Nick Clegg struggles to be polite about the government’s self-deluded piffle

Nick Clegg, blistering in the Standard, warns that the government is condemned to break its Brexit promises.

Recalling promises of a stronger trading position, the continuation of the benefits of membership, no hard border with Ireland (never mind Scotland), less red tape, taking back control – never mind the £350 million; Nick warns of an impending reckoning.

It is one of the most intriguing paradoxes of this government: its dominance of British politics is secure yet it acts with nervous insecurity; it possesses unrivalled strength yet it feels much weaker than it seems.

of all the possible Brexit scenarios — bad deal, better deal, no deal at all — it is dawning on sensible folk in Whitehall that the one scenario that will most definitely not occur is the one they promised to the country. In the week when Theresa May is likely to pop that Article 50 letter in the post, it is worth recalling what we were promised. Boris Johnson has said “we will trade as much as ever before, if not more”; David Davis told Parliament that we will get “the exact same benefits as we have now”; Theresa May promised to settle the terms of the divorce and all the details of our new relationship with the EU, including full ratification, within two years; Michael Gove pledged there will be “no change to the border” in Ireland; and ministers announced that a raft of new trade deals around the world will be of greater value to us than our current trade with the EU.

One cause of this reckoning is that Brexiters, with the specious phrase “access to the Single Market” are still refusing to understand what the single market is – a body of rules to replace 28 bodies of rules.

But the single market — devised by Margaret Thatcher — has little to do with tariffs and all to do with removing the plethora of rules, standards, qualifications and norms that govern everything from phytosanitary standards for beef exports to mobile phone roaming charges. The genius of the single market is that it replaces 28 fiddly rules with one. In other words, it simplifies rather than duplicates red tape. But the system only works if everyone abides by the same rules and if there is a court — the European Court of Justice (ECJ) — to settle disputes.

In declaring a fatwa against any British adherence to the ECJ, Theresa May has struck a death knell for continued British participation in the single market.

And never mind the people that voted leave, on the assurance that we would stay in the Single Market; I can hardly blame them for believing that we would do what is in our interests.

Read and share and enjoy.

* Joe Otten was the candidate for Sheffield Heeley in June 2017 and Doncaster North in December 2019 and is a councillor in Sheffield.

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This entry was posted in LibLink.


  • Tony Greaves 14th Mar '17 - 12:13pm

    Let us just remember. Invoking Article 50 is the start of the process, not the end. The disgraceful capitulation of the Labour Party yesterday means the struggle is just that bit harder today. But there are two years in which everything is to play for and work for. Two battles – for decency and for parliamentary democracy – were lost yesterday but the war has only just started.

  • Jonathan Greenhow 14th Mar '17 - 12:31pm

    Jonathan Greenhow 14th Mar ’17 – 8:21am
    We have been strong in parliament and clear in our position. So why, as reported, are LD Scotland going to vote against an Independence referendum when the reason is clearly for democratic choice based on the result of Brexit negotiations?

  • Charles Lawley 14th Mar '17 - 12:31pm

    I agree with Nick.

  • Jean:
    Whilst it is obvious that remainers are most likely to join us, some leavers are every bit concerned with the final outcome and some will feel very let down. We should extend the hand of friendship to those non racists who have changed their minds and concentrate as other articles here have identified, on those matters which affected their vote in the first place. The feeling that noone cares.+

  • Lorenzo Cherin 14th Mar '17 - 5:54pm

    It pleases me to agree with Lord Greaves, but does not baffle me to find something I do disagree with, this time, my dislike is of the use of the war like analogy, less of it please . let us at least get a sense of moderation into things sometimes !

  • Peter Watson 14th Mar '17 - 5:56pm

    @Jean “I would urge all those who voted to remain in the EU, who are tolerant, and open minded to join the Lib Dems which is now the ONLY Party which can claim to be decent, tolerant and outward looking.”
    Thanks for the invitation (though i think other parties are no less decent and tolerant, and some might claim that looking beyond the borders of the EU is more outward), but I’m waiting until the party stops banging on about Brexit and shows me that it is a serious alternative to other parties with a considered, consistent and joined up plan for education, health, defence, energy, welfare, the environment, industry, business, pensions, prisons, devolution, etc., and the taxes to pay for it all.
    So far all I can see is that Lib Dems think Brexit is bad but have not been effective as a single-issue pressure group, some bits of the party dislike Tories most of all while others dislike Labour most of all and they all dislike the SNP, and Tim Farron is a nice guy who wants to buy the world a coke (other beverages are available) and keep it company. But where’s the beef?

  • Who chose that awful floor?

  • Peter Watson – for a description of the libdem policies how about looking at the 2015 manifesto? Obviously the context has changed in some ways but many of the main policies carry through. The party has plenty of policies. The media are only interested in Brexit at present.

  • nigel hunter 14th Mar '17 - 10:39pm

    Whilst the media are interested in Brexit, we must inform the voter of our policies and are a Government in waiting.

  • @Peter Watson

    ” but I’m waiting until the party stops banging on about Brexit and shows me that it is a serious alternative to other parties”
    Absolutely spot on, there is so much going on domestically that is being totally overlooked because of this obsession with the EU.
    The Government is not being held to account properly not just because of the inadequacies of Labour as an opposition but because all Liberal Democrats are concerned about lately is Brexit and keeping it top of the agenda and over shadowing everything else.
    Day after Day, month and after month this site is flooded with article after article about Europe.

    I am hoping that now both houses of Parliaments have approved article 50 and it receives royal assent, LDV and the Liberal Democrat party and it’s supporters can be a little less EU fanatics and we will have a little more balance and can start giving some proper air time to other policies that desperately need attention like the ones you mentioned

  • Richard Underhill 14th Mar '17 - 11:24pm

    On the Andrew Marr Show on Sunday we saw the waffler-in-chief talking with clarity as soon as the subject changed to his proposed visit to meet his opposite number in Russia.
    Some journalists have interviewed Gerry Adams in the past and got nowhere, but on this occasion the President of Sinn Fein was clarity itself. He is, of course, no longer an MP, nor is he currently an elected member of the Northern Ireland Assembly. He was elected to the Dail in the Republic of Ireland.
    On Peston-on-Sunday Michael Heseltine, former MP for Henley, denounced Boris Johnson, former MP for Henley for his waffling, albeit with charm. Hezza was sacked by the Tory Chief Whip, not directly by Theresa May. he said he was surprised to be given a role by david Cameron (in 2010). He has an interesting postbag, by implications containing job offers. The action of the noble tory whip looks like political self-harming.

  • @ Rob Remold
    “for a description of the libdem policies how about looking at the 2015 manifesto?”

    Oh great – the Lib Dems are so good at communicating what they stand for, they’re now telling potential voters to go look them up themselves.

    Looks like I wasted a whole evening of my time last week, encouraging good communication – (or maybe I’ve just got the answer I suspected all along)?

  • Peter Watson, matt,

    I agree and have argued that we must not be a single-issue party, we must have clear stances on all the other issues Peter mentions. But – “Obsession about Brexit”?

    The reality is that for the next ten years or more, British governments of whatever complexion will be wholly bound up with Brexit and its aftermath. Lords reform, electoral reform, effective action against tax dodging – Not a chance. No time. Education and health – Only time for quick, unhelpful bodgework. All the civil service effort will go into trade negotations, trade crises, legal disentanglements, breakdowns in relationships, problems with borders, problems when farmers and fishermen find that it’s worse not better outside the EU, etcetera etcetera. Britain will be defined by Brexit, and probably wrecked by Brexit, for a generation.

  • Simon Freeman 15th Mar '17 - 7:01am

    As I’ve said before LibDems have some good ideas-but need to crystalise them and publicise them more. A simplified one page version of a manifesto or pledge card. A full page advert in national newspapers with a membership form. Leaflets that say say something about the policies rather than just attacking the Labour council-which has actually done a lot of good over the years and is struggling to implement savings it doesn’t really want to do. Notice in a lot of places in the country there were street stalls the other week-which is a good idea, but I never see anything round here. I guess you have to prioritise target areas and it can only be done if you have a core number of activists in any town/city to start off with.

  • So given Margaret Thatcher’s role in the establishment of the Single Market and it can be regarded as a significant achievement of her’s, perhaps the LibDems and others should wear black arm bands for the final readings of the Brexit bill, as a mark of respect as clearly the current Conservative party is laying her work to rest. Played right the media should run with it and thus drive the significance of the U-turn and break with their past, the Conservative party is making home to the electorate and more importantly to rank and file Conservative party members…

  • Simon Freeman – Agree. The Libdem 2015 manifesto had a LVT, but it took time for me to notice its existence because it was not included in Budget and Taxation, where a tax would be more noticable.

  • Peter Watson 15th Mar '17 - 9:49am

    @Rob Renold “for a description of the libdem policies how about looking at the 2015 manifesto”
    Two years after an election that marked such a low point in terms of votes and MPs for Lib Dems, which cost Nick Clegg his job, and which gave us a legacy of Brexit and majority Tory government, I would hope that Lib Dems had moved on from that under a new leader.

    You raise some interesting points. What is the status of a manifesto after a losing election? What is the status of one manifesto after the publication of another? Do I have to trawl through the party website (which by the way is not great at communicating current policy), speeches and conference motions (thanks to Katharine Pindar for previously pointing me at these) to determine the latest positions of the party?

    Because I come to this site, I know that some things have changed since that manifesto. For a start, I doubt that the party is so keen on an In/Out referendum on EU membership! The party has reversed its position on fracking (something I expect it to emphasise in the local elections in May) and moved to a position of explicitly wanting to scrap existing grammar schools (something I expect it to keep quiet about in the local elections in May).

    But I don’t see sense of direction, a coherent message, or a consistent package of policies. There’s plenty of opposition to change but little sign of a meaningful alternative. Even the motions for debate at the next conference look largely like inoffensive tinkering around the edges. If there has been no significant change, am I to assume that the disappointment in Coalition was, and continues to be, the real Lib Dems? I hope not.

  • Jonathan, you really think Sturgeon’s call for indyref2 is due to the SNP being passionately pro-EU? Seriously?

  • @Ian Sanderson (RM3)

    No that is just another cop out, blame brexit, hope the government comes under pressure to ditch it. That is not going to happen, Article 50 is going to be invoked and negotiations will start place.
    Yes this is going to take up a lot of resources, however, that does not mean that the Liberal Democrats and other parties are not able to hold governments to account properly over other areas of domestic policies.
    Take the changes that come into effect tomorrow for instance, changes to PIP that is going to effect 160’000 people suffering with mental health conditions not getting the support that the tribunals said they should be entitled to. It is a disgrace and the Government should be being dragged over the coals and exposed.
    Yes that Liberal Democrats submitted a “prayer motion” on this. But what has LDV and its members done? Not a lot, we had one article that grabbed hardly any attention at all because people we so preoccupied with all the EU articles.
    There was a massive running news story on this matter for 48 hours which this site and the party should have seized upon in order to garner support and to put pressure on the Government, it did not happen because people were focused on brexit. What does it say to your own MP’s and their research staff when a topic is not attracting much support / attention from the membership as I am sure they must read these forums in order to test the feelings of the party

    The Government is going to try and get away with slipping lots of things out under the radar whilst Brexit is going on and peoples attentions are else where, it is up to opposition parties and the Liberal Democrats to be on the ball, to remain focused, and to challenge the Government.
    You will find it extremely difficult at the next election when people say to you, well the Government did X, Y, Z, what did you do to try and stop this at the time and your only excuse is, you were focused on stopping us leaving the EU

  • Peter Watson 15th Mar '17 - 11:04am

    @matt “it did not happen because people were focused on brexit”
    Similarly, on 4 March there was a march protesting against cuts to the NHS ( but this site and the party was preoccupied instead with “Lib Dems take part in national Day of Action opposing Brexit and supporting #righttostay” (

  • Peter Watson – Yeah, NHS should be emphasized, and can be related to Brexit via the £350m promise

  • Robert Wootton 15th Mar '17 - 1:09pm

    Brexit is happening whatever the LibDems say. So why can’t the LibDems go for a “Global Union of Independent States” based on the economic operating system described in the book that is in the possession of Baroness Susan Kramer. Britain and the LibDems could take the lead in implementing a new Economic System that ends economic deprivation and all the social and political problems it brings.

  • John Littler 15th Mar '17 - 1:14pm

    The free market fantasists are in denial as to what is going to happen.

    They have had thousands of approaches by business and business organisations which have told them much the same, over and over again and are choosing not to listen. Economics and academics are also much the same, with “Economists for Leave” almost entirely out of one single university, namely Cardiff.

    Fox and Davis do not look happy. Boris will not be happy either, but is putting on his jolly hockey sticks act on that Mummy and Daddy bought him at public school. They know the fantasy act free market trade deals are not ready out there to support these changes.
    They are already scraping the barrel talking to South American and African countries offering nought point nought, nought, nought percent of exports to be worked on.

    Lets send more British jam to countries with dodgy human rights who destroy the press…..and “security” equipment of course

    Farage is also looking unhappy as he has figured out where this is heading. He will not be standing for public office again, at least not after it really starts to hit the fan. In any case, he does do detail.

    What we have coming will be great for economists and political obsessives to pick over, as well as a whole new subject for future historians. After the rise and fall of the National Socialist Workers Party, the post war consensus, then the very brief rise and disappearance of nationalist Britain.

  • David Allen 15th Mar '17 - 4:19pm

    The SNP say that if Scotland were given a deal to allow them to stay in the single market, they could avoid a second referendum.

    Now – Never mind what you think of the SNP. Doesn’t this give us a powerful weapon to use against hard Brexit?

    Actually, a single market “deal” for Scotland but not the rest of the UK would be impracticable. However, Theresa May could instead give the SNP what they are asking for quite simply – by agreeing that the whole of the UK would stay in the single market, and go for a soft Brexit.

    So – If May insists on a hard Brexit, then she is putting the UK’s survival at great risk. If instead May were to accept a soft Brexit, she would shoot the SNP’s fox, and keep Britain a single nation. She would also give Leavers and Remainers a reasonable compromise solution which properly reflected the 52-48 split of opinion.

    We campaigned honourably for a referendum on the deal. We lost. Now we need a new Brexit campaign theme. This, I would suggest, is it.

  • Katharine Pindar 15th Mar '17 - 9:03pm

    David Allen – I’m sure you are right, David, that staying in the single market is the key to the SNP not calling their referendum, which if so would allow Theresa May to continue to uphold the Union. I think Bill le Breton was arguing this elsewhere too. In effect, the SNP are doing us a favour, by threatening but then providing the way out for May, which she can take only if she can concede on the single market access – which was an almost forgotten Tory Manifesto pledge, in any case.

    But how could that be achieved? Nick Clegg says it is a question of accepting that the market basically involved 27 rules merged into one, which of course requires the arbitration of the ECJ, which May detests. Yet as the whole Brexit scenario is seen to be fantasy (thank you, Nick, and Joe Otten for sharing it with us), surely she must be obliged eventually to concede.

    If our own demanded Referendum is never conceded, with the option of course of remaining in the EU, than surely EEA/EFTA membership (as BlB seems to advocate) must be sought. But let’s hold on, since the first cracks in this Government’s carapace are already appearing.

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