Ode to something less than Joy

There was a time, not so long ago, that any news interview conducted outside the Westminster Parliament would be punctuated by a loud and long cry, “Stoooopppp Breeeexiiiit”.

Brexit was not stopped. December 2019 saw a Tory government returned to power, transformed from a handcuffed minority to a stomping majority. The Liberal Democrats did not benefit in any huge way from the Stop Brexit stance, lost one seat overall, and a certain person did not stand before us as the next Prime Minister.

We could focus on a post-mortem – all the events that led to that outcome – refining our judgement about who did what, what was right or wrong.

Isn’t it high time we, as a party, stopped harking-back to that cry, and sought to influence public opinion on what a post-EU existence might look like? It seems there is a void – even Leave.EU didn’t actually expect to win, Johnson, Gove, Raab et al knew that they wanted out from the perceived shackles of Europe, but have yet to fill us in on what follows.

There is a court case currently being brought, its argument being that only the EU can withdraw its citizenship, not the seceding member state. Given that joining the EU (and paying into the EU budget) is what confers citizenship, it’s a tricky one to argue, but the case and its outcome will be worth following. What’s the LibDem view on this? Could additional citizenship be conferred (or purchased?), and if so what rights could it bring? What would be the model for jurisdiction and representation?

Of the various relationship options in Barnier’s waterfall slide, if we had to choose something between (and excluding) full EU membership and WTO terms, which of these would it be?

What about rejoining? Admittedly this isn’t imminent, but having a clear view on the criteria for rejoining could seed a roadmap of how to get there, a map we could choose to follow, mothball or reject.

Yes, we have our own postponed leadership election, and all the ramifications of Coronavirus to contend with, but what better use of this time than to define our future position? If we can unite on that, we stand a better chance of regaining credibility with the country.

* Adrian May is a member in Edinburgh

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24 Comments

  • Andrew Tampion 4th May '20 - 12:30pm

    As Stephen Howse suggests the Party should have done all of this and more years ago: as some members, including me argued.
    I think that the first thing the Party has to do is accept that if a significant proportion of the population is unhappy with the way that the EU has developed then even if we had stayed in it would have been necessary to insist that changes were made to the Treaties until they were more inline with what the people as a whole were prepared to accept.
    As far as citizenship is concerned I remember a proposal that associate citizenship be granted to UK citizens, this seems to have been dropped. I am not an expert on EU or Human Rights Law but I suspect one problem is that if associate citizenship was made available to UK citizens then it could be discriminatory not to make it available to anyone. Can you imagine the trouble that would be caused if Syrians or Sub Saharan African refuges could all apply for associate EU citizens, with the right to freedom of movement?

  • We might not like it… and I certainly don’t…. but it’s time to move on. The whistle’s blown for full time even if it wasn’t a penalty and our goal certainly wasn’t offside.

    As Fred Trueman once said when a batsman trudged past him complaining, “that were never out, it were never L.B.W”……….. “Look in’t paper in’t morning , lad, and see if it were out”.

    End of.

  • The counter argument would be “it’s their bed, they made it, they can lie in it” – why sully ourselves by getting involved in trying to make it work? They can sort it out, and take the punches along the way.

    But of course, failure to engage in the process means failure to influence the outcome towards something that is preferable. The more a party fails to engage in the *current* issues, the more it drifts towards irrelevance in the public eye.

    I take your point @Freddie, working-through specific issues might be easier to tackle, chipping-away at each, but it doesn’t give a strong message or identity for the party’s stance, and personally, I think the complex message on why “Stop Brexit” was democratic was too much to convey in the space of the little media coverage we get.

  • Julian Tisi 4th May '20 - 2:28pm

    We were right to oppose Brexit and support a second referendum on the exact nature of the final deal. We were right in setting out our stall as the Stop Brexit party. But we were then absolutely wrong with our call to revoke Art 50 unilaterally; it made us toxic to much of the population – not just leavers but also many remainers who felt that the referendum result couldn’t be just ignored.

    This is all in the past of course. At the next GE we have a conundrum and I’m not quite sure how we deal with it. On the one hand, we have become so associated with Stop Brexit that it would be arguably inconsistent for us to now water down our position and argue for some soft Brexit position. On the other hand, voters and events have moved on and arguably we can’t go into the next election arguing to rejoin.

    How to square the circle? Public opinion may change next year once we’re out of the transitional arrangements (and the impact of Brexit is properly felt). But, assuming there is no immediate prospect of rejoining (aside from anything else it’s not fully in Britain’s gift anymore – the rest of the EU would have to agree our reentry and its terms) we could say that we want a close relationship with the EU that best protects British jobs, maximises British influence with our closest neighbours and protects citizens rights. Beyond this I don’t think we have to specify relationship type (e.g. Norway +) – we can still say that we remain convinced that EU membership best delivers these in the long term, while stopping short of having rejoin at the heart of our next manifesto.

  • John Marriott 4th May '20 - 3:35pm

    @David Raw
    Your Firey Fred story reminds me of something that allegedly happen when Trueman played for the Cavaliers towards the end of his career against a Lincolnshire select XI. One of tge batsmen he bowled out that day was a former teaching acquaintance, who had quite a good local reputation as an opening batsman. After the game, he approached Freddie at the bar and said; “That was a fantastic ball you got me out with”. “Aye,” was the sardonic reply, “but it were wasted on thee, laddie!”

    I feel a bit like that with Brexit. Why waste your energies on “what if?” or “where did we go wrong?” or even “I told you so”. In any case, the EU is hardly covering itself with glory at the moment. We need to save our best bowling for more difficult targets, like rescuing our economy instead of blaming any misfortune we may encounter on others and finding a collective way to get our society back to some kind of normality, whatever that eventually turns out to be.

  • Barry Lofty 4th May '20 - 3:43pm

    I will not change my mind about the EU and our fight to have another referendum on the issue, but the Lib Dems biggest mistake was to let Johnson and his team have the election he so desperately wanted at that time, we should have let him sweat on with his small majority whatever the Tory media through at us. Call me a stubborn old git but I cannot just fall in line with the right wing Brexiteers probably because I am a bad loser and feel my children and grandchildren will have lost a great deal more than we have gained from leaving the EU!! This present crisis may prove the point even though many will criticise the EU for their own ends.

  • Julian Tisi 4th May '20 - 4:49pm

    @Martin “the Revoke policy, whilst it annoyed Brexiters, it is implausible that it turned anti-Brexiters to vote for Johnson”
    But the vast majority of voters would not have described themselves as either. That middle group were persuadable but repelled by the Revoke policy. It came across as undemocratic and toxic to us – this was certainly the experience on the doorstep.

    @Martin “we do have to acknowledge that with a substantial number of pro Brexit Labour MPs on one hand and pressure from the SNP on the other, Johnson could have either secured his Brexit or won a vote for an election”
    Completely agree; there was nothing our party could have done to stop an election for this reason. As it was certain to happen the question was do we openly oppose it or openly go “bring it on”? We realistically had to do the latter.

  • Paul Barker 4th May '20 - 5:52pm

    Ah, the benefits of 20/20 Hindsight. We can all see now ( or rather, we Could all see now if we bothered to look at the Polls for last Year) that we should have aimed for an Election in the 1st Week of October, when we peaked at 21% ish.
    Unfortunately we cant see the Future & have to make do with doing what seems right at the time & then living with the results.

    I dont see any need to discuss our attitude to The EU again, the vast majority of The Party have been in favour of Joining, Remaining & now Rejoining for the last 60 Years, is there any evidence that has changed ?
    Our Policy is to Rejoin as soon as possible & we should tell Voters that alongside campaigning to reduce the damage from leaving.
    This is how Democracy works – Parties & Others decide what they think is Right & then Campaign for it.

  • Andrew Tampion 4th May '20 - 5:54pm

    Like Julian Tisi I think that the 2019 Election was inevitable because both the Tories and the SNP wanted it for their own, different, reasons and between them they had 350 seats. More than enough to pass legislation to override the Fixed Term Parliament Act so it is simply not true that the other Partys could have stopped it. In my view it’s the only decision our Party’s leadership got right in the whole campaign.

  • David Marshland 5th May '20 - 8:18am

    We made two major mistakes:
    doing what Johnson wanted and giving him the election he was begging for, explainable for me only on the basis the leadership’s main target was Corbyn. not Johnson; and
    the pointlessly provocative and arrogant, even if constitutionally correct, reverse Article 50 pledge.

    That’s done.

    And of course, if the leadership’s main target was Corbyn, they did succeed in destroying him. So it would be a partial, if pointless, success. Although I don’t suppose Starmer’s weekly shredding of Johnson at PMQs will do Labour anything but good over the next few years.

    But the next election is years away, unless Johnson does something really stupid. We have absolutely no idea what will happen next January, never mind over the next three years.

    But I am fairly convinced it probably won’t be anything like what we might be imagining and planning for now.

    So I’m going to spend my time on things I can actually influence while the chaos from Brexit implementation dies down and we have something concrete to assess and plan around.
    For LibDems that means a return to concentrating on things we can achieve, which will mainly be at local levels. In my case for the foreseeable future that means e.g. time spent manipulating all the simultaneously open documents necessary to form a view on planning applications and drafting comments in an effort to assist our committee chairman under our lockdown system.

  • Charles Smith 5th May '20 - 12:37pm

    The US and Britain will launch trade negotiations by videoconference today following the UK’s exit from the EU, as both allies struggle with the effects of the coronavirus pandemic and aim to shore up domestic supply chains. But hopes the talks – Washington’s first major new trade negotiation in 2020 – will boost transatlantic relations could be scuppered by reports the White House could pull spy planes, intelligence officials and other US assets out of the UK after Downing Street agreed China’s Huawei can build its 5G network.
    https://worldabcnews.com/brexit-news-crunch-brexit-trade-talks-with-us-facing-early-hammer-blow-world-news/

  • Steve Comer 5th May '20 - 12:38pm

    I may have a vested interest in the EU Citizenship issue (see below) but we need to be clear what the aim is and beware misrepresentation. There was never a proposal that associate citizenship “be granted to UK citizens” en bloc, only that those who had EU Citizenship could have the right to retain it, and you would have to apply for it.
    As the UK has left the EU that could only be done by having an opt-in Associate Citizenship (probably with a small annual fee). This idea was supported by MEPs in the Liberal and Democrat group, and promoted by Charles Goerens from Luxembourg, it was also backed by Guy Verofstadt. It is not “discriminatory not to make it available to anyone” as it is about RETAINING not gaining EU citizenship.

    The issue has certainly not gone away, I believe there are some legal cases still in the court system as well as a proposal to have an EU Green Card system which would have most of the same advantages.

    I am a UK Citizen resident in an EU country since 2015. I have residency rights which are protected, but as things stand I will lose all EU citizenship rights in December 2020, and I cannot even apply for naturalisation in the country I live in until the end of 2022.
    In the meantime I will lose my voting rights for all municipal elections.

    This may only concern a minority of UK Citizens, but Liberals and their allies have always defended the rights of minorities, and I hope will continue to do so.

  • Andrew Tampion 5th May '20 - 2:48pm

    Steve while I sympathise with your predicament I don’t think just saying that it Associate EU citizenship should only be for UK citizens with EU citizenships right deals with the problems. On one hand it means that some UK citizens like you and me have rights that those born after the cut off date don’t. Also if some people can apply because they qualified and others can’t then by definition that is discrimination. It’s true that discrimination isn’t necessarily unlawful if it can be justified. But I predict that should such a scheme be introduced someone would challenge it as unlawful, perhaps because they were a UK citizen born to late to qualify. If a case was successful then other cases are likely to follow on various grounds.

  • Peter Martin 5th May '20 - 5:39pm

    This is a significant story for anyone who is interested in the EU.

    I don’t quite understand though how the judges of a national court, rather than the ECJ, “instructed the ECB to sell the bonds accumulated under the PSPP (public sector purchase programme)”.

    Can any national court make such a ruling or just the German one?

    Incidentally, if the German court wants the Eurozone to fail, it is going the right way about it. The ECB may not be keeping to its Treaty obligations but it is doing the only thing it can do to try to hold a creaking system together.

    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-52542993

  • R A Underhill 5th May '20 - 5:53pm

    Peter Martin 5th May ’20 – 5:39pm
    Please remember that the former West Germany was created by the USA, UK and France amalgamating the currencies of the non-Soviet regions into a single bloc. Political union followed monetary union.
    A place in the EU was reserved for the DDR as part of a long term plan for reunion, including moving the capital from Bonn (a small town in Germany) back to Berlin, as repeatedly promised.

  • R A Underhill 5th May '20 - 5:58pm

    David Marshland 5th May ’20 – 8:18am
    ” concentrating on things we can achieve” should include devolved mayoral elections, including London, so where do you live?

  • Peter Martin 5th May '20 - 6:21pm

    @ RA Underhill,

    What currencies were these then? Western Germany struggled along with the old Reichsmark and a system of barter for a couple of years before that was effectively scrapped and replaced by the Deutschmark.

    Of course political union can follow monetary union but its probably better to do it the other way around as happened after East and West Germany were reunited. Will German citizens ever look upon Greek and Italian citizens as their fellow countrymen?

    I can’t see it somehow!

  • Alex Macfie 8th May '20 - 11:20am

    David Marshland:

    “if the [Lib Dem] leadership’s main target was Corbyn, they did succeed in destroying him”

    This statement grossly overstates the influence of the Lib Dems in the general political debate. Lib Dems did not destroy Corbyn; he and his coterie pretty much did that on their own. The reality is that not enough voters were influenced by the Lib Dems in any way shape or form; if they were, then we would have done much better in the last election. This is the logical flaw in the conceit that voters actually cared what Lib Dems were saying about Corbyn (or anything else for that matter)

  • “if the [Lib Dem] leadership’s main target was Corbyn, they did succeed in destroying him”……….

    Come off it. They were far too busy destroying themselves with implausible claims to be Prime Minister with a guarantee of wiping out the population more effectively than Covid can by pressing the nuclear button.

    It’s time the hollow shell of what’s left came up with some radical effective policies and some leadership – otherwise it’s a case of Good Night Vienna.

  • Jenny Barnes 8th May '20 - 12:54pm

    Transatlantic trade talks. Terms have been agreed to be confidential for 5 years after the agreement comes into force or talks are abandoned. So it would be nearly 10 years before the electorate would have a chance to give their verdict in an election, be the terms never so bad.

  • Alex Macfie 8th May '20 - 1:19pm

    When Jo Swinson said she would “press the nuclear button” comment, she was only saying the same thing as every major party leader in this country bar two (Foot and Corbyn) since it became an askable question. That it became so significant in the 2019 election campaign as an attack on us only underlines the patent absurdity of the notion that Lib Dems had such influence in the political campaign that they could “destroy” the either of the two major party leaders. If we were so influential in that respect, then we would have been easily able to destroy the many cheap shots against us from our enemies, and we would also have been to sell “Revoke” effectively. As for the claim that Jo could be PM, well, our enemies would have attacked us if we admitted otherwise. What’s the point in voting Lib Dem if even their leader admits they can’t form the government, our enemies would have said.
    Ultimately, it’s as simple as this: if we could not effectively counter attacks on our key election pledge (Revoke Article 50), and could not demolish attacks based on pressing nuclear buttons, then how on earth could we have persuaded people not to vote for Corbyn?

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