LibLInk: Paddy Ashdown: Theresa May’s Brexit is not what people voted for. They deserve another say

Paddy Ashdown set out his view of Theresa May’s Brexit speech in a typically blistering article in the Independent:

Nobody voted, he says, for the Britain the Tories have planned, as revealed by Phlilip Hammond over the weekend:

Last weekend in Germany, Chancellor Philip Hammond blurted out the truth about the course May has chosen. Retain the closest economic links with the EU, he said, and Britain will remain a broadly European-style nation. If we cast off all our European moorings and head for the open sea, we risk having to turn ourselves into a low-tax, no-regulation, cheap-labour equivalent of Singapore. Then, among other things we have come to take for granted and enjoy in our country, we would say goodbye to workplace rights, the welfare state as we know it, policies to protect our environment and European style protections for our civil liberties.

The people should have their say on this, he says (unsurprisingly)

Surely, before this Government is allowed turn a narrow majority for leave into a swingeing mandate to rename our country “Britapore” and paddle it out into the mid-Atlantic, we its poor benighted passengers should be allowed a say? Such a vote would not be to re-fight the in/out referendum. Those, like me, who campaigned for Remain must accept as gracefully as we can, that we lost. What we now have to decide, as a country is what kind of relationship a Brexit Britain should retain with the European Union – in short, what kind of country we should now become. May has told us her vision. The question is do the people of Britain agree? Given the stark choices she has proposed at what she concedes is “a moment of great national change”, do they too not get the right to speak?

Brexiteers claim that Leave was a vote against an arrogant political elite. How ironic, then, that our country’s course is now to be determined by a leader who has not faced an election even in her own party, let alone the country. There will be no second vote, no consultation, no detailed plan and no chance for Parliament amend or scrutinise (unless the blessed Supreme Court Judges instruct otherwise). The people have spoken and are now to be dispensed with as “not wanted for the remainder of the voyage” – Conservative voters, along with the rest of us. What happened to the Tory manifesto promise of little more than 18 months ago: “yes to the single market”?

You can read the whole thing here.

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  • Antony Watts 18th Jan '17 - 9:16am

    We, LibDems, need a sharp arrow approach here. This means using a sound bite to put a point. At every opportunity it should be used.

    “But the Tories said “yes” to the Single Market, didn’t they?”

  • Little Jackie Paper 18th Jan '17 - 9:19am

    All a referendum on the exit deal would do is open the door to referendum 3, 4 and so on. I don’t see that as being in anyone’s interests – EU or UK.

    The best bet for a second referendum is like Denmark and Ireland – that is a qualitatively different proposal. But I don’t see there being any prospect of that. Even UK remainers aren’t thinking on those lines.

    My best guess is that there have been some sort of informal discussions/exercises/talks/negotiations/kicking around of ideas and May has taken the view that her speech yesterday is the route to take in view of what’s been said.

  • Little Jackie Paper 18th Jan '17 - 9:22am

    Geoff Crocker – I’d have more sympathy for that line of argument if people were calling for an election. I don’t think even Tim Farron has done that?

    I’d also note in passing that an election would mean going against the spirit (at least) of the Fixed Term Parliaments Act.

  • one of two competing democratic systems, representative democracy and referendum, which gave opposite results during 2016, and therefore can’t be operated simultaneously

    Did they give opposite results?

    I thoguht representative democracy gave us a government committed in its manifesto to having a referendum on whether the UK should leave the EU, and implementing the result; and the vote then was to leave the EU.

    I’m not sure how those are ‘opposite results’? They seem like the parts of a two-stage process to get to an answer, to me.

  • John Barrett 18th Jan '17 - 9:49am

    How different would the comments from Paddy, Nick and others in the party have been if the Referendum had been granted by the Conservatives conceding to Nick’s previous demands for an In/Out referendum on Europe. This pledge appears to have been whitewashed from our history and the decision to grant a referendum on the EU blamed exclusively on Cameron’s fear of increasing UKIP support.

    It does our party no credit when it appears to hold contradictory views on any issue in the hope that the electorate will have a short memory.

    The official line on the EU Referendum from Tim is to now support a second vote. while at the same time our party opposes a second vote or referendum on Scottish Independence.

    It does not look good and will not help restore lost faith in the party when we oppose a second referendum – when we agree with the result, as in Scotland, but we support a second vote – when we disagree with the result of the referendum, as with Europe.

  • The outcome of representative democracy without a referendum would undoubtedly have been to remain in the EU with David Cameron as PM.

    That would have been the outcome if only the MPs had been allowed to vote, as if the Commons were the Cambridge Union, yes.

    But representative democracy is not about the Commons being a debating chamber, it’s about picking a government based on a manifesto and that government then implementing its manifesto commitments.

    In this case one of those commitments was to hold a referendum and implement the result.

    So again: how did the two systems give opposite answers? The first system asked the question, ‘Do you want a government that will hold a referendum whether to leave the EU?’ and the public answered, ‘Yes’.

    The second system asked the question, ‘Do you want to leave the EU?’ and the public again answered, ‘Yes’.

    It’s hard to see how those are opposite answers,.

  • Are you advocating a system where government can implement its manifesto programme without a Commons vote?

    No, just one where a government with a majority implements its declared policy.

    I think they should have put an actual EU policy (not a referendum cop out) in their manifestos and then implemented that policy if elected,

    The problem is that the EU issue is a major constitutional one which cuts across party lines, ie, there are Remainers and Leavers in both the Conservatives and Labour. So how could you have sensibly offered the electorate a choice — which would have been the ‘Remain’ party and which the ‘Leave’ party? It would have been impractical.

    On such matters — which arise rarely — allowing the people to have their say directly, on a single question, outside the normal mechanism of choosing a government, seems the only way to actually let the electorate express its preference properly.

  • @Dav – This is a direct quotation from the Conservative manifesto of 2015: “We are clear about what we want from Europe.
    We say: yes to the Single Market
    Yes to turbo- charging free trade
    Yes to working together where we are stronger together than alone
    Yes to a family of nation states, all part of a European Union…”

    What part of that did May oppose in 2015? What part of it did she support in her speech yesterday? Or did their manifesto in 2015 mean nothing?

  • True, but if they can convince the plebiscite, why can’t they convince a party to adopt the policy in its manifesto?

    As above: because the two parties that matter, the Conservatives and Labour, were split on the issue (as indeed, given the closeness of the result, was the electorate). Which one would it have made sense to be the ‘Leave’ party and which the ‘Remain’, in order to give the electorate a fair choice? And what about those who supported a given party’s stance on the EU question but hated everything else they stood for (eg, if the Conservatives were to come out as the ‘Leave’ party, who does a pro-Remain right-winger vote for)?

    General elections are messy compromises which involve weighing up a lot of different factors (‘I agree with party A about X and Y; does that outweigh that I disagree with their stance on Z? I prefer party B’s philosophy but I don’t rate their economic competence…), so for a straightforward question that cuts across party lines do you not think it makes sense to decouple it from all that messiness and allow the electorate to speak their view on that question and just that question, specifically and independently of everything else?

  • I personally would not want to decouple such a decision from the overt processes of representative democracy

    How else do you suggest giving the people a say over the question, then?

  • You don’t address the evident weaknesses of the referendum alternative.

    And you don’t address how, using the standard mechanisms, we could ever reach a decision on any major constitutional issue which cuts across party lines. so it appears we have reached an impasse.

    (Having said that, I do disagree with your characterisation of the electorate as some kind of mindless sheep at the mercy of newspaper barons, who apparently have some kind of limitless, magical power to reach into the voters’ minds and control them. I think that in fact the electorate voted according to their own world-views and desires, and were not controlled by anyone.)

    Still, at least you admitted that the two systems did not produce opposite outcomes, which was the claim of yours that I originally wanted to refute.

  • We had EU/Cameron under representative democracy until that representative democracy, in my view wrongly, triggered a referendum which delivered the opposite result

    How can it have ‘wrongly’ triggered a referendum when triggering a referendum was in the manifesto of the party which won power in a representative democracy? surely that is the point of a representative democracy — to choose a government, which then implements a manifesto on which it was voted into power?

    So how can it ever be wrong, democratically, for an elected government to enact a policy on which it was elected? Surely what would be wrong — though, sadly, commonplace — would be for a government to be elected on a policy and then not act on it?

    The public elected the government, in part, so that they would get a referendum. they got a referendum. That’s how representative democracy is supposed to work, isn’t it?

    I didn’t characterise anyone as ‘mindless sheep’ but I did criticise the way the press gave huge exposure to Boris Johnson’s views, which many commentators consider to have swung the outcome.

    They also gave huge exposure to David Cameron and George Osbourne arguing the opposite to Johnson.

    Do you think the press should have only given air-time to one side of the argument?

    I think people heard both sides of the argument and made up their own minds, according to their own views of Britain’s place in the world.

  • ‘Wrongly’ in my humble view in the manifesto too, because I don’t believe in referenda.

    You’re entitled to that view, but we elected a government that had it in its manifesto.

    There are lots of things I don’t believe in that have been in the manifestos of governments which have got elected, and which have then happened, despite my not believing in them.

    That’s what democracy means: sometime you don’t get what you want because other people vote for a different government than the one you would have chosen.

    It’s not brilliant, but the alternative to democracy is civil war.

    can you say what you consider the result of a vote in our democratically elected Parliament on Brexit would have been?

    Probably, it would have been to remain. But why does it matter? We elected a government with a commitment to hold a referendum in its manifesto.

    That is what is important in a representative democracy: what was in the manifest of the party which won the election and formed the government.

    That is what people were voting for: the manifesto of the governing party.

  • “we risk having to turn ourselves into a low-tax, no-regulation, cheap-labour equivalent of Singapore. Then, among other things we have come to take for granted and enjoy in our country, we would say goodbye to workplace rights,”

    Oh dear

  • Peter Watson 19th Jan '17 - 8:01pm

    @Geoff Crocker “‘Wrongly’ in my humble view in the manifesto too, because I don’t believe in referenda.”
    In 2010 I voted for a Lib Dem party which went on to deliver referendums on Welsh devolution, an AV electoral system, and Scottish independence, and which helped to deliver the sort of In/Out referendum on EU membership for which it had long campaigned. I was voting for a party which also wanted referendums on joining the euro and a written constitution for the UK. A party which loves referendums that much doesn’t sound like the right place for somebody who doesn’t believe in them! 😉

    I like representative democracy, but I also like referendums. Which is better? There’s only one way to find out: FIGHT!!! 🙂

  • Peter Watson 19th Jan '17 - 9:08pm

    @Geoff Crocker “Hence my belief in the superiority of representative democracy.”
    I recall a brilliant Peter Cooke satire (The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer) in which the eponymous politician relieves the electorate from the pressure of plebiscites on every issue with one final vote to make him a dictator, so I guess that there is a limit to the value of referendums! Nevertheless, there are some important issues which cross party lines or which require a specific clear mandate to ensure popular support for a policy which i believe a referendum is a necessary companion to representative democracy. So if I were refereeing a Harry Hill style fight I’d call it as a draw.

  • Peter Watson 19th Jan '17 - 11:57pm

    @Geoff Crocker “by the way, how to you get emoticons and smileys into LDV comment fields?”
    Looks like you’ve got it, but if anybody else wants to make these threads a little more colourful then the software running this site automatically swaps in an image for these character sequences:
    smile 🙂 colon hyphen right-parenthesis
    wink 😉 semi-colon hyphen right-parenthesis
    I’m sure other emoticons work as well if writers want to be adventurous and test the patience of our hosts on this site!

  • It matters because the pure model of representative democracy would have produced one result

    Except it didn’t. The pure model of representative democracy produced a government committed to holding a referendum. This, the government promptly did.

    Representative democracy is about choosing a government based on a manifesto. It is not about swirling the pot of a debating chamber. It doesn’t matter, for representative democracy, what the result of a vote in the House of Commons would have been; what matters is what was in the manifesto of the government which the British people elected.

    another because, as he said, ‘dunno really, it just feels right’.

    I don’t see why you don’t think that is a legitimate basis on which to make a decision about the direction of the country.

    Evidence, after all, can only ever tell you the best way to get somewhere. It can’t tell you where you should be going. The referendum was a question about how people see Britain’s place in the world, and that’s at least as much about ‘feelings’ — how do you feel towards the notion of Britain as a nation-state? Do you think nation-states in general, and Britain in particular, are important, or should they be consigned to history? Does the idea of Britain joining the Euro, becoming part of a United states of Europe, fill your heart with internationalist joy, or abject horror? — as about anything else.

  • It doesn’t matter, for representative democracy, what the result of a vote in the House of Commons would have been

    Slight correction: it doesn’t matter what the result of a free vote in the House of commons would have been. It matters what the result of a whipped vote, where the government MPs vote to implement their manifesto, would have been.

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