Newby: May’s Brexit plan will make us poorer, less generous and diminished as a nation

Lib Dem Lords Leader Dick Newby threw some serious shade at the Government yesterday in his response to the Prime Minister’s statement on Article 50 being triggered. He went through it and pointed out the many inconsistencies and false promises it contained. It’s a cracker.

Today is for me and my colleagues an extremely sad day. It marks the point at which the UK seeks to distance itself from its nearest neighbours at a time when, in every area of public policy, logic suggests that we should be working more closely together rather than less.

But sadness is a passive emotion, and it is not the only thing that we feel. We feel a sense of anger that the Government are pursuing a brutal Brexit, which will rip us out of the single market and many other European networks from which we benefit so much. We believe that the country will be poorer, less secure and less influential as a result, and we feel that at every ​point, whether it be the calling of the referendum itself or the choices made on how to put its result into effect, the principal motivation in the minds of Ministers has been not what is best for the long-term interests of the country but what is best for the short-term interests of the Conservative Party.

We do not believe that the Government have the faintest clue about how they are going to achieve the goals that they set out in their White Paper last month or the Prime Minister’s Statement today, and we have no confidence in their willingness to give Parliament a proper say either as the negotiations proceed or at their conclusion. We therefore believe that, at the end of the process, only the people should have the final say on whether any deal negotiated by the Government —or no deal—is preferable to ongoing EU membership. We will strain every sinew to ensure that outcome.

In her Statement today, the Prime Minister makes a number of rather extraordinary claims. She says that she is going to build on existing workers’ rights rather than diminish them. Can the Leader of the House give just one example, or even a clue, of what that might mean and how it might be achieved? Can she also take this opportunity to repudiate the proposal by a number of leading Brexiters in recent days that the working time directive be either watered down or repealed altogether?

The Prime Minister says that the world needs the liberal democratic values of Europe more than ever. Far be it from me to claim any knowledge of liberal democratic values, but can the Leader explain how leaving the EU can do anything other than reduce Europe’s ability to protect those values on the international stage?

The Prime Minister says that she will strengthen the union of the nations which comprise the United Kingdom. Given that to date the effect of the Brexit vote is to threaten the union at every point, what form do the Government expect this strengthening to take?

She says that membership of the single market will be jettisoned because it would be incompatible with the expressed will of the British people. Given that this proposition was not on the ballot paper, that it is the opposite of what was said in the Conservative Party manifesto, that many leading Brexit supporters left open or actually supported the continuation of our single market membership, and that all subsequent polling shows overwhelming support for our continued membership, on what basis is she making that assertion?

She says that Europe has a responsibility to stand up for free trade. Does she not think that the EU will find that a bit rich, coming from this country at the point when we are leaving the single market and customs union?

She says that she wants to be a committed partner of the EU, but when we are walking away from the EU because of the belief that membership of it is damaging to the country’s interests, what can commitment mean other than a shrunken and grudging relationship?

Moreover, does the Leader of the House accept that when the Prime Minister says that when she sits round the negotiating table, she will represent every person in the UK, she is mistaken? She has chosen to promote an extreme version of Brexit and one which is ​completely at odds with her own views of less than a year ago. In doing so, she has chosen not to speak for the many millions who voted to remain in the EU and the single market, and she certainly does not represent them or me or my colleagues on these Benches.

The Prime Minister claims that Brexit will make us stronger, fairer and better, but it will not. The Government’s approach will make us poorer, less generous and diminished as a nation. It is perfectly legitimate for the country to go down such a route, but it did not do so on 23 June last year, and the people should have the final say on whether this is the fate they really want.

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  • I voted to leave like thousands of other Liberal voters (for Liberal reasons of course). I fully understand the position of the leadership in going after votes from disgruntled “Remainers” who are desperate to reverse the decision and avoid the country turning into some UKIP inspired hell. However this is a ploy that can only work for limited amount of time.

    The arguments to Leave or Remain are getting old quickly. Very, very soon the majority of people are going to start accepting the situation no matter how disappointed they are with the result. People are going to want to see answers and reassurances that everything is going to be alright.

    The light at the end of the tunnel is not going to be visible for a couple of years yet (at least). In the meantime I’d much prefer it if the Libdems provided a welcoming flame that folk from either side can join hands and follow. We need to unite people in a positive way with clear as day policies and visions of what life could be like on the other side of the tunnel. People are genuinely worried that all manner of rights and laws are going to be put to the sword by the Tories post-Brexit, we have to show people that by voting for us that will never happen.

    At the moment we are just scaring people by pointing at dark corners and screaming of invisible bogeymen! Do we really think that when we get out of the tunnel in two years time that people are going to want to be dragged back into the darkness by another referendum? I very much doubt it!

  • @Ian Rock – you may be interested in my blog

  • Keith Browning 30th Mar '17 - 8:45pm

    Ian Rock – why give up when the Brexit brigade are in a dwindling minority. The number one reason spouted for ‘leaving’ was to regain their sovereignty – waved on by the right wing press, and then we find that the best/worst kept secret is there in the Brexit White paper – Parliament has “remained sovereign throughout our membership to the EU” despite people “not always feeling like that”. Why would you give in if you have been cheated out something that is going to make your life so much worse. Stand up and be counted. Democracy was not a one-off event that took place last June.

  • Denis Loretto 31st Mar '17 - 8:43am

    Last night in Andrew Neill’s “This Week” Alistair Campbell was asked whether a “referendum on the outcome” should be the demand from those who feared a disastrous brexit. He said – Yes, this is probably the only hope now.
    I think the logic of this will grow. The Lib Dems saw this from the beginning and we must stick firmly to our policy.

  • Richard Underhill 31st Mar '17 - 9:38am

    Paddy Ashdown has answered the question about a neverendum, a general election and then depending on the outcome.

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