LibLink: Nick Clegg: Skeleton Brexit deal risks leaving Parliament in the dark

It’s been a good week for Nick Clegg. he won Best non fiction book by a parliamentarian for his How to Stop Brexit book in the Parliamentary Book Awards. We won’t mention the fact that he sadly wasn’t a parliamentarian when he wrote it. You don’t have to be – former MPs are eligible. He was quite pleased:

Writing in the FT Nick points out the dangers of the current direction of travel in the EU negotiations. With Brexiteers just wanting to get out and not caring about the consequences, they will be happy if there is only a basic outline deal on the table for MPs to vote on this time next year.

That, of course, is exactly why the Brexiters in Westminster will be happy, on this occasion, to go along with Brussels: they have calculated that an outline deal, bereft of the invidious content that a proper agreement would include, is the ideal document to put to parliament. MPs will find it far harder to challenge a deal that is rich in rhetoric but sparse in substance.

Officials on both sides are already working on drafts of a skeleton agreement with headings covering foreign and defence policy; antiterrorism and crime fighting; EU programmes such as Erasmus and Horizon; and a free-trade agreement based on the relationship between the EU and Canada. But this is not what the British people were promised.

Theresa May and her ministers have repeatedly said that parliament will be able to vote on both the terms of our departure and the terms of our future interaction with the EU. Mr Davis was crystal clear: “We are aiming for the conclusion of negotiations on all fronts . . . by the end of March 2019.” And Liam Fox, UK international trade secretary, declared that the trade agreement “should be one of the easiest in human history”.

It would be the greatest betrayal yet of parliament if MPs were fobbed off instead with the outline of an agreement shorn of all real detail. How are our MPs supposed to sign off our departure from the EU without knowing what comes next? It would be like packing a removal van without knowing where you’re moving to. And it would leave businesses in a hopeless bind. Any free trade agreement between the UK and the EU is going to fall so far short of the seamless trade we enjoy now within the single market, it will involve the reintroduction of a plethora of new administrative and regulatory barriers.

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

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  • paul barker 8th Dec '17 - 3:46pm

    I wonder if May doesnt in fact have a “Cunning Plan” after all : make the Brexiteers look like idiots & then go for a an ultra-soft Brexit ?
    We should see this w/e how the Tory Headbangers react, I wouldnt be surprised if they just cave in.

  • Brexit kicked this off with promises that we were in a strong position vs the EU because of our huge trade deficit. How wrong can you be? Astonishingly, they still haven’t understood that they have few to no picture cards or trumps in this game although they’ve have had to surrender on on every point so far. That’s beginning to get noticed as is the fact that David Davis hasn’t done his homework.

    A few days ago Newsnight laid out the Irish problem rather neatly. T May now faces a trilemma in which she can have any two but NOT all three of the following:

    1. No border between NI and the Republic.
    2. No border in the sea.
    3. Leaving the single market & customs union.

    (1) is essential to everyone, (2) is essential to the DUP and the Conservative & Unionist Party and (3) is essential to the Tory majority.

    So this morning’s ‘agreement’ really takes the biscuit. Paragraphs 49 & part of 50:

    49. The United Kingdom remains committed to protecting North-South cooperation and to its guarantee of avoiding a hard border. Any future arrangements must be compatible with these overarching requirements. The United Kingdom’s intention is to achieve these objectives through the overall EU-UK relationship. Should this not be possible, the United Kingdom will propose specific solutions to address the unique circumstances of the island of Ireland. In the absence of agreed solutions, the United Kingdom will maintain full alignment with those rules of the Internal Market and the Customs Union which, now or in the future, support North-South cooperation, the all-island economy and the protection of the 1998 Agreement. [emphasis added].

    50. In the absence of agreed solutions, as set out in the previous paragraph, the United Kingdom will ensure that no new regulatory barriers develop between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom,…

    Translation: we’re kicking the can down the road (P49) and we’ve given the EU a veto (P50) on the UK leaving the single market and customs union.

    I infer the EU is happy to play along for now to give May, Davis, Gove etc. adequate rope to hang themselves. They’re succeeding admirably.

  • David Becket 8th Dec '17 - 7:49pm

    So the problems keep mounting, and we are still saying we told you so, an attitude that will not get us very far. It is time we put some positive reasons for staying in the EU, as the Remain Campaign SHOULD have done prior to June 2016. Here are a few, I have no doubt others could be added. At the same time we should have highlighted what we would like to change.


    Working closely with our European Neighbours to ensure

    • Effective counter-terrorism across the continent.
    • Cooperation between national police forces
    • Joint security working with our neighbours
    • Working together to ensure nuclear safeguards,
    • Exchange of data on security and similar issues
    • Aviation control across the sky’s of Europe
    • Ability of UK nationals to work in Europe or retire to the sunny south
    • Ability of EU citizens to move freely to the UK to fill our skills shortages in health, social care, hospitality, construction and agricultural
    • The ability to move goods across the continent without custom checks
    • Climate Change could be tackled on a European basis. (Climate Change does not recognise boundaries)
    • More and effective cultural exchanges between countries
    • An influential bloc able to stand up to larger countries who may have a different agenda to Europe
    • Common European Trade agreements with other countries to the benefit of all partners
    • A place at the table of an influential bloc, and the ability to influence decisions

    Membership of the EU also produced

    Longest period of peace in Europe, Countries in the same trade and cultural block are less likely to go to war
    Creation of the environment in which the Good Friday Agreement could be implemented and the border between Northern Ireland and Eire could be abolished
    By simplifying private travel across the continent barriers are broken and understanding between different nations improved

  • David,

    The most positive case for stopping Brexit, is if you don’t you have years of this mess stretching in front of you and while Brexit continues nothing else gets done. Nothing has been done since the referendum and until Brexit is put to bed that is likely to continue.

  • Denis Loretto 9th Dec '17 - 11:14am

    Gove burbling about the freedom of a future UK government to break any EU shackles on the agreement Theresa May achieves indicates that he does not understand what has transpired this week – the belated recognition that the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, its entrenchment by referendum North and South and its registration at the UN as an international treaty removed the right of the UK (and Ireland for that matter) to secede unilaterally from EU standards – at least as far as the island of Ireland is concerned. The DUP have now succeeded (whether they really intended that or not) in extending this to the entire UK . It remains to be seen how precisely that situation is reflected in the rest of the negotiations but one thing is sure – no UK government can escape the fact that the Good Friday Agreement shackles the “taking back of full control” by not just this parliament but any British parliament elected to replace it.

  • David Becket 9th Dec '17 - 11:42am

    There are many good cases for stopping Brexit, but we must go beyond that and put forward the positive aspects of the EU. Those who want out at any cost will never be convinced, but those wavering now they see the problems need an extra boost that highlights the advantages. We will not win by concentrating on the problems alone

  • “Gove burbling about the freedom of a future UK government to break any EU shackles on the agreement Theresa May achieves indicates that he does not understand what has transpired this week”

    I think Gove understands very well that Theresa May has effectively just signed ‘this’ Tory government’s suicide note. What Gove is alluding to, is that this is solely a May/Hammond suicide ‘note’, and it should not be seen as a Tory suicide ‘pact’.

    He is indicating to disgruntled Brexit voters that knows full well that ‘this’ Tory government headed by a weak [closet remainer], Theresa May, is attempting to sell-out on a full Brexit. He is indicating very clearly, that this Tory government is finished. He is also indicating that a very different Tory government is waiting in the wings, to complete the Brexit process as per ‘voter’ request, on the 23rd June 2016.

    I really hope Theresa enjoys her Christmas as PM, because it will be her last Christmas as leader of the Conservatives.

  • Christopher Clayton 9th Dec '17 - 1:18pm

    Excellent sensible comments all, especially those of Gordon, David and Dennis. The problem remains that of getting this information and these arguments out among the wider public, including those who do not use social media for their political information (probably the majority of the population in the older generations). The parliamentary party has to lead on this and seek ways to get the information out effectively in areas where the party has no representation in parliament, combining this with relentless exposure of the inadequacies and divisions within the Labour Party on these crucial matters. How this is to be done more effectively should be high on the agenda for discussion. The time is surely ripe.

  • David Becket 9th Dec '17 - 1:37pm

    Yes Christopher, spot on.
    I cannot find a mention of Vince in today’s Guardian, whose approach to Brexit is similar to ours, and one short sentence in the “I”
    This is the most important challenge facing our party and to us members we do not appear to be doing anything about it. I have often argued for daily press releases to be sent to local parties for them to use, no response at all.

  • Richard O'Neill 9th Dec '17 - 5:36pm

    Im not sure how much clout Clegg actually has with those who are needed to stop Brexit. That is a huge slice of leave voters who have to transfer to remain to make a withdrawal of Article 50 viable. His interventions risk become increasingly like those of Blair – a red rag to a bull of those who need to be won over.

    A much more conciliatory attitude would really help ( plus some significant counter offer by the EU to persuade us to stay).

  • Richard Underhill 9th Dec '17 - 7:09pm

    paul barker 8th Dec ’17 – 3:46pm Blackadder was one of my favourite TV programmes.
    In World War One on the western front it was thought that “if a bullet had you name on it” you would be killed, but, cunning plan, get a bullet and inscribe your name on it and therefore because you own it you would not be killed. Reality test follows.
    David Becket 8th Dec ’17 – 7:49pm Please add inward investment to the UK and consequent exports to all other EU member states. Example Honda in Swindon.
    frankie 8th Dec ’17 – 8:40pm And as events move on the Labour Party is dragged into a different position by Keir Starmer, despite Jeremy Corbyn, but it does take persistent hard work and endless patience.
    Sheila Gee 9th Dec ’17 – 1:14pm Theresa May should sack Boris Johnson. He is unsuited to his current job. The world is diverse and complicated. Gove’s policy of selling prison estates can be done by someone else.
    Christopher Clayton 9th Dec ’17 – 1:18pm Borough councillors and ordinary members can also contribute.
    Richard O’Neill 9th Dec ’17 – 5:36pm People do read the news, it is all over the front pages, Newsnight etc.

  • David,
    An Independent poll says 60% of the electorate say the government is ignoring key problems because of Brexit. Putting a stop to that is pretty positive.
    People in general won’t accept they are wrong on Brexit but they will rationalise why it didn’t happen as
    “I would have loved Brexit but Tinkerbells grotto was going to rack and ruin under the government’s obsession with Brexit. They just said Brexit this and Brexit that and poor Tinkerbells roof was leaking so I just had to say stop, think of Tinkerbell. And well you know, it was much more important to fix the grotto so we had to stop Brexit. Mind you if we’d had my sort of Brexit everything would be fine”

  • David Becket 10th Dec '17 - 4:49pm

    I have added to a growing list of benefits the following

    Exit from Brexit ensures:
    The government has the capacity to tackle the important issues affecting the lives of its citizens: Inequality, Housing, Health and Social Care, Education, Productivity, Increase in Poverty, Tax Avoidance.

  • Katharine Pindar 10th Dec '17 - 7:15pm

    Excellent contributions, David Becket, on the advantages of staying in the EU. We could really all do with a leaflet to that effect, either to distribute in our local areas, or to refer to and hand over when canvassing. The difficulty in our constituency work is that we naturally concentrate on local problems, and only at best add a short question about Brexit at the end of a doorstep chat. We have only a few months to make an impact, and social media could surely also be utilised. I will raise all this at our local executive meeting next week. New members could be asked to help in publicising the case.

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