Parliament is going to have to do better than today

What a depressing spectacle we witnessed in the House of Commons today.

A government which had just had a kicking from the Supreme Court for trying to do something unconstitutional should have been subdued and its representatives should have had their tails between their legs. But why should it, when its main opposition party lay prostrate in front of it.

Rather than look sheepish, David Davis was smug.

It should be so different. We should be building up to a dramatic parliamentary occasion. Gavin Williamson, the Government Chief Whip, shouldn’t be able to sleep at night because he’s worried about whether votes will be won. As it is, he could spend the next couple of weeks lying on the sofa with a beer watching re-runs of The Thick of It.

Today, Labour MP after Labour MP stood up to ask questions, but prefaced their remarks with “I am voting for Article 50.” What’s the point in that? The Government needs to feel some real heat, some real jeopardy. Only then is it likely to deviate from the extreme course they have decided upon.

And what does it matter if the Bill they present fails? Nobody voted on 23rd June for Article 50 to be triggered by the end of March. They would just have to have another go with something more acceptable.

Sadly, Labour is running so scared of UKIP that its MPs can’t find an effective way to fight for the things that are good for this country – like membership of the single market/EEA.

This matters because the only chance there is of inflicting some serious defeats on the Government is if Labour is prepared to walk away from the Article 50 Bill.

As it is, the only UK-wide party to vote against will be the Liberal Democrats. The SNP and Greens will join us in the “No” lobby. No wonder David Davis had the air of a relaxed Brit in a Benidorm bar.

And as for the Tories, it is very disappointing to see Nicky Morgan and Anna Soubry fall into line, even if they are asking some wider questions.

The British people, all of them, are entitled to expect more from the Mother of Parliaments than a few Tory MPs asking David Davis to slag off the Liberal Democrats.

MPs should be mindful that the vote on 23rd June was but a snapshot. By the time we do actually leave, it is likely that a majority will want to stay in the EU. David Howarth, former Liberal Democrat MP for Cambridge, told the Social Liberal Forum conference last year that by March 2019 even if nobody changed their mind, demographic reasons alone (young, pro EU voters coming on to the electoral roll), would wipe out the Leave majority.

This has to be a major factor in the Government’s refusal to allow the people to have a say on the Brexit deal. They know that their plans for the bumpiest of Brexits would not gain the consent of the people.

It’s time for MPs who think that the Government’s plans are ridiculous to find some backbone and give it some opposition, whatever party they are from.  This is the biggest and most important decision our representatives have had to make for decades. It’s going to affect every one of us, probably for the worse. The very least we should expect of them is that they elevate the occasion to an epic parliamentary event with oratory and argument that we are talking about for years.

At this point, there seems little hope of that.

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

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20 Comments

  • Ethicsgradient 24th Jan '17 - 9:34pm

    I was shocked as I listened to the Davies [email protected] to hear the only one Lib Dem mp attended the session and had left with much of the session still left to run.

    I not having a go at the author, but if the lib Dems are at the vanguard of the remain/soft brexit, surely you’d expect more than 1mp to turn up to the session?

  • “even if no-one changed their mind”
    Enormous, massive if there. People do everyday, and you think they won’t over decades?

  • Peter Martin 24th Jan '17 - 10:47pm

    @Caron

    There was a vote of in June 2015 for the referendum to take place. The final vote being 544-53

    Those 53 have every right to oppose Article 50. No quarrel with anyone of them. But many of those 544, many of whom are also Lib Dems, will have voted for the referendum on the basis that they thought the Remain side would win. Now that they haven’t they are refusing to accept the result.

    No-one before June 23rd, on either side, was ever under any illusion that a vote for Leave meant anything else but triggering Article 50. There was never any suggestion, from either side, that we could vote Leave and then have a second referendum (actually it will be the third) on what Leave might mean.

  • Neil Mackinnon 24th Jan '17 - 11:41pm

    @ethicsgradient This was a Ministerial Statement with no vote at the end of it. No new information was forthcoming from the Secretary of State. I don’t care who was there or not today. The important days are still ahead of us.

    @Caron Apart from the SNP and the sole Green MP you neglected Plaid and the SDLP who will also vote No – and there are a lot more of them than the one Green !

  • John Barrett 24th Jan '17 - 11:46pm

    Those party members who think a second referendum is a good idea, should read the following words of Tim Farron from a couple of weeks before the June vote last year.

    “The idea of a second EU referendum, suggested by Farage earlier this week, is not only a pathetic attempt at a comeback by a failing “Leave” campaign, it also ignores the history of these sort of referendums.

    Successive independence referendums for the state of Quebec in Canada popularised the phrase “neverendum,” and eventually the independence movement collapsed. Farage and those supporting Brexit should take note: undermining the validity of a referendum and ignoring the democratic choice of British people will not make you more popular (something other nationalist parties in the country should also understand). Nor will it encourage more people to support your cause in the first instance.

    The UKIP leader regularly accuses the EU of not listening to the democratic will of countries. So maybe, just maybe, he should live up to his own words for once and listen to the choice of the British people.”

    The question was clear: “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?” The result was close, but the answer was clear.

    Had the result been as close in the other direction Tim’s words in the quote above would have appeared on many party press releases.

    A second vote is not something Tim or the party supported before the vote and it smacks of hypocricy asking for it now. It would be ironic if the party supported the unelected House of Lords in any attempt to amend legislation to provide one.

    Therefore I assume that is what we are about to do.

  • ethicsgradient 24th Jan '17 - 11:50pm

    @Neil Mackinnon

    I re-read the article and it is clearly critical of Labour/various opposition for not making today more challenging for the governmen. Let me quote the final paragraph:

    “It’s time for MPs who think that the Government’s plans are ridiculous to find some backbone and give it some opposition, whatever party they are from. This is the biggest and most important decision our representatives have had to make for decades. It’s going to affect every one of us, probably for the worse. The very least we should expect of them is that they elevate the occasion to an epic parliamentary event with oratory and argument that we are talking about for years.”

    And yet only 1 Lib Dem MP actually turned up? I cannot see how someone can have a go at a weak labour opposition today and then ignore the fact the the Lib Dems simply did not turn up at all? Crazy.

  • @ethicsgradient: There was more decent opposition to the Government from Tom Brake in the 20 seconds or so it took for him to ask his question than there was from the entirety of the Labour benches.

    There was no reason for MPs to be there. There was no vote and we wouldn’t have got more than one speaking slot.

  • ethicsgradient 25th Jan '17 - 12:07am

    @Caron Lindsay,

    I do agree that Labour are all over the place on Brexit and it is a massive problem. I voted leave, but I also want a strong remain voice/opposition voice to hold a government in check.

    Straight up, I am broadly supportive of Theresa May’s brexit position, however I definitely want any government held to account and scrutinized. I think we would both agree good opposition leads to good government which leads to good law.

    I think my original point stands though. If Lib Dem’s are in the vanguard of remain opposition should you not have had a more visible presence on the day? Even if or the first 30 mins? It feels a little of double standards to berate Labour but then not to acknowledge the Lib Dem presence on the day?

  • “Today, Labour MP after Labour MP stood up to ask questions, but prefaced their remarks with “I am voting for Article 50.” What’s the point in that?”

    I think the point is that the electorate gave a clear instruction for Article 50 to be triggered, and Labour MPs are going to do what the electorate asked for.

  • ………… Nobody voted on 23rd June for Article 50 to be triggered by the end of March. …….

    What? I’d suggest that most ‘Leavers’ expected Article 50 to be triggered within days of the vote; after all ‘OUT’ is what they voted for…
    Labour have said that they accept the ‘triggering’ of Article 50 but intend to scrutinise every aspect of the ongoing negotiation process..That sounds pretty democratic to me…
    By refusing even to accept that the electorate voted to leave it is the LibDems who are being undemocratic…

  • Alex Macfie 25th Jan '17 - 4:03pm

    @Peter Martin: I think it was a mistake for Lib Dem MPs not to oppose the referendum bill, but no matter — a fundamental principle of representative democracy is that no vote can bind representatives in any future vote. So any MP is perfectly entitled to vote how they wish on Article 50, irrespective of how they voted in the referendum bill.

  • Katharine Pindar 25th Jan '17 - 9:13pm

    Caron, great piece, well done. I am fed up with the negativity that is so frequently displayed at the moment on this site, for instance the obsessive repetition of Tim’s words on referendums last year. Are these people incapable of seeing the strong, clear effective leadership he has consistently given us since June 24th? We have such a strong hand to play against such poor opposition in the by-elections! ( Any chance of you coming down? I have a spare bedroom!)

  • @Katharine Pindar

    “for instance the obsessive repetition of Tim’s words on referendums last year. ”

    I am a bit surprised at your comments Katharine.

    It is perfectly fair and legitimate for people to point out when a leader of a party has been inconsistent with his views on referendums.

    Would you agree that remain campaigners have been obsessive in their accusations and claims that people who voted leave now regret their vote, Or people voted to leave but not a destination, we have had months of the same sentences over and over again.

    Peter Watson provided us with a link yesterday which showed up inconsistencies in Tim Farrons views on referendums and a 2nd referendum, a few of us rightly talk about this and bring it to others attention (surely you agree with transparency) and your response is to get angry towards said people.

    You said on the other thread https://www.libdemvoice.org/remainer-myths-and-post-truth-politics-53077.html#comment-429469
    “Ben, evidently there is a balancing effect going on in this outlet, in that a rather negative article like yours produces good positive responses”
    I think the reason for that is people respected that Ben’s article was pretty honest and transparent and was not engaging in any spin and was instead encouraging people to find real solutions to peoples concerns rather than as he rightly calls an “echo chamber”

  • Katharine Pindar 25th Jan '17 - 9:58pm

    Matt, I hope you are not suggesting that my article indulged in spin or was an echo chamber; I submit it was a reasoned consideration of our present position and hopes, and I have never suggested Leavers are regretting their vote, only that they may well come to do so. It is not for me to judge Ben’s article, which you see as encouraging people to find real solutions to people’s concerns, and as such would be worthwhile. But I do repeat that the negativity of repeating the quote from Tim is a pity, as it does not move anything further on but simply traps the discussion in a backwater, tending to prevent more useful debate arising.

  • @Katharine

    I was not implying that your article indulged in spin, sorry if I gave that you that impression. What I meant was in general on these forums all we see is spin not just in articles but in the comments section, repeating the same old mantra over and over again, i.e the polls and demographics etc. etc.
    It was refreshing to see an article on LDV written from a member with a totally different approach, which in my opinion encourages people to debate more objectively rather than in the same old claim and counter claims that gets nobody anywhere.

    For the debates to move forward we really need to tackle the real arguments and the real policies of the EU and domestic policies which have brought us to where we are today.

    I do not really see your point about people constantly raising the issue with Tim Farron and his inconsistency on the EU referendum, as far as I am aware it was only pointed out in article yesterday by Peter Watson and mentioned by a couple of people, myself included. I do think it is an important point.
    If there are ever inconsistencies in something Theresa May or Jeremy Corbyn says or does, we never hear the last of it and people will demand that they explain themselves.

    Maybe it would be good idea for Tim Farron to explain himself in article on LDV rather than having activists speculate and try to defend his position.It is after all a pretty significant issue that is not just going to be swept up under the carpet, especially as we face a couple of years of Brexit negotiations.

  • Peter Watson 25th Jan '17 - 10:42pm

    @Katharine Pindar “the negativity of repeating the quote from Tim is a pity, as it does not move anything further on but simply traps the discussion in a backwater”
    Does that mean Lib Dems should also avoid the negativity of repeating quotes from the Brexit campaign about £350 million per week for the NHS? I shouldn’t think so.
    It would be better to explain how the Lib Dem position is consistent with Tim Farron’s passionate condemnation of a second referendum, otherwise his leadership looks inconsistent and opportunistic rather than “strong, clear effective”. There might be a case for describing the position as calling for a first referendum on the terms of Brexit rather than a second referendum on Brexit, though this is a bit weakened if Remain is to be an option in that referendum. Or simply state that Tim Farron has changed his mind and that a second referendum is actually a good thing. But not a third. Unless the second one gives the wrong result.

  • Katharine

    “But I do repeat that the negativity of repeating the quote from Tim is a pity, as it does not move anything further on …”

    Do you mean because it shows Tim Farron to be a two faced hypocrite.? Or are you saying that there is no point in revealing liberal hypocrisy, because hypocrisy is a given, and effectively ‘baked into the cake’, as far as the Liberal party are concerned?

    Note : I intend to use the term Liberals from hereon, because you have without doubt, lost the moral right to use Democrats in your party name, at least until Tim Farron recovers from his ‘second referendum fugue’, and comes to his senses.?.

  • Katharine Pindar 28th Jan '17 - 12:01am

    Good grief!

  • (Late coming in). John Barret: – Makes a very good point when he says Remoaners would have been satisfied with the tiniest majority in favour of “Remain”. However, I disagree that it is hypocrisy to deny Brexiteers the right to leave on a similar simple majority.

    Risking deaths in N Ireland and the break-up of the UK as nationalism surges in the province and Scotland as well as economic and social decline everywhere should have required an informed decision by a clear majority of all the people. If not all voted, (for whatever reason, including not being able to wade through all the lies and misinformation), then – like trade union legislation requiring a two-thirds majority before calling industrial action – a two thirds majority of the referendum vote or in parliament should have been required before change.
    That parliament did not require this when approving the referendum was wrong. To ignore this now is to compound that omission with what many fear will be dire consequences.

  • The logical solution to the omission of Parliament to stipulate the requirement of a clear majority of ALL the people before embarking on Brexit is to have a second referendum, otherwise we are careering to a very uncertain and quite possibly terminal decline.

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