Norman is right: Common Market 2.0 was the compromise the Lib Dems should have made

I have immense respect for Norman Lamb.

While some of the language he has deployed in the last day and a half has been a little strong for my liking, I sympathise completely with his frustrations.

On Monday night, four Liberal Democrat MPs joined dozens of pro-referendum MPs from other parties in voting down the Brexit option being pushed by Nick Boles, referred to as ‘Common Market 2.0’, or sometimes as ‘Norway plus’. Only two Liberal Democrats – Lamb and former leader Tim Farron – voted in favour of Common Market 2.0.

In so doing, these four Lib Dem MPs spurned the opportunity to win a majority for a Brexit outcome that is 90% of what membership of the EU is.

The Common Market 2.0 plan would maintain Britain’s membership of the single market. It would preserve the four freedoms of that market, including freedom of movement. The plan includes a customs arrangement that would avoid the need for a hard border on the island of Ireland and would allow the UK to continue to benefit from the EU’s trade deals with other countries. The only real drawback to the plan is that it would require the UK to follow single market rules and regulations without having any formal say on how those rules are made.

Common Market 2.0 is inferior to membership of the EU, but not by very much. Moreover, this plan has a chance of bringing our divided nation back together. It gives leave voters what they want, by ensuring the UK leaves the EU, while respecting those of us who voted remain and want to protect our existing rights.

Amidst the glimmer of a spirit of compromise that appeared to be emanating from Westminster for the first time in years, I had hoped that the Lib Dems would back the Common Market 2.0 plan (as well as the People’s Vote and revocation options), though I was prepared to be disappointed. Instead, tribalism – normally an alien concept to liberals – won the day.

Of course, it wasn’t just Lib Dems – People’s Vote advocates from Labour, the Conservatives, the Greens and the Independent Group all dug into their trenches and sabotaged any attempts at reaching a compromise. In total, 70 MPs who voted in favour of a confirmatory referendum either abstained on, or voted against, the Common Market 2.0 proposal. If they chose to lend their support to Common Market 2.0 they could create a majority for it overnight.

With only nine days to go until a potential no deal exit from the EU, those pro-referendum MPs who refuse to compromise are playing a dangerous game. I understand that a People’s Vote is our preferred option, and I can appreciate the desire to maintain our stridently pro-remain stance in the view of the public. But I share Norman Lamb’s fear that the intransigence of our MPs risks leaving us with a far worse outcome.

Following the Prime Minister’s speech last night, MPs will it seems have another chance to vote on a way forward. I urge our generally excellent and impressive Liberal Democrat MPs to follow Norman Lamb’s lead: accept the need for compromise, and back Common Market 2.0.

* Hugo Forshaw is an activist with the Merton Liberal Democrats and a political adviser specialising in justice policy. He writes in a personal capacity.

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36 Comments

  • Andy Briggs 3rd Apr '19 - 10:59am

    Well said Hugo, should the UK end up leaving the EU with either no deal or May’s deal, we will look back at this moment as a missed opportunity.

  • Paul Pettinger 3rd Apr '19 - 11:15am

    Had our other MPs copied Norman and voted for the customs union option it would have easily passed – a tangible version of Brexit would have finally obtained a majority, just as the Brexit bandwagon is falling apart. Brexit would be back in the ascendancy, and the confirmatory referendum campaign would be losing momentum, at a crucial time. A no deal Brexit is a bluff. The Commons rejected it back in mid March (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meaningful_vote#Vote_on_%22no_deal%22_(13_March_2019)), while the Govt has already blinked and shown it was not willing to attempt leaving without a deal on March 29th. Thank goodness our other MPs didn’t follow Norman ‘s example. He seems to be confusing a simple notion that we often get more when we compromise, with a position that would have left us compromised and helping rescue Brexit from itself.

  • Peter Martin 3rd Apr '19 - 11:34am

    The problem with compromises is they satisfy neither side. Both hard core leavers remainers want to slug it out for either ‘no-deal’ or ‘remain’.

    The Lib Dem approach seems to shift between calling for revoking Art50 and having a “confirmatory” referendum between whatever compromise has been sort-of agreed. It doesn’t really matter what it is: May’s deal, Common Market 2.0, or whatever. The choice will be between a Leave option that the Leave side can’t support and Remain.

    It will be no contest. The leave side will abstain and Remain will win easily.

  • I agree with Mr Lamb, the night was as I have said earlier, a complete shambles for the party, badly organised, badly led and badly completed. BUT we move on, things are now a different game. Monday voting will have legal application. Very important get it right MP’s.
    It has struck me this morning that it may well be in the interests of the ERG and others who support them in Conservative parliamentary ranks, to support a Referendum, they may well fell that would be the best way to get what they want.

  • As I understand it the issue with the amemdment is that it ruled out a People’s Vote.

    Whilst I agree that “No Deal” would be utterly catastrophic, “No Deal” exit is not the natural result of failure to agree a deal. If it happened “No Deal” would be something the Gove
    rnment and leaver MPs impose on the rest of us.

    It is a threat.

    Agreeing that the UK should become a vassal state of the EU *without referring that decision to the electorate* to avoid the other side instigating national collapse is not “compromise”.

    It is capitulation.

  • Venetia Caine 3rd Apr '19 - 12:56pm

    No. We have to do everything we can to ensure that we do not leave the EU. Supporting ANY form of compromise would mean that we were out. That we had become Brexiters. What is the sense in our party deliberately pursuing a policy which would impoverish the country? Moreover, it would appear that there is now a small, clear majority in favour of not leaving the EU. We have to continue on the straight and narrow Remain path. What if Solomon’s suggestion that the two putative mothers ‘compromise’ and have a half a baby each had been taken up?

  • Mick Taylor 3rd Apr '19 - 1:10pm

    Sorry, Norman, but you are wrong.
    We offered to support a resolution that would approve Mrs May’s deal subject to a confirmatory referendum that included remain as the other option. That is already a compromise and quite frankly it’s as far as we should go.
    We cannot support a deal which would leave the UK worse off and ANY of the proposed options would leave us poorer as a country. It is, IMHO, a failure of responsibility on MPs part to vote for anything which makes this country poorer by design and which threatens workers rights and the living standards of the already poor.
    In any event, Norman was a spring Conference and had every opportunity to put in a card to speak against the policy that was agreed almost unanimously, namely to continue to campaign for a Peoples’ Vote and to support withdrawal of article 50 if no deal beckons. Very few people were called against the policy as a whole so I have no doubt he could have spoken against the policy and urged conference to change track. He also had every opportunity to craft an amendment along the lines of what he is saying now and put that to the test.
    He chose to do none of those things. So it really is a bit rich to come along and threaten to resign the whip because he doesn’t agree with the tactics agreed by conference just a few weeks ago. Maybe, just maybe, he could commission a poll in his constituency to see where his voters stand now. Given that a number of respected polls now conclude that there are very few constituencies that continue to support Brexit, he might well find that the party of which he aspired to be leader just 2 years ago is actually representing the current public mood.

  • Scott Berry 3rd Apr '19 - 1:39pm

    This is the kind of debate that reminds me why I’m a Lib Dem. I probably disagree with Norman Lamb on this, but at the same time I can absolutely see why he took the path he did and he made a slightly different assessment of the lie of the land to me and to many of our other MPs. I hope the debate continues to be respectful as it has been already, we have already lost one MP to Brexit and can’t afford another.
    I think the solution though is clear and in two parts. Firstly a preferential system is needed for indicative votes so MPs needn’t guess at what else may pass (presumably we all agree if PV can get a majority we shouldn’t support CM2.0, it’s just we assess the chances of that differently, AV removes the need to make that assessment). Secondly I know the Lib Dems are working towards, and hope they manage to bring forward, a composite motion of CM2.0 or a similar softer Brexit option alongside a confirmatory referendum on that with the option to remain (and possibly with a harder Brexit option voted on an AV basis between the three).

  • Arnold Kiel 3rd Apr '19 - 2:10pm

    Common market 2.0 is better than no-deal, yes, and it superficially satisfies the desire to leave. But it is the least sustainable option. It will be always be under attack; the UK’s EU debate will never go away, and leavers will finally have a true and convincing argument: why follow all the rules without a say? Of all the options, it represents the most profound and humiliating loss of sovereignty. EFTA simply is no place to be for a big, important country with global aspirations. Even if this concept had a majority today, it would not survive the next phase of negotiations, especially under a stabilised but resentful Conservative government.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 3rd Apr '19 - 2:25pm

    Excellent comments from Hugo, and colleagues.

    I might have voted as Norman did because the understanding of the process varies, in the sense that those who voted for these preferences were not saying, my way or highway,at all.

    They were, rather, giving, and the name is on the tin, an indication.

    It is like abortion. I favour legal but limited abortion, I value the rights of the developed foetus, no real need to ask about the rights of the woman, I accept those anyway, but after a number of weeks, the rights to not have a few more weeks pregnant does not beat the rights to life in my view. Therefore I compromise at the point ,of viability. This party accepts a compromise at all stages, as it allows a conscience vote, yet now has a divisive policy on abortion in addition to retaining that right. Why?

    Here we need a policy. Yet it, like abortion, gender, prisons, is too one sided, not extreme, but extremely intransigent within its rather limited view.

    We need to see this debate as that, not a struggle to a finish line. This is not war.

  • Roland Postle 3rd Apr '19 - 4:28pm

    “It gives leave voters what they want”

    If this were remotely true you’d expect Leave MPs to vote for it in reasonable numbers. Checking all Conservatives (for simplicity, they have highest density of Leavers and weren’t whipped) in Monday’s vote for support of CM2.0, I can find just 3 Leavers(*): George Eustice, Andrew Percy, and Stephen Kerr. The last has a very slim majority against SNP in a heavy Remain seat for what it’s worth.

    Furthermore very few Tories supported it at all, and they are not only the party which created Brexit but – in case it’s been forgotten – the party in government.

    I’m very much in favour of compromise and proud that Lib Dem MPs are often the first reaching out for it, but a compromise isn’t a compromise unless it’s recognised as such by both sides. The other side here is Leavers. It isn’t the wet Remainers who reluctantly agreed to follow through on Brexit after the referendum, fearing backlash if they didn’t.

    On the contrary, many Leavers have described CM 2.0 and similar options as a total betrayal of Brexit. I do not think that’s mere bluster, because their arguments stand up. We would still be compelled to accept many EU rules, only now we wouldn’t even have a say in creating them. As Arnold said, they will keep making that point after we leave. A genuine attempt to compromise would begin by recognising that position, as uncomfortable as the conclusions following from it are: There probably aren’t any good compromise options, that’s part of the problem. Another part of the problem is there aren’t any viable full-blown Brexit options either. What a mess.

    (*) Primarily using this list as a source of Le/Re support in 2016: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-eu-referendum-35616946

  • Nom de Plume 3rd Apr '19 - 4:29pm

    I am sure the ERG group of Tories would attack CM2.0, just as I am sure they would attack almost anything with ‘Europe’ attached to it. Some of the symbols of the EU would be gone: no flags, no EU elections. It would be a brave PM to put the new relationship to a referendum. The government has negotiated the UK into a corner. It is important to be part of the process and CM2.0 is closest to the LibDem position. The loss of sovreignity and humiliation are a direct consequence of any Brexit.

    As I expected, the EU has rejected May’s request for a short extension. Decision time.

  • Eddie Sammon 3rd Apr '19 - 4:50pm

    Norman voted for Ken Clarke’s amendment which as far as I know would have ended EU free movement. I’m in favour of compromise but we aren’t at the stage where we need to give up almost everything to avoid a no-deal. The EU seem to be prepared to give us more time if we have a solid reason to ask for it.

    Common Market 2.0 seems to be a reasonable compromise.

  • The ERG are the potential suprise packet in all this. They say a years delay is better than the present Deal, probably 2 years if there is compromise between the two leaders. Their up to 100 votes could mean the Referendum would probably pass, easily! A Referendum could be in their best interests it would stall everything. Should we not be talking to them.

  • Nonconformistradical 3rd Apr '19 - 4:58pm

    “Common Market 2.0 seems to be a reasonable compromise.”

    Until May stands down and a new Tory leader of the BoJo variety junks it

  • Nom de Plume 3rd Apr '19 - 5:37pm

    It does seem a bit theoretical at the moment. I would not support CM2.0 unless the WA and CM2.0 passed at the same time. I would not trust May or any Tory to implement anything which was not legally binding. Nine days. The government will have to decide what it wants to do.

  • Nom de Plume 3rd Apr '19 - 5:40pm

    Attaching a PV to it would be even better. It would all require some time.

  • /”This plan has a chance of bringing our divided nation back together.”/
    Sorry Hugo, this is wishful thinking to the point of myopia. Leavers are already making it clear that they see CM2.0 as a betrayal of Brexit, and are furious about it. As a Remainer I am not at all satisfied with it; I believe we can still stop Brexit altogether with a PV, and that is what we should be concentrating on.
    I respect Norman’s views and his right to dissent on an issue he feels strongly about. He should be allowed to express that dissent; there is no need for talk of resigning the whip. But Mick Taylor’s point is also very pertinent: we did actually discuss this just a few weeks ago at conference, and members voted overwhelmingly on what our stance as a party should be. Let’s not ignore that.

  • If Labour are seen as a Brexit party it may help us in the locals and then the new leader for a few months. But we have to move on.

  • Michael Sammon 3rd Apr '19 - 10:57pm

    I agree with Norman. I don’t think it will be good to be remembered as just the uncompromising along with the ERG. I think common market 2.0 would be a good result at this stage and the public would thank us for helping the country move forward in a responsible manner. I’m wary of having no formal future say, especially on the customs union trade deals and diplomacy but this uncertainty is terrible as well.

  • Geoffrey Payne 3rd Apr '19 - 11:19pm

    In my opinion we have 2 objectives. One to acheive a People’s Vote and the other to stop No Deal Brexit.
    I cannot see a path to a People’s Vote. Repeated votes show there are not enough MPs who support it, just as there is not enough MPs to support May’s deal. We should continue to take every opportunity to back a People’s Vote, for what it is worth, but what is the risk of a No Deal Brexit?
    A No Deal Brexit remains the default option if we cannot get an agreement by April 12th. Parliamentary votes ruling out No Deal do not prevent that as legally they do not carry the same legal weight as the passing of Article 50 where No Deal was specified as the default means of leaving. It could be prevented if Corbyn and May reach an agreement. If they do, it will not be a People’s Vote, it would be something similar to staying in the Custom’s Union, one of the options our MPs voted against.
    Hugo is right to point out that Common Market 2.0 would have been a better option, and it would have been better if our MPs had voted for it, as well as the People’s Vote.
    The risk in not doing so is that Corbyn and May do not reach an agreement and we crash out with a No Deal. That remains a highly likely possibility for which the Lib Dems would be partly responsible for.
    I can undertsand why Norman Lamb is angry at his colleagues but I very much hope he stays in the party.

  • @Roland Postle “A genuine attempt to compromise would begin by recognising that position, as uncomfortable as the conclusions following from it are”
    For this to happen, both sides need to be prepared to compromise, the current problem is that many ardent Brexiteers still don’t see any need to compromise, seeing the problem lies with “remoaners” rather than in their intransigence – just like kids in kindergarden. In this respect ardent Brexiteers seem to look down their noses at those Brexiteers who support CM2.0 and similar, as being closet remainers and not true believers – Hence we see the spectacle of a Labour Brexiteer MP accusing Corbyn of selling out the circa 6M Labour voters who voted for Brexit if he supports CM2.0, but no mention of selling out the similar number of Labour voters who voted remain…

    In part, this stand off is being fed from politicians (and others) using the headline referendum result as if it were a win/lose football match result rather than a water temperature reading.

    I think T.May’s approach to J.Corbyn is good as it has sent a shock through the ardent Conservative Brexiteer MP’s. I think they might start to begin to think about compromise more seriously, if instead of saying she will attempt to get another extension, she will revoke our Art.50 notification on the 10-April and mean it. Ie. as part of the compromise T.May has to let go of the idea of actually delivering ‘Brexit’ and instead focus on delivering a way out of the mess her party has made.

  • Nonconformistradical 4th Apr '19 - 8:07am

    “I think T.May’s approach to J.Corbyn is good as it has sent a shock through the ardent Conservative Brexiteer MP’s. I think they might start to begin to think about compromise more seriously…”

    Well if this https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/theresa-may-brexit-robbie-gibb-brexit-latest-a8853956.html

    is anything to go by I wouldn’t hold your breath….

  • The various forms of Brexit are to varying degrees bad, so I’m not going to support any Leave “compromise” while any hope remains of changing the outcome.

    CM2.0 may be functionally the least damaging, and maybe even not damaging at all in the short term, but it takes away our ability to contribute to EU policy and shape the EU’s future. If you believe the EU is on balance a good thing, why would you want to give that up?

  • Bill le Breton 4th Apr '19 - 9:21am

    Andrew Duff once again has switched on his PC and … http://www.epc.eu/pub_details.php?cat_id=4&pub_id=9131

  • Philip Boothroyd 4th Apr '19 - 1:10pm

    “CM2.0 may be functionally the least damaging, and maybe even not damaging at all in the short term, but it takes away our ability to contribute to EU policy and shape the EU’s future. If you believe the EU is on balance a good thing, why would you want to give that up?”

    The problem with this argument in my mind is that it assumes staying in the EU is maintaining some kind of status quo within the EU. However, being within the EU isn’t just about getting a say in policy and regulation within the status quo, it is about being part of the ever closer integration. If Britain stays in that integration either doesn’t happen because we veto it, or is dramatically slowed down. I see that as inevitable because there is no appetite for it among voters here, and having not joined the euro I see no driver for that to change (the euro being something I support in principle, but in practice was very much a case of putting the currency cart before the economic-integration horse).

    So under CM2.0 we lose the direct input, but allow for a more healthy EU to develop more quickly than it would otherwise. That is good for the EU, and good for us as a more stable EU with hopefully a revitalised south and vitalised east, is better for us to trade and cooperate with. And maybe if the wobbly cart is sorted out there will be popular support for rejoining in the future. This has been my view for a while, to the point that if the 2016 vote had been on stay in or leave and do CM2.0 I would have voted to leave.

  • @Philip – “However, being within the EU isn’t just about getting a say in policy and regulation within the status quo, it is about being part of the ever closer integration. If Britain stays in that integration either doesn’t happen because we veto it, or is dramatically slowed down.”
    Yes, what staying in the EU means needs to be discussed, particularly as the Remain campaign didn’t do a very good job. The UK needs to decide if it is going to be an active participant or a reluctant participant. Britain staying could result in a different closer integration that satisfies more people…

  • (addition)
    I suggest, given we have spent millions on forming and skilling up the Department for Exiting the EU and they (should) now have good connections into Brussels, that we rename this department to Department for EU Relations and make give it a permanent job in maintaining the on-going UK-EU relationship. But given this is the UK, I expect once Brexit is over, the department will get disbanded and the skills and relationships lost…

  • Nonconformistradical 4th Apr '19 - 4:24pm

    Re CM2 and “The plan includes a customs arrangement that would avoid the need for a hard border on the island of Ireland.”

    Perhaps this programme ought to be required viewing – perhaps especially for those too young to be fully aware of the troubles:
    https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m0003n65/border-country-when-ireland-was-divided

    “Since the border between the UK and Ireland was created in 1922, film crews and journalists have descended there to try and make sense of its absurdities and contradictions – as well as the turmoil it can cause.

    Border Country: When Ireland was Divided, brings 100 years of archival footage together with the stories of people whose lives have been affected by this crucial dividing line. “

  • Bill le Breton 4th Apr '19 - 4:29pm

    Philip Boothroyd above brings an interesting perspective.

    Perhaps he would consider – given this thought “However, being within the EU isn’t just about getting a say in policy and regulation within the status quo, it is about being part of the ever closer integration. If Britain stays in that integration either doesn’t happen because we veto it, or is dramatically slowed down.” – this is why Macron wants the UK out (full steam ahead for integration) and Merkle wants us in (Germany does not want the inevitable Leadership role that it would be forced into in a fully integrated EU).

    Germany does not trust itself with such power and needs the UK as balance/conscience/restrainer. Macron thirsts for it.

  • atest….”House of Commons suspended after water pours through ceiling”…

    That wasn’t rain water; that was long gone decent politicians passing water (sorry, judgement) on today’s crop.

  • Philip Boothroyd 4th Apr '19 - 9:43pm

    Thanks Bill – I take the point. I would still argue though that with Euro introduced it’s a bit late for halting or slowing the closer integration though! With the way the EU works I don’t see how Macron can force integration any faster than Merkel (and others) are willing to let it go – except perhaps by trying to play hardball and saying ‘I’ll veto everything if we don’t do…’. But maybe I am missing something?

    I’d like to see the power dispersed by having an elected EU president to lead the executive, whenever the next treaty is produced. That way it’s not the financial power of France/Germany pulling the strings and too much power in one place, but the democratic power of the EUs remaining 450 million people. Maybe that’s wishful thinking though.

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