Post-referendum positivity isn’t foolish

I was taken in by Saturday’s April 1st joke on the pages of The Liberal Democrat Voice: that we should stop “remoaning”, and be a bit more positive about the Brexit process No doubt some readers will call me foolish, but I absolutely agreed with the thrust of the article. After all, many a true word’s spoken in jest…

So here are three reasons for my optimism:

1) Moving past the romanticism of the EU would help, not hinder a more pragmatic pro-European cause. During both the referendum and the period before Article 50 was triggered, extreme arguments flourished on both sides: a nostalgia for British Imperialism or a desire for “Singapore on steroids” on the one hand, and too romantic an image of the EU on the other. Having lived in Europe — both in the EU and in Switzerland — I am surprised at how much fellow Liberal Democrats idealise the EU as an organisation. One that, in the romantic story, has simply enabled individuals across the continent to lead freer lives, become more open-minded, and move beyond ugly nationalism. Now that Article 50 has been triggered, the negotiations will pour cold water on so much idealism — on both sides of the Brexit divide.

Of course, I think that many of the most ardent Brexiteers exaggerate and talk nonsense, dangerously so. But still passionately insisting on the virtues of the EU will prove much more difficult to defend as a stance over the coming months, too. Take Gibraltar. It’s saddening, maddening even that Michael Howard says Theresa May will show the “same resolve” over Gibraltar as Maggie Thatcher did over the Falklands  — he’s recklessly pouring petrol on the flames. This fire of nationalist fervour, however, was started not by the Article 50 letter, but by an EU document. And it was started by Spain’s position towards a territory that has democratically (and overwhelmingly) voted against shared sovereignty. I’m no colonialist, with dual British and Irish citizenship. I am instead, and above all, a democrat. And at times, the EU has operated with a democratic deficit, despite its many other benefits and virtues.

So as negotiations get underway, I’d be optimistic if we began to pick our battles, rather than entrenching ourselves in a position of wholesale Remain.

2) Creative compromises are what the Liberal Democrats do best. I first joined the party during the coalition government. The Liberal Democrats stepped up to the challenge of sharing power when the 2010 election results showed a divided nation. With Labour in disarray, we could speak for the whole nation again. But that entails a more centrist stance on the EU question than “remoaning”, or stereotyping the 52% — some of whom share our values, and whom we could win over.

3) Reform of the House of Lords has long been on the Liberal Democrat agenda. Now the role of that house is in the spotlight more than ever, with commentary and scandals in the pages of both the right- and the left-wing press. There is greater public debate on what an upper house should do than ever before. If Brexit is to give effect to “taking back control” at all, then the Liberal Democrats could — at the very least — take command of the Lords debate as a result.

* Sean Williams is a Lib Dem member in the Sheffield Hallam constituency

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  • Tony Greaves 3rd Apr '17 - 4:19pm

    Oh dear. I’m off back to the real practical Liberal world…

  • Lorenzo Cherin 3rd Apr '17 - 4:42pm


    Your comments in the article say a lot about your terrific approach, just what the party and the site here need. Whether r not one agrees with the detail it is refreshing.

    The comment in response from the very , or other, place , says a lot about the person who made it and the direction of thought and travel and view of far too many in the party and on the site here too !

  • Nigel Jones 3rd Apr '17 - 5:34pm

    This article suggests that many people now think we idolise the EU; if that is the case then we are giving the wrong impression. My part in our local referendum campaign in local press and in one speech was to say we should stay in the EU, to improve it, since we will be affected by it even if we are outside. As Michael Heseltine said last week Brexit is the biggest diminution of British power in his lifetime.
    The view held by some EU leaders that we should move to an EU superstate is not one I would agree with; each treaty has a clause in it saying that decisions should be made as close as possible to the people, but the EU has not been moving in that direction. It should also be noted that Conservative leadership has not been in there fighting for change and this has given people the impression we did not have enough power to influence the EU.
    So, we need to give a more balanced view to the public, that we Lib-Dems are not blind to the imperfections of the EU as an institution.

  • The Liberal Democrats in a defining moment made a choice when Tim Farron called the 700,000+ LD 2015 Leave voters `isolated, backward-looking and alone` or words to that effect.

    Since then YOU have chosen through your leader to become `continuity remain`. Gibraltar has blown up in your faces as it proves the point that the EU cannot be reformed and is a nasty club that tries to blackmail people into staying by threats. For most ordinary voters whether Leave or Remain it’s a terrible optic. Just sayin’.

  • @james
    Nasty brutish club, now if we agree with you how are you going to stop them being nasty and brutish to us now we are no longer part of the club. Run away bit difficult as the country can’t be moved. So you have two choices pay up or take the beating (if your right about them being nasty and brutish), either way by your logic your in a bit of a bind. You must be looking at the future through a dark glass, it must be very frightening for you. Personally I expect the EU to do as well as possible for the remaining members and our brave Brexiteers to make a total pig ears of it.

  • @ Sean Williams, “Creative compromises are what the Liberal Democrats do best. I first joined the party during the coalition government. The Liberal Democrats stepped up to the challenge of sharing power when the 2010 election results showed a divided nation. With Labour in disarray, we could speak for the whole nation again.”

    Unfortunately in 2015, 92% of ‘the whole nation’ weren’t that convinced about our creative compromise when we stepped up to the challenge of sharing power. Indeed, many of the 92% perceived us as nothing more than Tory-lite and went on to vote for the real thing.

  • The point i’m trying to make is that the Lib Dems are caught in an EU first mindset that cannot create new realities on behalf of the British people. I tell you what if you’re so sure instead of prattling on about potholes why not also stick stuff about Gibraltar on focus leaflets. Also put on about how you want a 2nd referendum. Not just in Richmond also in Leave areas because what i’ve seen you haven’t done that.

  • Seán Williams 3rd Apr '17 - 6:46pm

    My article was an attempt to move beyond the Leave vs. Remain campaign (in a pro-European but pragmatic stance). Because, like Nigel and like so many others, I am worried for the UK’s future – but also because I think putting the current situation down to a “communication problem” does not engage with the people we might want to persuade – or represent. And it is hardly democratic to assume our answers should be understood by them, when democracy is necessarily about compromise.

    That’s if we want to persuade some of the 52%, represent them in constituencies we want to win (or win back), to try and govern in the event of another coalition. I would welcome such an ambition for a return to power. David, I take your point. Times have changed drastically since 2015, however, not least the Tory Prime Minister! We lost many seats to the Conservatives back in 2015, to liberal Conservatives in fact who are now led by a less than liberal Prime Minister.

    Lorenzo: thanks.

  • Create new realities, sorry there is only one reality. The problem is we don’t like reality and will create alterative ones to suit ourselves; you me and everyone else do it and continue to hold to them until reality bites. Problem is reality doesn’t care about what we want it just keeps trundling on.

  • While many people have been critical of Corbyn’s efforts (and rightly so) his whisper that the EU was far from perfect but the UK was stronger in helping to reform the EU than leaving was the correct line of attack then and is the correct line of attack now, if not the correct volume or frequency.

  • james

    ‘EU cannot be reformed and is a nasty club that tries to blackmail people into staying by threats.’

    The Soviets used a wall to stop people leaving, the EU uses threats and blackmail and they were allegedly our friends & partners !

  • ‘I tell you what if you’re so sure instead of prattling on about potholes why not also stick stuff about Gibraltar on focus leaflets. Also put on about how you want a 2nd referendum.’
    Not one of the voices on here endlessly alleging Lib Dems are obsessed with the EU, talk of nothing else, and are alienating voters by not raising other issues, then?!

  • @John
    Ex friends and partners, you probably voted to make them so. Divorces seldom end well but they do end up with a lot ex friends and ex partners, that’s life James; you’ll find lots of bitter men down the pub berating their ex friends and ex partners before heading to their bedsits.

  • I prattle on about your obsession with the EU because that’s basically your obsession, There’s one big reason why you go on about it and that’s because on policy you are in paralysis about economics. You’re in paralysis about it because without a balanced migration policy you can’t realistically have a politically sustainable economic policy, And if you can’t do that you then talk about `process potlitics` ie 2nd refs, house of lords votes etc etc. Where’s your policies for the left behind communities, the unemployed, the underemployed, the insecurely employed, radical devolution, actually tackling vested interests and yes challenging your core vote?

  • Jayne Mansfield 4th Apr '17 - 1:58pm

    @ frankie,
    It isn’t a divorce. It is the end of a business relationship and now a new one must be forged.

    Any high emotion seems to come from the fact that the Liberal Democrats choose to disrespect the people who , in greater numbers, voted leave.

    The outcome is, as far as I am concerned, regrettable, but one must move on in a spirit of co-operation. We need to come out of this with a deal that is as satisfactory as possible to all.

  • @jayne
    It’s looking more and more like a divorce to me; pray have you seen the front page of the Sun, because you ain’t seen nothing yet. By the way that’s a highly emotional headline and I don’t think the Sun supports or even likes Lib Dems.

  • Jayne Mansfield 4th Apr '17 - 6:44pm

    @ frankie,
    These unacceptable acts of aggression by Spain were happening a long time before Brexit.

  • @jayne
    The question brave Brexiteers should ask
    “Are the events occurring because we voted to leave the EU club?”
    Now I’d answer that question in the affirmative and would ask, how are Brexiteers going to stop these events. There reaction to events seem to be to shout louder and scream we are special. I’m afraid that won’t work and the divorce is likely to get even more bitter.

  • Frankie,
    The thing about divorce is it’s usually necessary because the alternative is living with someone you resent or who resents you. In terms of countries independence tends to take the sting out of things in the long run. Incidentally, I get on with ex’s fine. Clinging on causes the hassle.

  • @Glenn
    In the long run we may be better off is the only true case Brexiteers have. You know what they may even be right, the problem is neither of us are likely to see it, we will however see the problems that occur in the mean time.

  • Jayne Mansfield 5th Apr '17 - 7:09am

    @ frankie,
    What is happening could be predicted because of past behaviour. That is why I say that what we are experiencing is not a divorce. A divorce is the failure of dreams, the loss of a love that has gone cold. Apart from a few Lib Dems, I know of no one who voted ‘remain ‘who ever felt any great love for the EU, they were never blind to its faults.

    Similarly, the move to have all euro dominated business on ‘European soil’ is not a new threat.

    As Theresa May ( sans headscarf) , visits Saudi Arabia and Liam Fox talks to Duarte about our shared values, I am as horrified as anyone at what the referendum vote has unleashed, but sometimes one has to let the ‘penny drop’. Adults sometimes have to fail on their own terms.

    It is my view that the Liberal Democrat approach of showing disrespect to those who voted ‘leave, telling people that they don’t know their own minds , that in effect they are too dim to know what they voted for, just entrenches attitudes and views it doesn’t change them.

    If the Lib Dems had been less infatuated with the EU perhaps we might have had a different outcome.

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