Nick Clegg to challenge Government over Brexit

Nick clegg on Last LegNick Clegg has not had a major role in the parliamentary party over the last year. All that is about to change as he takes on a position that he is uniquely well suited to fulfil – that of European Union spokesperson.

It will be Nick who is holding Liam Fox and David Davis to account. Given Nick’s wide-ranging experience at the highest levels of the British Government and as a trade negotiator for the European Union, we can expect no bovine scatology from Fox and Davis to pass him by. Their feet will be well and truly held to the fire.

Nick is extremely well respected across European capitals, too. As Deputy Prime Minister, he was the highest profile pro EU voice in British politics for some time.

He is kicking off his role by announcing his ‘Brexit Challenge’ project. Over the coming months, Nick will be working with a range of experts, including academics and lawyers, to set out the difficult questions the Government has to answer in a host of areas that will be affected by Brexit. This is what Nicola Sturgeon has already done in the Scottish context and what Theresa May should be doing on a UK level.

He will publish a series of papers detailing the challenges and dilemmas facing the UK in a wide range of areas, from our trading relationship with the EU, the issues surrounding freedom of movement, policing and anti-terror co-operation, agriculture, university research funding, environmental standards and many other areas.

Tim Farron said:

There is no-one better placed in British politics to hold the Government to account over Brexit than Nick. When it comes to facing down Theresa May – whether it’s over the Snoopers’ Charter, immigration and loads of other issues they crossed swords over in government – Nick has been there and got the T-shirt.

Now that Theresa May’s Brexit government is a reality, I’ve asked Nick to take on a formal role in holding them to account. Over the next months I expect him to be the leading voice in this debate, taking them to task and flushing out what Brexit will really mean for Britain.

I’m proud to have him by my side as we lead the Lib Dem fightback in the months ahead.

Nick said:

Theresa May says Brexit means Brexit but no one actually knows what that means. Will we be in the single market or cut off from it, with all the implications that has for British jobs and our economy? What does it mean for immigration? What about the Brits who live abroad and the Europeans who have made our country their home? How will we co-operate with our neighbours to tackle terrorism, cross-border crime and climate change?

With no meaningful opposition from the Labour Party, no exit plan from the Government, Whitehall unprepared for the Brexit negotiations, and above all, Theresa May’s refusal to seek a mandate from the people for what is in effect a new government, there is a real risk that she and her Brexit ministers won’t be subject to the scrutiny and accountability which voters deserve.

Whatever your views on Brexit, it is in everyone’s interest to make sure what happens next is debated openly and scrutinised properly. So I want to make clear that we will work openly and collaboratively with people of all parties and none who believe that Britain must remain an open economy and a tolerant, outward-looking nation.

The Mystic Clegg thing and the way that politics has gone since the Liberal Democrats left government have, I think, changed the way that people see Nick. His return to a front-line role, with a brief where he can excel with expertise and passion, is very good news for the country. While Labour fiddle and faff, Nick will provide this government with the credible and strong opposition they need on Europe.

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

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • This is brilliant news!

  • brilliant news for who ? Breexit ? Clegg has no credibility and is still utterly toxic. Here we are the one issue that has breathed some life back into the Liberal Democrats and we have Mr no more broken promises.

  • Guy Maskall 20th Jul '16 - 7:32am

    “So I want to make clear that we will work openly and collaboratively with people of all parties and *none* who believe that Britain must remain an open economy and a tolerant, outward-looking nation.”

    I hope this is a typo!

  • No Nick is not utterly toxic. In a recent conversation with a friend of mine who was vehemently opposed to the coalition government I was surprised when my friend referred to something Nick had said and stated he agreed with Nick’s comment.
    The coalition provided stability and the Lib Dems were a moderating element. The fallout from the financial crisis is something any government would have had to deal with.

  • James Hicklin 20th Jul '16 - 8:14am

    When Nick Clegg became leader the party had 62 MPs and 12 MEPs. He left it with 8 and 1 respectively.
    “Nick will provide this government with the credible and strong opposition they need on Europe”.
    No, he won’t. Remember, thanks to his own efforts he’s one of a party of just eight MPs and he was happy to collaborate with the Tories for five years. Why on earth would David Davis and co be the slightest bit bothered by questions from Clegg?

  • Nick Clegg may well remain toxic to some, especially among those who wish to fight the battles of the past. However, I think any general toxicity is weakening. My only evidence for this is anecdotal. I’ve certainly been in receipt of very positive comments about Nick from friends and work colleagues post-Coalition and especially post-Referendum. It’s easy to forget that voters’ views of politicians can change; Shirley Williams was not always universally popular!

    We need Nick.

  • I can’t help but think that this is fighting the last war too late. Where was all of this during the referendum campaign when it might actually have done some good? And what is the goal now? To help us get the next-best Brexit deal as quickly as possible? Or to undermine and drag out negotiations for as long as possible in some forlorn hope that May will offer a second referendum or GE, with all of the uncertainty and negative economic impact that will have? I don’t think the electorate will be appreciative of a party that takes a destructive approach to what will be a critical phase of this country’s future, whether we like the referendum outcome or not.

  • Adam Bernard 20th Jul '16 - 8:49am

    You can say what you like about Nick — and I certainly have! — but you can’t argue either that he isn’t committed to, or expert on, the European Union. This is clearly a Nick Clegg-shaped job.

  • Alex Macfie 20th Jul '16 - 8:51am

    He didn’t come out very well debating with Farage (which was the wrong debate for the wrong campaign anyway).

  • It’s important that somebody performs this role, and who amongst the 8 MPs would be better?

    I don’t think Nick Clegg is still toxic to general public. He’s just toxic to a significant chunk of his own party……

  • Christopher Lyddon 20th Jul '16 - 9:04am

    Fantastic news. The ideal person for the job.

  • Is the man who led the Lib Dems in the last euro and general elections really the man for this job? Remember the Farage debate, Nick’s “New Kind of Politics” and his personal pledge. His supporters speak of his expertise on europe, but in the Farage debate and Brexit campaign he was poor. Surely you must have somebody better than this.

  • Roger Billins 20th Jul '16 - 10:35am

    I agree with Nick !

    A lot of people will never forgive him but he’s bright, able and knowledgeable on this subject and will be better placed to hold the Government to account than anybody from the Labour side.

  • Frank Bowles 20th Jul '16 - 10:43am

    It’s not about how “toxic” or not Nick is with the electorate, we’re not asking people to vote for him. It’s about the fact that he is an expert not only someone who has worked for the EU and been an MEP but also someone who has been a Cabinet minister at the heart of Government with many of his protagonists. Electorally I can’t see the downside; the upside is he has an opportunity to rebuild his reputation and will let the party punch with some weight on an issue we have committed ourselves to more strongly than the other parties (at least in England)

  • Denis Loretto 20th Jul '16 - 11:08am

    Like everyone else I am relying on anecdotal evidence about how people in general now view Nick but I chuck in my two-pennorth on the side of those who detect a gradual appreciation of what he contributed to the coalition (remember it – stable government for 5 years?). No-one could be better qualified for this new job.

    As he approaches it he will clearly carry along the path set out by Tim Farron of establishing the Lib Dems as determined to keep the UK as close as possible to Europe and the single market. However I hope he will not get embroiled in giving commitments or pledges (remember tuition fees) actually to get the UK back into the EU. I am distinctly uncomfortable with this sort of talk. There is absolutely no need for us to go that far in facing what is still a highly uncertain future. We simply cannot put ourselves in the position of being accused (again!) of making false promises.

  • I’m no fan of Nick Clegg but as to his toxicity that is fading by the day, as people start looking back to the coalition with rose tinted spectacles. They are starting to remember the good bits and give Nick some of the credit for that and the bad bits are being assigned to the Tories. A role reversal from when the coalition was actually in place.

  • If it wasnt for Clegg’s position on fees we would be hoovering up suppprt from under 35s now. He may know a lot about Europe but he doesnt know how to grow a party.

  • Bill le Breton 20th Jul '16 - 7:39pm

    Positioning on Brexit is a real challenge for Liberal Democrats.

    The party will not be able to rely on a snap election, nor will it be able to rely on another referendum – at least not soon and probably not at all. Nor will its policy of rejoining the EU be tenable in a 2020 election.

    No. the Lib Dems have to come forward with their own defined solution sooner or later to the situation that exists or will exist from next January and the triggering of Art 50.

    This Lib Dem policy may gain clarity from scrutiny of the Government’s progress in putting their solution together, but of course it may not.

    Tim Farron wants a solution as close to the single market as possible – is that right?

    Nick Clegg wants “Britain (to) remain an open economy and a tolerant, outward-looking nation.” Well of course being a member of the customs union of the EU meant that Britain was not an open economy.

    Yes we were relatively tolerant, but as we have seen that tolerance has been undermined by a relatively stagnant economy and stagnant wages for nearly a decade. Nor is being outward looking exclusive to EU nations – it is possible to be outside the EU and outward looking, in fact more outward looking.

    So, being creative with our ideas is necessary to seize the present opportunity and to meet the requirements of both Farron and Clegg. Can they both meet this challenge? I am not sure. Will their grief over losing the referendum allow them to be?

    Finally, I think it wrong to over emphasise Clegg’s predictive powers. Two weeks on and not only is the FTSE 100 back to and above its June position, but the FTSE 250 is now back to the June level. Interest rates have NOT risen. Even the IMF is not now warning of a recession. Countries outside of the EU are coming forward to explore possible trade agreements. Not only is the Norway option a possibility. Peple are sugesting the Canadian model.

    The Tories were always going to have a leadership election – it came in July rather than November and of course the Prime Minister is not Osborne and May did give a Liberal speech on entering Downing Street – and Osborne would never have done that. The stupidity of trying to get a budget surplus in 2019 has disappeared.

    People are talking. Pragmatism and Creativity is the order of the day. I just hope the Party responds to the opportunity.

  • So more of the anecdotal I met someone who said Clegg wasn’t that bad, but no actual evidence, just wishful thinking. Far from being an expert, Clegg was a failure in Government and notoriously said he saw the EU being much the same in 10 year time.
    Anyone want to say that was spot on ? Anyone want to say his debate was Farage was a success ? Or wiping out our MEPs? I read his article in the Times today and heard him on Radio 4, he has nothing to say. He poses a series of question he himself is unable to answer. The purpose of a political party is to offer a plan of action, it is not to act as commentators on the internal politics of other parties.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 21st Jul '16 - 12:22am

    I saw Nick Clegg at a meeting the week before the referendum , he spoke with the mixture of common sense and natural ease that he is good at . He was knowledgeable and intelligent throughout. An asset on these issues when we need him.

    This is his area of expertise .

    He must develop a credible Brexit response , rewinding to where Tim was a week or so ago !

    He has been made well aware of where we think he went wrong.We must not dwell anymore on the coalition mistakes. This day , we have terrific ex mps reselected , they lost their jobs and are carrying on , as are we!

  • Nick Baird is quite right. The so called anti-Clegg feeling is mostly in the heads of a small minority of our own members and some of the contributors to this website, some of whom are not members of our party. Nick Clegg will be good at this and for some will remain a ‘leader in waiting’.

  • @Bill Le Breton Two weeks in and it’s all looking rosy? What were all those economic experts worrying about?

  • I agree with Nick (Baird)

  • Guy: I think I see your objection, but the commonsense meaning is “people of all parties and none” (that is, people in a party and people in no party) who believe…. That’s perfectly grammatical and the alternative interpretation (working together with people of all parties, and with no-one who believes…) is a real twisting of language. Of course we should work with non-party people who share some of our beliefs.

    As for Nick Clegg, he certainly has the detailed knowledge and the understanding of what actually helps people cut deals in Europe. But he’s also the man who said he wanted the EU in future to be much like the EU at present.

  • The party only has 8 MPs, nick clegg has the experience and knowledge to get our voice heard in the EU debate to
    come. I think this is good news, much better than leaving the former leader and DPM languishing on his own as our only backbencher.
    the chaos of the last month may just give nick himself a chance to be heard again – and again, anecdotally, but labour supporting friends now say they appreciate the coalition much more, and esp the ‘hidden’ role of the LDs.

  • Bill le Breton 21st Jul '16 - 2:21pm

    Brian D, sorry for delay in replying – I only read your comment after exhausting my three comments and had to wait for anew allocation. You ask, “What were all those economic experts worry about?” Good question. They clearly got the extent of the problem wrong. But then they are experts in parts of economic theory, they are not experts in predicting markets.

    @SimonShaw – I am surprised you have so quickly forgotten Danny Alexander’s 2015 celebrated yellow boxed budget – titled: An Alternative Fiscal Path. You know, the basis of our manifesto which you campaigned on. At the time people were saying Osborne lived in La-La-Land. And then, surprise surprise, the OBR at the time of the 2015 Autumn Statement included downgrades in growth in its forecasts, as did the 2016 Budget OBR forecasts – all making the surplus target impossible to reach, or in my words ‘stupid’.

  • I very rarely visit LDV these days but when I do I feel I have to comment just to augment the number of female voices on here. Bill le Breton is absolutely right – Brexit is with us now and the Lub Dems need to go through the five stages of grief and move on very swiftly to a coherent vision of Britain post-Brexit. There is no prospect at all of re-joining even if the country wanted it. Nor is it possible to duck the ” freedom of (people) movement” issue. So, Lib Dems. You cannot credibly offer us another Reverendum, you cannot credibly offer us a reversal of Brexit, that ship has sailed. What positive vision ARE you going to offer the country. That is the exam question. Is Nick Clegg the best person to help you arrive at the answer?

  • Lorenzo Cherin 22nd Jul '16 - 12:22am


    I think although your motive to fill the gap where more women should be , on here, is a good reason to contribute, I think , to do so because you have something to offer which goes beyond that , which you clearly do , is reason to welcome your efforts.

    I would like your view above , to be reflected in policy. As someone who has gradually moved to a definite , though moderate Remain stance , and someone who had quickly moved to a definite, pro Tim Farron stance , I am not sure I like his making policy suddenly on an issue that needs greater due attention to the details.

    We need your views , those of Nick Clegg, and any that add value .

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 22nd Jul '16 - 8:56am

    I agree with Phyllis. It is possible that we could, at some point in the future, re-join the EU. But I think we have to accept that this could not happen any time soon. Our focus should be on ensuring that Britain, outside the EU, is a nation with liberal values.
    The Lib Dems should be about LIBERALISM. Although the party has always been pro EU, we should recognise that it is quite possible for a nation to be liberal without belonging to the EU. A nation can also be internationalist without belonging to the EU. We can be Europeans without belonging to the EU.
    I also agree with Lorenzo, in being concerned about the way Tim Farron seems to be making policy without much thought or consultation. Isn’t policy supposed to be decided by Conference? I am worried that Tim Farron is making us sound like a one issue party.

  • Robert Wootton 27th Jul '16 - 8:48pm

    The EU as it is currently constructed does not fulfil the cybernetic laws that ensure viability. See Raul Espejo’s critique of the EU on his website “Syncho” which was posted some years ago.

    Even the UK is going through a process of devolution with central government putting more political and social responsibility onto the regions of the UK. However I believe that this is merely an attempt by central government to cut the costs for central government without providing the economic power to the devolved regions. When these regions fail in their provision of services, central government can blame the devolved regions, putting their metaphorical hands up in horror and say “Its not our fault”. To which I say “Oh yes it is.”

    A united Europe as does a United Kingdom of devolved regions needs to take account of the scientific laws that ensure organisational viability. The USA does this to a certain extent by allowing its states to have their own taxation system and tax raising powers.

    If devolution in the UK is to succeed, central government must also devolve tax raising powers to the regions, especially Scotland and Wales as independent states. However, the structure of the global economy is based on the ideological foundations of economic Deregulation, financial Liberalisation and Privatisation (DLP) Historical evidence shows that this system is disastrous for civil society and leads to poverty for the many and extreme wealth for the few.

    A fair and just economic system must be fair to billionaires and benefit claimants alike.

    Devolution and Brexit I hope provides the opportunity for the regions and states of the UK and the EU to establish in law a new economic system that delivers freedom and justice for all and sets people free from ignorance and poverty.

    It is time for government and political parties, hopefully the Liberal Democrat party, to act adventurously and experimentally by putting a new economic system into their manifestos.

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