moved on one bit since he took his leave.

  • Allan Brame 17th Nov '17 - 9:08pm

    ‘So what the argument here is what – people want to leave the EU, but they just have to lump it.’
    This is the difficulty when the country is split more or less down the middle – almost half of us are going to have to ‘lump it’.
    I just feel it is worth ensuring the proposed deal actually commands the support of the majority. None of us has had a chance to vote on that.

  • But Jackie you want the Norway option,if we get hard Brexit you’ll be lumping it too; hadn’t you realised that. That’s the problem so many leavers wanted their own private Brexit and they won’t be getting it. Tis sad but true.

  • Michael Romberg 18th Nov '17 - 8:35am

    Article 50 requires the withdrawal agreement to be negotiated “taking account of the framework for [the departing state’s] future relationship with the Union.”.

    One of Keir Starmer’s ostensible objections to a referendum on the terms is that no significant terms beyond the withdrawal agreement will be known.

    Nick Clegg’s article highlights the risk.

    In order to enable a referendum on the terms the opposition parties need to ensure that the UK and EU negotiate a Framework which is definite enough to allow the shape of Brexit to be understood.

  • William Fowler 18th Nov '17 - 8:48am

    It is interesting how seemingly intelligent politicians can be so thick (LibDems excepted of course), with one side desperately hanging on to power and the other applying itself to getting into power, regardless of the effects on the country – seems like they are so exhausted from various power plays that their minds are incapable of addressing the actual problems confronting them.

    Both Vince and Nick criticize them at length but do not actually offer any solutions to the problem of the country being almost equally split between staying and leaving, only hopeful that there will be enough of a shift to back their view, although ironically the harder the EU tries to shaft us the more likely we are to vote to leave rather that meekly flip over (I say this as someone who wants to stay in the EU but not at any cost).

  • Arnold Kiel 18th Nov '17 - 8:50am

    As always, I could not agree more with Nick Clegg. I also agree with the logical implication of his assessment, which he apparently still deems too controversial to spell out clearly: neither a second referendum (no basis) nor an Article 50 extension (not enough time) will solve this dilemma. Only a full reset will do, i.e. a revocation of the notification to fully stop the clock.

    Then the British public and politicians can embark on a substantive debate about the country’s future in Europe. This must lead to, either a decision to remain, or a document that precisely specifies an informally pre-negotiated divorce-settlement, transition-arrangement and the future relationship. As part of this process, another referendum at the right time is thinkable, but better avoided.

  • Little Jackie Paper: you keep repeating on here that Remainers don’t want to find out why people voted Leave. I don’t imagine that I’m the only Lib Dem for whom that is not true. Many LD domestic policies would address what appear to be some of the reasons – investment in affordable housing, infrastructure, improved skills / lifelong-learning, a proper regional policy including powers for councils to do what their area needs – to name but a few.

    I’m sure we could think of more (and indeed can also come up with many ideas for EU reform, being unable to do so is another accusation often thrown around here).

  • @Arnold Kiel
    ‘a substantive debate about the country’s future in Europe.’
    I don’t know how the country can have that debate without knowing what the future of Europe is. Does Europe know what it’s future is? There seems to be conflicting ideas in this respect. I don’t know who or what is driving Europe at the moment. You say that it is a democratic body made up of nation states. So which nations came up with the Idea of a an EU army (not that I’m totally against it)?.
    Europe cannot be without criticism in this whole affair and the refusal of the EU to talk to the UK without us triggering art50 has contributed to where we are today. Both sides of this debate could do with stepping back from this confrontational posturing and look to a more collegiate attitude again (whether we leave or not). The post crash austerity of the last ten years (in which we played a part) has left large swathes of this country and Europe brutalised and has brought out a meanness of spirit which I find profoundly disturbing but people who have not had to walk in those shoes should pause before condemning. I cannot see a way through this at the moment but stand firm to my belief that leaving the EU is the wrong course of action. Troubling times indeed.

  • @Peter- “The people who voted to leave are mature enough to understand that a negotiation will determine the the future relationship with the EU.”

    Are you sure? Just that I get the distinct impression from the media and web forums that many vocal Brexiteers think that negotiations are unnecessary or pointless because Brexit is so simple – remember there were some who after the referendum thought it would all be over by Christmas (2016)…

    Perhaps what is necessary is the mature Brexiteers to make their voice heard and slap down the more vocal irresponsible Brexiteers…

  • The problem Brexiteers (and to be fair many Remainers) have is they think we have a say in how Brexit will play out. Given the mismatch in power however we have alas three choices, only one of which gives us any real power

    1. Take what ever the EU offer. Hopefully with a fig leaf so we can say we got something. That depends if the EU want to hand out fig leaves, they may prefer to see a naked UK.
    2. Threaten Hard Brexit, hoping that the threat of this will frighten the EU. At the present they just seem to be laughing and I don’t see that changing. If we try that I expect the EU to say “go on” while eating popcorn and watch the chaos ensue.
    3. Withdraw article 50 and hope the EU let us.

    A hard lesson we all are learning is the power in these negotiations lie with the EU. All the statements about they will be begging us for a deal, this will be easy, we have the whip hand are to be charitable deluded in the extreme and to be uncharitable lies. I suppose the answer to that question depends if you think the leaders of the Brexiteers were knaves or fools or both.
    All the Brexiteers have now is we are proud Englishmen and you won’t push us around. It has a certain appeal until the cost of pride starts to be paid and then we will truly learn

    “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.

  • Andy,

    The last party that tried country before party didn’t fare too well. Other more streetwise politicians knew that would happen and those that didn’t do now, so I’m afraid an appeal to country won’t work. Labour have no interest in helping the Tories out and neither should we. They broke it, fix it, an impossible task I know, but us joining them would only allow them to divert the blame.

  • @Peter- “The people who voted to leave are mature enough to understand that a negotiation will determine the the future relationship with the EU.”

    I rather doubt that. Why many of them believed Brexit would change nothing, they must be very shocked at the level of change that is occurring. I think you understand this but the majority of Brexiteers not at all likely. Why most of the Brexit leadership seem puzzled at the problems that have ensued. You only have to look at David Davies doing his Benny Hill tribute act in Brussels to see that.

  • “Labour have no interest in helping the Tories out ” then why are they not opposing the Tories on Brexit?

  • It is true that some voters will never understand what they are voting for. Their votes will probably cancel out on average.

    The people made their decision and a majority voted to leave despite almost a year of dire warnings from Project Fear. It is a bit rich now to claim that people didn’t know the risks. The truth is that Clegg and his supporters lost the argument and do not want to accept that it is over. The EU set the trend in repeating referenda until they got the right answer. That will not happen here.

    People want to recover control of laws, borders and trade. They do not want to remain in the EU and face further relentless integration. Lib Dems seem incapable of grasping these aspects of the reason for Brexit.

  • Alex

    Labour seem to be following Napoleons advice

    “Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake.”

    They are trying to oppose just enough to keep the remainers on side, with out opposing enough to highlight their divisions. So far their act of sitting on the fence, sleeping on the fence and dancing on the fence has worked; will it work going forward and when people look back, hard to say but we will find out. Meanwhile they are allowing the Tories to continue with their mistake.


    Labour are not interested in fixing the Tories mistake. I believe many of their leadership they see it as an opportunity to destroy the Tories for the foreseeable future and therefore the price of Brexit will be worth it. We should also not forget that a number of their senior leadership have always been against the EU and while they may not trumpet that fact now, I doubt their views have changed. For the Lib Dems to try to pull the parties together to fix this issue is in my opinion at this time not an option. It would be like a rowing boat attaching itself to the Titanic in the hope we could keep it above water. There may come a time as the pain increases that we can cobble together an exit from Brexit stagy but that is likely to be at the last minute and even then the window of opportunity is going to be brief.


    “People want to recover control of laws, borders and trade. “. Alas Peter in an era of growing trade blocks you may get control of laws and borders but it will be at the cost of trade. No doubt you are dis-made at the EU’s stance on Brexit, but their hard nosed attitude is but a foretaste of the trade talks we will have with India, China, the US and the rest. We will see our laws, our borders being whittled away as the need to trade trumps our need for laws and borders. We are likely to become every big trade blocks “flexible friend”, at a cost to the poor and old but possibly a price you believe is worth paying.

  • Apologies second part of the comment should have been to Andy not Peter. I fear my brain is going all Brexiteer on me.

  • Peter Martin 18th Nov '17 - 4:08pm

    @ Andy Daer,

    “the intelligentsia of the country are on our side”

    They, and yourself, may think they are “the intelligentsia”, but, generally speaking, they, (and maybe yourself too?), don’t have a good grasp of economics. So they are disqualified on that count.

    The real “intelligentsia” at understand the arguments in the link below. True, some, like Yanis Varoufakis, still manage to be pro EU, but most aren’t.

  • Andrew Melmoth 18th Nov '17 - 6:27pm

    @Peter Martin
    John Lanchester, the author of that piece, is a remainer. The problems of the euro are more or less irrelevant to the question of whether the UK should leave the single market and customs union.

  • Christopher Haigh 18th Nov '17 - 6:32pm

    @PeterMartin, I thought there was a poll of 600 top UK economists at the time of the referendum, 88% of whom said Brexit would be bad for Britain. There was some sort of ‘economists for out’ organisation but they were hardly mainstream, although the BBC did keep interviewing Patrick Minford of course.

  • Andy,

    I have no reason to doubt your figures or your assertions, but they mean nothing until you can change the minds of the leave voters. Your vote is worth the same as my racist relative who voted leave to get rid of the Muslims. He hasn’t change his mind and isn’t likely too. That section of leavers will never change. Others have an over exalted opinion of the UK, being held back by the EU, reality is likely to change their mind as they begin to realise what a weak position we are in (in time perhaps not!). Others voted leave to kick the establishment they might change on a whim if they think voting remain is a better way to kick or just don’t think it’s worth the candle any-more. Others have their own reason of why leaving the EU is good for us, for example in the case of Peter it’s because the EU will fail. The problem he has is it’s been failing for a very long time and with each failure it seems to be getting stronger. Still I rather think he won’t change and will just try to find links that justify his opinion.


    You link was from October 201, how things change in a year

    The European Commission on Thursday (9 November) gave an optimistic view of the EU economy, saying that it is “on track to grow at its fastest pace in a decade this year.”

    According to the EU executive’s Autumn Economic Forecasts, the eurozone economy will grow by 2.2 percent this year, 2.1 percent next year and at 1.9 percent in 2019.

    In its previous forecasts in May, the Commission counted on only a 1.9 percent growth this year and next year.

    Oh I forgot the section of leavers who believe in Tinkerbell, I’m afraid in their case the cure is likely to be when dressed in their fairy costumes (off Ebay, manufactured in Vietnam) they plummet off the cliff while singing “We believe we can fly, we believe we can reach the sky”.

  • Nick who?

  • Joseph Stiglitz wrote a column in the FT last year advocating a two-tier Euro split between Northern and Southern EU states

    He writes “A single currency is neither necessary nor sufficient for close economic and political co-operation. Europe needs to focus on what is important to achieve that goal. An end to the single currency would not be the end of the European project. The other institutions of the EU would remain: there would still be free trade and migration.

    It is important that there can be a smooth transition out of the euro, with an amicable divorce, possibly moving to a “flexible-euro” system, with say a strong Northern Euro and softer southern euro. Of course, none of this will be easy. The hardest problem will be dealing with the legacy of debt. The easiest way of doing that is to redenominate all euro debts as “southern euro” debts.”

  • Peter Martin 18th Nov '17 - 8:21pm

    @ Christopher Haigh,
    88% of economists would have said, prior to 2008, that the GFC could never happen.

    @ Andrew Melmouth,
    The problems of the EZ are central to the whole of the Brexit question. If the euro experiment had worked, as hoped for, the 2016 vote would have been very different. Levels of migration would have been much less asymmetric. The EU would be a much better market for UK exports. So UK trade with the EU would be much more in balance, as indeed is UK trade with the rest of the world.

  • Peter Martin 18th Nov '17 - 8:46pm

    @ Andrew Melmouth,

    You could be right about John Lanchester. There are those who do understand what a complete cock up the introduction of the euro has been but still manage somehow, for reasons I can’t explain, to be pro EU. And he does understand as the quote below shows.

    “It’s also pretty clear what it would take to fix the euro: an increased sharing of economic burdens between creditor and debtor countries. Put simply, the richer North must take on some of the costs of the poorer South. That’s what happens in a real currency union………….. It is a common-sense wish list, but it has one grievous flaw, which is that it is almost certain not to happen. Germany is just too set against these ideas. It is a matter of deep conviction there that the euro must never be a ‘transfer union. The eurozone must never be about the rich paying for the poor, the North for the South. ”

  • Peter Martin 18th Nov '17 - 9:08pm

    @ JoeB,

    I normally agree with Stiglitz but not this time. A two tier, or a multi tier, euro wouldn’t really solve anything. In every tier there would be countries who were a using a currency that was too weak for its economy and others that were using a currency that was too strong. So there would still need to be a system of fiscal transfers to make it work. If you have that there may as well be just one tier. Just one euro.

    The bottom country in the top tier would likely be France. France has enough trouble with the euro as it is without saddling it with an even more expensive currency.

  • you know it wouldn’t be so bad if it wasn’t Nick or if there wasn’t an actual, you know, alternative to the EU’s incompetent approach to what they want to do. If you want to be globalists then I reckon it’s best to make sure you do the whole thing properly particularly when it comes to looking after those at the bottom.

    As it is most people like the idea of happy clappy unite and prosper until they realise that they may lose their own financial and geographical sovereignty (often linked).

    You know if the lack of transitional arrangements implemented in 2004 had meant hundreds of thousands of CEOs, bankers, accountants migrating here do you think Labour wouldn have stopped the whole kaboosh? Of course they would. Yet because it’s `merely cleaners, warehouse workers (especially in ones that have special tax arrangements from Luxembourg and bad conditions) and other assorted minimum wage workers who eventually change the whole working culture to the lowest common denominator (a pressure barely understood by British workers within London/SE or above average wage) who cares? From what I’ve read barely at all and not even understood by the Lib Dems.

  • Katharine Pindar 20th Nov '17 - 2:08am

    The problems of the Euro-zone are not going to lead to its break-up. The problems of the Euro-zone are not a sufficient reason for Britain to leave the EU. Growth forecasts in the EU are good now, better than in Brexit-haunted Britain. The trade forecasts if we leave without a deal are very poor, and the chances of getting a deal as good as we have now are remote. I agree with Andy Daer and with Frankie: we need to stay in the EU.

  • When one of my children was a toddler he was into everything. We had to keep telling him don’t do this don’t do that but would he listen no. One day the wife was cooking and she said stay away from the oven. Something distracted her and when she turned round he was stood facing the glass screen on the oven. she shouted don’t touch it, but he put both his hands on the screen with a big grin on his face. The grin must have stayed on his face for what seemed like an eternity, then he screamed and he screamed. A happy night was spent in A&E and he ended up with two bandaged hands with plastic bags over them. On the upside he never did anything as stupid again.

    Brexiteers are very much like my toddlers. they were told not to touch the screen, but touch it they did. For an eternity they have stood there grinning but now they have started to scream as the pain has started If only we could have Norway, if only the EU were not as hard, if only unicorns existed, if only we could go back to the 1950’s. As the pain increases the screams will increase, but hopefully like my toddler they will learn a painful but I’m afraid necessary lesson.

  • Katharine Pindar 20th Nov '17 - 5:32pm

    Seriously, Fadel GALAL, I’m afraid there isn’t anybody left in this country who could truly take an independent view. But hopefully the withheld studies for the Government of the effects of Brexit will have to be produced, to enable more substantial arguments for staying in.

  • Remember this my brave Brexiteers

    But a spokeswoman for the Brexit department said in a statement: “No decisions have been taken about the location of the European Banking Authority or the European Medicines Agency, these will be subject to the exit negotiations.”

    “As part of these negotiations the government will discuss with the EU and member states how best to continue cooperation in the fields of banking and medicines regulation in the best interests of both the UK and the EU.”

    She added: “It would not be appropriate to prejudge the outcome of the negotiations.”

    Yet EU officials say there is no question of Britain keeping the EMA and EBA, whatever ties it may keep with the agencies.
    David Davis’ Brexit department said the fate of the agencies is still up for negotiation

    Oh dear O dear O dear yet another Brexiteer delusion.

    I’m afraid you are going to have to get used to many of your assumptions being shot down in flames. I’m afraid the Benny Hill Tribute Act has rather been misleading you. Still as you will no doubt say “Tis but a scratch”, problem is there are so many too come.

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