Looking beyond Brexit

The sense of things going horribly wrong is likely to get much worse as 2019 gets under way and #BrexitShambles becomes #BrexitFarce.

In the probable chaos of the coming months the country needs us to articulate our hope for the future.

Putting some flesh on those bones, in no particular order:

  • Improve Benefits. Universal Credit could have been a good idea, but under-funding has hit it hard and people are suffering. Improving the funding is a good place to start. We also need to go further. It is a scandal to have people needing to use food banks or losing the roof over their head because of the way the system works. I’ve spoken with people struggling to live on benefits, who voted Leave in the desperate hope that things would improve.
  • Wealth inequality. Back in the autumn, Vince Cable put forward a raft of tax reforms to make the system fairer, especially around inheritance and investment income and pensions. Univeral Basic Income has been on the edge of discussions for a long time. It is time to take it seriously — it can’t be done overnight, but it is time to start the conversation as a way to pick up where we are, and fears around the way in which technology is reshaping the world.
  • Brexit has pushed climate change from the top of the agenda. People have every reason to be worried. That means is that it is high time to turn that worry into action — around renewable energy, carbon capture and storage, nuclear power, zero carbon housing, improved public transport, and more.
  • The Blair government had some good ideas on devolution, with elected regional assemblies and pulling government offices and development to the same boundaries. The imbalances around devolution to Wales, Northern Ireland and particularly to Scotland would look very different if there was meaningful devolution in England.
  • It’s time to talk openly about federalism. Too often it’s a dirty word in British (or at least, English) politics. It’s time to dispatch the myth that it is about centralising power and put the case for doing centrally only what needs to be done there and pushing decisions as close as possible to the people they affect. That applies as much to devolving power from Westminster as it does devolving it from Brussels.
  • It’s time to be celebrating diversity, the opportunities coming from free movement of people and the economic benefits of immigration, so we go from the fantasy of immigrants “taking our jobs” to the reality of what we gain from immigration — beginning with the reality that the Tories keep missing their immigration targets because you can’t cut immigration without hurting the economy.
  • Celebrate being being European, with our shared heritage, history and values. It also means celebrating the vision behind the EU. That’s both about drawing on the richness of our story and recognising, and holding in check, our capacity to harm each other.
  • Education and life-long learning are the real responses for people who experience globalisation as a threat to their livelihood.
  • Too many people live in places where their votes don’t count. Many felt that the 2016 referendum was a rare chance for their vote to make a difference. The message has to be that people, and their votes, count. This means voting reform. It is about enabling all voices to be heard.

There is a raft of Liberal Democrat policy that is relevant to healing the divisions behind and exposed by the 2016 result. Commitment to “the values of liberty, equality and community” is a brilliant starting point for the task of working together to build a bright, European future.


* Mark Argent was the Liberal Democrat candidate in Huntingdon Constituency in 2019 and blogs at markargent.com/blog.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • John Marriott 3rd Jan '19 - 6:48pm

    Nice one, Mark. Getting ready for the next General Election? I’ve got no problem with your ‘policies’; but, as we are set to get poorer whatever we do about Brexit, they need paying for. That’s why it’s so important to get a good deal from the EU and not just crash out on WTO rules, whose existence, according to Danny Finkelstein, is in doubt ‘going forward’, as they say. The clock is ticking.

  • Indeed we should look beyond Brexit. Our first job should be to ensure that no one in the UK lives below the poverty line. We are committed to about £11 billion of benefit reforms, but that is just the start. We need to increase the basic benefit level to the poverty level. We need to support the total abolition of sanctions.

    I am not convinced that our policies for dealing with wealth inequality will make much difference to those with little wealth. However, I do support the policy to change inheritance tax and I would use the money from pension tax relief reform to fund a very Basic Citizens’ Income. I would also increase the higher employee National Insurance rate to 12% to also fund this very Basic Citizens’ Income.

  • “The imbalances around devolution to Wales, Northern Ireland and particularly to Scotland would look very different if there was meaningful devolution in England.”

    There is one Lib Dem in office currently, now please count the number of times that Lib Dem is mentioned on here or in Lib Dem press releases. Labour is in office in one nation currently, now please count the number of times that Labour mentions they are in government in their press releases. You want to talk about imbalance? You want to talk about lack of representation? It’s clear that politicians and voters in mainland UK generally have a lack of understanding of what is happening in NI, when Cameron debated with Sturgeon it was suggested that he didn’t know enough about Scotland to counter-punch, and by counting the number of times Kirsty Williams or Welsh Labour are promoted and you can probably see that UK voters would struggle to say what’s going on in Wales currently. But sure, let’s try to undo the imbalance with meaningful devolution in England.

  • Richard Underhill 5th Jan '19 - 8:56am

    “devolution to Wales, Northern Ireland and particularly to Scotland would look very different”
    It should because the elected Assembly in Northern Ireland has never met,
    one of several cases of contempt by the UK government and their supporters
    in the so-called “Democratic” Unionist Party, founded by the late Ian Paisley.

  • Peter Hirst 6th Jan '19 - 1:29pm

    Regarding federalism, we seem to be associated with the word; a quote in our local paper “those federalist Lib Dems”. I’m not sure what this means though it was dismissive as if that is all you need to know about them. This is probably from the Brexit debate and implies more shared powers. We need to either reframe the word or abandon it. We could refer to the original use of the word as in America where states came together to form a federation. It needs a strong constitution to curtail the centre and we should not have one without the other.

  • Leslie Petrovics 7th Jan '19 - 11:05am

    I am not clear whether your post speaks for a Brexit that has been accepted or rejected, Mark. All of your suggestions are realistic, even in the hope of e revote where Brexit is reversed. Am afraid, however, that your proposals to address the desire to heal the pain in the divides which 2016 Referendum clarified does not go deep enough, nor far enough. It does not go deep enough in addressing the interference and discoloration of the vote by outside interests as a precursor –let us call it a successful work sample –for the US Presidential election. To address this, the Brits must face such outside meddling as very real, and should then join forces with the Mueller investigation, Doing this has several advantages –certainly for the Brits, it reframes the enemy away from one’s neighbor. It also underscores the global interest and global value of securing regulations for the new IT technology and social media which served as the basis for such abuse. As you write, “Commitment to “the values of liberty, equality, and community” are brilliant starting points toward the cohesion needed for such healing. What I have suggested are essential prerequisites which up the odds for success.

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