On Article 50 Eve, what are senior Liberal Democrats saying?

Who’s Eve, I hear you ask? Well, for me, as an ardent pro EU supporter, tonight feels a bit like Christmas Eve when you know that somehow you have found your way on to the Naughty List and all that’s going to be in your stocking in the morning is a lump of coal.

For those Leave voters who were duped into thinking that everything was going to be hunky dory if we could just get rid of that pesky EU, the reality may well prove far worse than that.

One thing is for sure. The Brexiteers will be held rigorously to account by the one party which has opposed them from the start – us.

Labour’s six tests unveiled on Sunday were, to paraphrase the old Commodores song, too much, too little, too late to ever trust them again. Their best chance of success would have been to support the Liberal Democrats’ bid to add a parachute to the Article 50 Bill, but they chose not to do so. They will not be easily forgiven.

Tomorrow is a very big day. It’s much more than the delivery of a letter. It’s the first step on a perilous journey, driven by people who haven’t got a clue what they are doing. The Government approaches the negotiations in such a mean-spirited, graceless fug of self-righteousness. I have rarely had such little confidence in any group of people as I do in them.

Ahead of Article 50 being invoked tomorrow, Tim Farron had this to say:

Theresa May is about to take the plunge on the biggest decision to hit the UK in modern times.

She is pulling the trigger that will set in motion a chain of events which will change this country forever, and doing so without a proper plan, without a proper team of negotiators and without proper protections for millions of people who have been left in the lurch.

It is still possible for the British people to stop a Hard Brexit and keep us in the Single Market. And if they want, it is still possible for the British people to decide to remain in the European Union.

Democracy didn’t end on 23rd of June – and it hasn’t ended today either. Only the Liberal Democrats are fighting to make sure the people can have their say over what comes next.

There are some serious worries out there that the Government, rather than face up to its own shortcomings, will flounce off from the negotiations towards the end of this year, saying that the EU is being so intransigent that there’s no point sticking with it and we’re just leaving with no deal. Nick Clegg has set out why that is a bad idea on the Liberal Democrats’ website. Here’s a couple of examples:

UK trade in goods with the EU would be immediately subject to tariffs. This would not be a matter of choice on the part of the EU, as some pro-Leave advocates have claimed.  Once we leave the Customs Union, we would become a ‘third country’ according to EU law. WTO rules mean that the EU couldn’t offer the UK ‘special rates’ unless and until it had signed a full Free Trade Agreement with the UK. Tariffs in some sectors such as food and agriculture would be crippling to UK businesses.

Not only would UK businesses lose beneficial access to the Single Market, but the UK would also drop out of all the FTAs agreed by the EU with more than 50 countries around the world. These will need to be painstakingly renegotiated. In the meantime, valuable trade with booming economies with whom we have trade agreements via the EU, like South Korea, would be disrupted as tariffs are re-introduced.

Immediate customs checks would be required at the EU border, including on the border of Northern Ireland and Ireland. This would cause huge disruption, especially to cross-border supply chains, for example in the car and food industries.

Nick said:

The EU have said they won’t discuss a future trading relationship between the UK and EU until the terms of the ‘divorce’ are settled, and with both sides miles apart on that, Theresa May is risking taking us out of the world’s largest market without any idea whether new trading relationships will be in place.

That would mean that UK exports would immediately be subject to tariffs. We would fall out of the single market and the customs union, and we would also lose free trade agreements with more than 50 countries.

To trigger Article 50 knowing that any new deal will require agreement with 27 EU countries in a totally unrealistic timescale would be an act of recklessness of historic proportions.

Theresa May has chosen the hardest and most divisive Brexit, to take us out of the single market before she has even tried to negotiate. The people should have the final say. Someone will have that say, so why not the people? They should have the option to remain in the EU. Only Liberal Democrats are fighting for a UK which is open, tolerant and united.

Lib Dem Peer Roger Roberts had the idea that we should all try to wear blue tomorrow. He explained why on Facebook:

Wednesday March 29th Mrs May signals that UK leaves the European Union. The EU colour is blue.Colleagues get out that blue tie or scarf or …………………. Let’s make it a BLUE day !

It would certainly sum up the emotions of the day. Blue Wednesday could signify sadness and defiance.

The reckless action to be taken by our Government is not done in my name, and I will use every possible peaceful means to resist it.

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

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  • Eddie Sammon 28th Mar '17 - 8:52pm

    I feel sad about this, but I don’t see a political alternative. We need to maintain as much free movement and as few trade barriers as politically possible. Regards

  • Katharine Pindar 29th Mar '17 - 12:13am

    It’s excellent to have all this detailed reasoning from Nick to draw on, to back our case for staying in the single market and, hopefully, eventually staying in the EU. Already the tide is turning, with industry leaders saying that to leave with no deal at all is emphatically not on, and polls showing that a majority of the public now expects the economic situation to worsen under Brexit.

    With both Tim and Nick making such powerful speeches on Saturday at the March for Europe, they should be more widely heard, sought out and well received, during these fraught months of negotiation to come.
    I do appeal to Nick, though, having watched your report from Ebbw Vale on Newsnight just now, not to do an Osborne and start to put journalism first! Your voice in Parliament and eventually back in government, along with Tim’s, is most needed.

  • The country is being led into the unknown by a Prime Minister who has resolutely put party management above every other consideration. Whether she is “successful” or disastrous in what comes next is completely unknown. What is known is that we shall have a General Election no later that 2020 and it will be unlike any we have seen hitherto. Is anyone thinking through the contingency strategies for the next three years?

  • Bill le Breton 29th Mar '17 - 7:58am

    The notion of ‘flouncing’ is school boy politics.

    There will be hard headed negotiations about the terms of exit.

    But the the key phrase is ‘supply chains’. Therefore there WILL be an interim deal.

    We already meet the requirements of the single market – for that interim deal there is therefore no need for ‘trade negotiations’.

    Liberals are normally life’s optimists. All we are doing is poisoning ourselves with bitterness and rank pessimism.

    We should be helping to shape the long term future. Transnational agglomerations like the EU which aim for economic and political union are things of the past.

    Our petulant stance – like the little boy or girl stamping his feet because to borrow from Caron we didn’t didn’t get the Christmas present we wanted – is putting us out of shaping a modern federal future for our countries. It has made us a party of unionists, quite out of step with our old values.

    Where we fought with the poor, the disadvantaged and the needy, where we fought against the conglomeration of power, where we fought to help people take and use poor, we are now the party of the old, rotten establishment than uses fear to govern others.

  • Peter Martin 29th Mar '17 - 8:08am

    It may be a silly question but why has Article 50 been written in such a way as to warrant the term ‘trigger’? This implies that once it has been pulled it can’t be unpulled.

    If any of us are unhappy in our jobs or marriages, or whatever, we can choose to try to resolve the problems or leave. Very often a decision to leave is made only after the failure of an attempt at resolution. The vote last June should have sent a signal to the EU that most voters in the UK were seriously unhappy and what should have followed was a serious attempt to rectify matters.

    Then, there would have been a valid argument for having another referendum to say yes or no on a final take-it-or-leave-it offer from the EU.

  • Peter,

    The UK government and press have been playing silly buggers with the EU for years, I suspect there is limited apatite to meet our demands but there will be the temptation to kick us. Strange isn’t it you insult people for years but then expect them to do you favours, the strange logic of the merry Brexiteers.

  • Peter Martin 29th Mar '17 - 8:36am


    There always will be a small number of xenophobes who insult foreigners but I don’t believe there are over 17 million of them. So I would say it is a mistake to describe the valid concerns of the majority of voters over the EU in this way.

    My concerns over the EU were largely centred on the lack of democratic accountability at a central level and the way the imposition of the euro has severely reduced the power of National governments in the EU. Particularly the smaller national governments who don’t have the political clout of France, Germany or even Italy.

    So I don’t really feel you’ve answered the question. In any case Article 50 applies to everyone. Not just the UK.

  • Bill le Breton 29th Mar '17 - 10:53am

    Peter Martin’s point is pertinent; “the way the imposition of the euro has severely reduced the power of National governments in the EU”.

    But in fact it is wider. The economically depressing effect of European Central Bank’s Germanic management of the Euro, impacts the economies of the EU non EMU countries through reduced trade. The UK’s slowest recovery from a recession, in history, is partly a consequence of that mismanagement of the Euro Zone.

    And things will get worse. The EU is about to quicken the pace of political and economic union, in celebration of the Treaty of Rome. Yes, without the UK in the EU, it could lead to the Germanification of Mainland Europe. But ‘union’ without transfer payments to the poorest ‘parts’ of the union will not work, and with Germany’s experience of the ‘costs’ of its own unification, its won’t make those transfers. Would the UK, as a member of the future EU be prepared to make them? That is one of the central questions that EU advocates need to answer.

    The other question, for all EEA countries is, can a free market with freedom of movement survive? The answer is no. The tensions are already considerable. They will worsen unless there are massive transfer payments to the East and to the South.

    That is why there could well be a willingness among German and German-supply chain countries (of which we are one) to find a solution which will be far more flexible and open to experimentation. Germany and the UK will lead.

  • The vote last June should have sent a signal to the EU that most voters in the UK were seriously unhappy and what should have followed was a serious attempt to rectify matters

    But that’s what Cameron’s renegotiation was! And the EU showed that it simply will not budge on reversing ‘ever-closer union’.

    If the EU wouldn’t compromise its founding principles in the face of the very real threat of one of its biggest contributors leaving, why would it ever compromise them?

    The EU is simply incapable of making the changes which would allow the UK to stay. Cameron’s renegotiation proved that; another renegotiation would have exactly the same result (or a worse one, as attitudes have hardened) and just lead us back to exactly the same place we are now.

    What would be the point?

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