Remainer myths and post truth politics

Like most Lib Dems, I think that Brexit will be a total disaster. I think that it will vandalise our economy, damage our universities, and give us less influence on the global stage. However, the response of many Lib Dems and other Remainers to the referendum result has left me a little disheartened. And I’m not talking about this “referendum on the terms of the deal” – which I’m a bit on the fence about, but I do see some reasoning for. I’m talking about the nonsense claims bouncing around our echo chamber, which exist purely to make us feel better about this horrible referendum result.

The one which I hear most often is that, having seen what Brexit really means, those who voted Leave have decided that this isn’t what they wanted after all and that they now wish to turn back the clock. This is a fantasy. Poll after poll after poll has shown that Regrexit doesn’t exist – that no more Leavers than Remainers have changed their mind in the aftermath of the referendum. But people ignore this, and instead believe the latest leftie clickbait served up by The Independent. And even if Regrexit does exist in a few polls – is it even relevant? Do we reverse election results if people regret them a few months down the line? Would we accept the same argument if Remain had won, and people wished they had voted for leave? Of course not. These arguments are ridiculous. 

And it doesn’t stop there. There are those who argue that we should remain in the EU because enough Leave voters have died since June 23rd to tip public opinion our way (a line of logic which never has, and hopefully never will be used to overturn the result of an election). And then there’s the misleading articles like this which attempt to align those who didn’t vote with those who voted Remain (when they should obviously be considered neutral, as they chose not to cast a vote).

Why can’t we just face the truth? Yes the referendum was close, but despite the avalanche of politicians and business people and foreign leaders telling us to vote Remain, the British people voted to leave, and they don’t seem to regret it.

We certainly aren’t the only people who are guilty of this kind of wilful denial. We regularly laugh at Momentum activists who claim that Corbyn’s on track for victory; UKIP voters who think that reducing migration will save the NHS; and Trump supporters who believe that globalisation can be reversed with the click of his fingers.

But they’re laughing at us too. Because so many of us are making unsubtantiated claims about the public opinion on Brexit, which circulate around our echo chamber to make us feel better, but carry no factual weight whatsoever. Post-truth politics is one of the most dangerous trends in our democracy right now. We should be fighting against it, not joining in.

* Ben is a Councillor in Sutton, and the Vice Chair of the Environment & Transport Committee at Sutton Council. He has been a member of the party since the 2015 election, and used to work for the Sutton Liberal Democrats as a volunteer organiser. Ben now works for a charity promoting the greater use of Restorative Justice in the criminal justice system.

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  • Mick Taylor 25th Jan '17 - 9:11am

    This is all fine and dandy.
    We didn’t support Brexit in June and we don’t support it now. What we are saying is clear. We are opposed to any deal that isn’t given public support in a second referendum and we won’t help to trigger article 50 if this isn’t agreed.
    This isn’t a remoaner argument, it’s a solid Liberal argument, because as Tim keeps saying, people voted in June for a destination, but they also wanted it to be costless to them and for £350 milling a week to go to the NHS. They certainly didn’t decide what sort of exit they would support.
    I happen to believe that if the terms that are offered to the UK are as bad as I think they will be, then a second referendum would reject them. If I’m wrong and we get offered our cake as well as eating it, then people will vote to accept the terms. That’s democracy.
    As an alternative, we could have a general election once the terms are known, so a new parliament could decide if that’s really what is wanted.
    I don’t like referendums and wish we had never used them at all We should have let our elected representatives decide as they are elected to do. However, we are where we are and the only way to sensibly settle this crucially important issue is to have a popular vote on it.
    Rolling over and playing dead is not my way when I disagree with a proposed action. I don’t believe it should be our party’s either

  • While agreeing with Ben Andrew that we have to be careful about citing wishful thinking as fact, I must say hear, hear to Mick Taylor. It may be quite obvious to many of us here that the scope for “negotiation” on the balance of immigration and market access is actually nil or minimal, many people do not at present accept that. To us it seems pointless to try and do a Cameron negotiation Mark 2 (Like May’s appeal to the Supreme Court, a waste of time, effort and money, when the latter is desperately short anyway).

    For the obsessive anti-EU people or “buccaneers” they are not going to change their minds, but a further presentation of the facts at the point of the divorce settlement is needed. However, for there to be a meaningful choice at that point, we need to be sure of the official interpretation of whether Article 50 is reversible, only really to be established via the ECJ. Without that assurance, my advice would be to vote against triggering A 50 until we are fairly sure of where we are going. Ben, we should not allow ourselves to be bullied down a blind alley before we know where it leads!

    And more understanding of the political advantages of being in to be pushed for the next campaign (if there is one) please!!

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 25th Jan '17 - 9:28am

    Mick, are you saying that you would actually accept the result of a second referendum, on the deal, as final? You have argued many times that we are not obliged to accept the result of a referendum if we disagree with it. Wouldn’t that apply to a second referendum too? What if there was a deal that you considered to be very bad, but the majority of people voted to accept it? If you are definitely prepared to accept that result, then fair enough. But if not, then it doesn’t seem right to call for a referendum if you would not accept a result that is not the result you hope for.

  • Ben

    I’d agree that the assessment made by those claiming that the opinions have changed is wrong. But that is why we need to play the longer game, I think Tim’s position on asking for a referendum on the final deal looks a bit odd now but as time rumbles on could start to look quite sensible. Also setting out that we believe in an exit arrangement that includes in single market membership.

    The government is getting an easy ride right now and will for a while yet, what will tell is when there is a lot more detail out there about how things are going.

    Given how many conflicting things were promised by the leave side the public will have quite a lot of reason to feel they have licence to object to the eventual position when it comes to light.

    We shouldn’t engage in echo chamber sharing of false narratives but there is nothing wrong with saying that we were right in June and are right now and the least bad option now is Single Market membership.

    I’m reminded of the Iraq war, where many like to claim it was unpopular but poles showed that actually it was popular. Charles Kennedy was right to oppose it and I think Tim is making the same estimate here.

  • “Would we accept the same argument if Remain had won, and people wished they had voted for leave? ”

    This is literally what the Leavers have been doing since 1975 though. I’m quite prepared to be the reverse Peter Bone on this until 2047.

  • Well I was not allowed to vote so forgive me for saying the vote was not Democratic…

  • Just to be clear, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t fight for the 48%, oppose Brexit, campaign for Single Market Membership, hold Leave to account for their lies or any of the other good things that our parliamentary party are doing.

    I’m just seeing so many people who tip into saying things which simply aren’t true just to make us feel better, and that bothers me, and makes us look silly.

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 25th Jan '17 - 10:08am

    Ben Andrew, I agree with most of what you say. I especially agree that it is disgraceful that people are actually arguing that the majority of people who have died since June 23rd would have been Leave voters, and that this somehow invalidates the result. I have seen this argument used several times on Lib Dem Voice. It is in horrifyingly bad taste.

  • “Would we accept the same argument if Remain had won, and people wished they had voted for leave? ”

    Nobody ‘won’ anything. The referendum was an opinion poll specific to the date it was held and it’s hard to imagine how the result could have less decisive both in term of the marginal difference in the vote and the absence of any detail about what ‘Leave’ meant. Anyone that claims that Leave means Leave automatically demonstrates their ignorance about the complexity of the legal situation, the politics, economics and trade implications of leaving. Democracy involves the constant renewal of a mandate and it is important that, as part of the Brexit process, a door is left open for us to rejoin the EU with as little fuss as possible.

    Remember that massive fiscal and monetary stimuli were rushed through by the government and Bank of England to shore up the economy in the wake of the referendum. Remember that many people were pleased by the result of the referendum as they were genuinely under the impression that it was for the long term economic good of the country. Consumer confidence, stimuli and rocketing consumer credit are responsible for keeping our economy afloat at present. However, they cannot be sustained and the fundamentals are bleak. Our economy is very likely to deteriorate within the two year window of A50 and the three year window before the next election as a result of Brexit. What’s worse is that we’ve already used our arsenal of weapons in fighting the last recession and the immediate effects of Brexit last year.

    Opinions will shift, and with the Tories turning their back on the business vote and Labour adrift in a lifeboat out of range of communication, then a bold message from the Lib Dems about saving the UK economy will hit home with the electorate in a couple of years.

  • Little Jackie Paper 25th Jan '17 - 10:38am

    Just as a general point on this (excellent) article. I do think that the role of the internet in all this has been under-remarked upon. I don’t know how I’d characterise the internet we have. But this isn’t the open, democratic exercise in bringing us all together that the utopians were selling 15 years ago.

    What we have is an echo chamber that is ever more shrill and, worse, is drowning out real debate. That fact that the staggering argument that people dying and being replaced has become common currency is utterly staggering and I suspect it is in part due to the way it is trotted out on the internet with regularity. Are there any other groups of voters we want to hurry up and die?

    Worse, we now have politicians foghorning away on twitter and the like. And, to be clear I have EU politicians in mind there just as much as Trump and Farage. News outlets now treat a social media comment as if it were news. Fake news is just the development of strident partisanship.

    Every few months I make a conscious effort to cut myself off from internet news and talkboards for a time.

    I don’t know what the answer is, but let’s at least acknowledge it. The talkboardised nature of politics is not doing our democracy any favours. The EU referendum was just the most grisly example. We as a society really need to talk about the interface of politics and the internet. The Guardian tried a series recently called the web we want. I have to admit that I disagreed with much of what the Guardian had to say, but they at least seemed to be asking the right questions.

  • I largely agree AngrySteve. I just don’t think we should we saying things which aren’t true, as many of us are (i.e. “The people regret Brexit” “We should ignore the result because Brexiteers are old and dying” “Those who stayed at home were clearly showing they wanted to vote remain”).

    If we want to oppose Brexit – great. But let’s be honest and say that we are opposing it because we don’t like it!

    (Luckily this is what is being done by our MPs as far as I’m aware, it’s more our activists who are arguing this other nonsense and giving us a bad name).

  • Hi Catherine, ” It is in horrifyingly bad taste”. Yes – you can put it down to the callowness of unthinking yoof.

    As a remain voter who was a callow yoof ‘Red Guard’ Young Lib in the 1960’s I can assure you I still have a good appetite for radical (i.e. non wishy washy, let’s be ‘nice’ and all things to all people ) politics. I ain’t dead yet and I’ve no immediate plans to roll over. I also think, ‘I agree with Mick’ is a radical step further than ‘I agree with Nick’ used to be.

    For the record, I think Tim is playing a blinder at the moment and getting recognition in the media (Radio 4 this morning). Courage mon brave.

    BUT – we have to go a step further and get a radical policy platform worked out that genuinely addresses the needs of modern society on inequality, welfare and the other injustices that fuelled so much of the Brexit resentment last June.

    We’re still in Phase One now – but we need to be planning Phase Two for when the dust settles – which it will.

  • Matt (Bristol) 25th Jan '17 - 11:10am

    We need to be ready for the ‘cliff-edge’ moment when the Brexit debate stops being emblematic (remain vs leave; article 50 – yes or no?; hard vs soft brexit; second referendum or not?) and becomes technocractic (picking over the devil in the detail of treaties etc).

    That is when the weakness of Labour will become less marked and in particular their individual members eg Hilary Benn will move to the fore and our strength as a unified (although small) bloc will become less marked.

    One reason we need to be ready for that – and this is not intended to be a personal criticism, but an honest appraisal – is that that shift would presumably move Nick Clegg to the fore and Tim to the rear. That is when we will se whether the Clegg brand has genuinely been de-toxified for those on the left and centre-left.

    It would help for that time, imho, if we had another prominent spokesperson (eg on international trade, or on the domestic and regional impact of brexit) who can appeal to left-leaning voters.

    That is, unless Tim is going to take on that role, but I am concerned that the emotional hetoric he uses so effectively may be too broad strokes for the surgical, forensic approach that could highlight the cruelty of any post- and mid-brexit Tory reconstruction of the economy.

  • @Ben Andrew

    ” I just don’t think we should we saying things which aren’t true, as many of us are (i.e. “The people regret Brexit” “We should ignore the result because Brexiteers are old and dying” “Those who stayed at home were clearly showing they wanted to vote remain”).”

    Absolutely spot on.

    I am a staunch Leaver {obviously} and would be happy to be able to debate with people in a constructive way on why I believe we should leave the EU based on real policies and facts, rather than getting involved in these constant petty arguments that are based on myths, i.e. people have changed their minds or died.
    It is impossible to have a real constructive debate on the EU unless we talk about the real issues and policies of the EU that effects us all.

    Whilst I am at it, can I also challenge this silly idea that the referendum was a meagre snap shot poll. It wasn’t. It was a legitimate democratic process that is used as part of our democracy from time to time, to try and paint it like is a meaningless yougov poll is wrong. This referendum had the highest turn out in our history. It is disgraceful to be so dismissive of that

  • Matt (Bristol) 25th Jan '17 - 11:20am

    But Matt, it’s not dismissive to say that Cameron could relatively easily have done more to write a referendum bill that clarified the obligations on government and parliament subsequent to the referendum itself, and seems to have deliberately and casually created an ambiguous situation that has triggered a small constitutional crisis, and exposed the reasonable actions of the plaintiffs seeking a court ruling on this to unreasonable attacks.

    He spun both ways on whether he wanted the referendum to be binding and whether further legislative action would be needed.

    This seems to be because he wanted it to be ‘decisive’ politically, but also wanted wriggle room in the event of a close vote so it need not necessarily have been ‘decisive’ constitutionally.

    He deserves the contempt of both leavers and remainers.

  • Matt (Bristol) 25th Jan '17 - 11:22am

    What I’m saying is that the referendum _was_ legitimate, but could have been more clearly so, as it resulted from badly worded law.

  • Angry Steve
    Clearly, I agree with you that a “door should be left open” for UK to rejoin.

    BUT, and it is a big “but”, to mess around international partners by the possibility of regular shuffling in and out of firm long-standing agreements must reduce countries’ confidence in one another. If one country does it, then so will others ( a key issue for the 27 and the EU institutions as they “negotiate” with the UK).

    There is one reason, and one reason alone, why people voted the way they did, and that is the toxic, distorted nature of most of our media on this. That is not going away any time soon, it appears. Politicians have been noteworthy in their failure to take on these distortions, the same way they are with issues around public finance, benefits, tax and much more. Attitudes will be relatively hard until someone somewhere induces or compels change in the media.

  • it’s not dismissive to say that Cameron could relatively easily have done more to write a referendum bill that clarified the obligations on government and parliament subsequent to the referendum itself

    Clearly that should have been done, and that it wasn’t was due to the fact that nobody expected the vote to go the way it did, so nobody was really thinking about what might happen in that case.

    I suspect that in future any Referendum Bills will include specific clauses about what is to be done in the event of both outcomes. However unlikely one seems.

    However, that is the view through the retrospectoscope. For now, we are where we are, and we have to muddle through. Fortunately ‘muddling through’ is what the British constitution does best.

  • There is one reason, and one reason alone, why people voted the way they did, and that is the toxic, distorted nature of most of our media on this

    That’s not why I voted Leave. so there’s at least one other reason (I suspect there are 17 million other reasons, actually).

  • @Matt (Bristol) re: “We need to be ready for the ‘cliff-edge’ moment when the Brexit debate stops being emblematic (remain vs leave; article 50 – yes or no?; hard vs soft brexit; second referendum or not?) and becomes technocractic (picking over the devil in the detail of treaties etc).”

    I think the real ‘cliff-edge’ moment of truth will occur when we turn round to face the world, having just closed the door behind us for the last time and realise there is no going back…

    The problem is whilst it is important to get the process of Brexit right and then once in the process to go over the detail – that’s when we discover that the EU is more than just free movement and tariffs, what is even more important is to have some plans of what to do post-Brexit, as yet I’ve not seen anything that suggests that the government has any real idea of what we as a country are going to do. Thus I expect we will turn to face the world and realise we don’t have a job or anywhere to stay… Doesn’t mean we can’t subsequently do well, just that by our own stupidity, we could have avoided being in this situation…

  • that’s when we discover that the EU is more than just free movement and tariffs

    Well, we know it’s not: it’s a political unification project with pretentious to statehood. That’s why we’re leaving it.

    If it were just a free trade area, there’d be no reason to leave.

  • @Dav “That’s not why I voted Leave. so there’s at least one other reason (I suspect there are 17 million other reasons, actually).”

    It also amuses me, how many Leave supporters, claim that anything other than Brexit xyz will satisfy (all) Leave supporters when we don’t actually have a clue!

    What is a little surprising is just how meekly our politicians are going along with Brexit. Can anyone provide examples from the past where politicians have been so meek in simply doing “what the public wanted”? I can’t think of one. Everytime, they have done anything the public wanted it has been because their party believed in it and hence they told us why doing x was in our interest; not so with Brexit. As yet I’ve yet to hear any politician say why Brexit is such a good thing… [Aside: this isn’t necessarily saying that Remain is a good thing.]

    It will be nice if this could continue, perhaps we will see Westminster trash HS2, expansion at Heathrow…

  • Yes, Dav. There are lots of different reasons cited, and of course, many people have particular grievances with decisions associated with the EU (although many which have been exacerbated by actions of the UK Government). There are enthusiasts who genuinely believe that patriotism requires them to oppose any political or legal entanglements beyond the nation state, but the overwhelming reason is the headlines and positioning of the media (no, no-one will actually say “I formed my opinion around Daily Mail headlines” or whatever, but the fact is that it has been the major influence). A related issue has been how the broadcast media, and in particular the BBC News positioning, have been pushed by the right wing media consensus, to accept some of their distortions.

  • Matt (Bristol) 25th Jan '17 - 12:28pm

    Roland – re:’cliff edge’ – I was commenting on a political ‘cliff edge’ (ok, more of a tapering off of one aspect of the debate) that will require a tactical shift from the party.

    But I think I agree that – maybe in a decade – there will be a moment when several of us wake up and realise that many of the certainties of our current mode of living and organising society (what we could call the trappings od late-20th century social democracy) have evaporated.

    People still may not draw the conclusion that the British public brought that about by choosing to exit the EU, though.

    But some of that process was happening with us inside the EU. That isn’t to say leaving the EU is irrelevant to that process – as I believe, with several others, that it can offer a brake on that process – but that not everyone will agree.

  • , but the overwhelming reason is the headlines and positioning of the media

    That’s dangerously close to saying, ‘anyone who really understands the issues agrees with me, and if you disagree with me you must have fallens for lies and misrepresentations’, is it not?

    Can you not imagine that someone might be well-informed, sensible, not in thrall to the media, and yet still have a different opinion to you?

  • Simon McGrath 25th Jan '17 - 12:47pm

    very good article – the constant comments that people have changed their minds makes us look ridiculous – and ignores the need to actually persuade people to change their minds

  • Much of the party is still deep in denial about the result

    Actually I think they’ve now moved on from ‘denial’ (with lots of ‘anger’ on the way) to the ‘bargaining’ phase, ie, from ‘no the tests must be wrong’ (cf ‘ loads of people regret their vote, they didn’t really mean to leave, just send a message, have another referendum RIGHT NOW’) to ‘maybe if I do X, Y and Z I can stop the worst from happening’ (cf ‘Let’s have a Brexit in name only but really stay part of the EU as much as possible’ / ‘Maybe if we spell out how awful Brexit will be be can get people to change their minds’).

    Which means there’s only depression and acceptance to go.

  • Matt (Bristol) 25th Jan '17 - 12:54pm

    Mark, I see that – to an extent – but the problem that Tim has legitimately put his finger on is that the referendum left us with no clear forward process, and a Brexit lobby trying hard to use the referendum itself to rush through all that detail work.

    Dav’s ‘muddling through’ of necessity involves some back and forward and challenge and counter-challenge to establish the rules that apply.

    I would argue that what appears to some to be a factional approach from this party _can_ (if done well and in a good and truthful spirit as Ben argues for) be a vital part of that process of establishing the constitutional status of brexit, via debate.

    But, given that we are largely engaging in the Brexit and trade negotiations with a pan-national body that includes most of its members as having written constitutions, having a written process established in advance would have been a major help in creating international certainty in this time.

    And I still blame Cameronian chutzpah for not even conceding a research department to consider these things.

  • And I still blame Cameronian chutzpah

    To be fair to David Cameron, he wasn’t the only one who thought the possibility of the vote going for ‘Leave’ was unthinkable. People complaining that he didn’t foresee this result should remember that neither did they.

  • Matt (Bristol) 25th Jan '17 - 12:58pm

    PS Mark, I think Cameron post-2015 election was in as strong a position re: his party as any Tory leader since Thatcher could have been, if he had sought to clarify post-brexit process in the bill with minimum parliamentary opposition, and possibly/probably a stronger position than May is now.

    I recognise he could not have known that in its entirety at the time, unless he had let his Etonian self-belief slip for a second, which seems to be beyond the man.

  • @Matt (Bristol)

    “He deserves the contempt of both leavers and remainers.”

    Yes I agree with you 100%, Cameron, Osborne and all those in charge of Government who should have had plans in place for both results but didn’t have my contempt.
    But I also I feel contempt towards certain Politicians in particular who have argued and campaigned throughout the years in favour of an in / out referendum, who now seek to airbrush that out of history because they did not get the result they either wanted or expected.

  • David Evershed 25th Jan '17 - 2:29pm

    Having already voted to leave the EU in the last referendum, any second referendum would be between:

    a) the deal negotiated with the EU and
    b) leaving without agreement but under World Trade Organisation terms.

  • Andrew McCaig 25th Jan '17 - 2:36pm

    A few points:
    1) If we did have another referendum that would be the last for some time, certainly if people voted to Leave. We would be on the point of leaving, so would leave, and rejoining in less than a decade would be unthinkable. Of course if we voted Remain no doubt the Leavers would want another vote…
    2) The above is exactly why there should be another referendum. We get general elections every 5 years, so we can (in theory – the voting system is rubbish and totally undemocratic so it does not work well in practice) get rid of the government. But leaving the EU is much more irrevocable.
    3) I take the point about callously waiting for people to die. I prefer to phrase the argument in terms of young people who have an internationalist not nationalist outlook turning 18 and starting to vote.. Still, it is the demographic argument and it does apply. More to the point though, people under 30 mainly saw their future in the EU and people over 60 have (mainly) taken that future away from them (often with specious arguments about the “wisdom of age”). This is a powerful argument.
    4) When people call us undemocratic I always ask this question “If, for the sake of argument, public opinion had clearly changed in favour of Remain, would it be right for Theresa May to take us out without another vote?”. Also “How can voting be undemocratic??”

  • Andrew McCaig 25th Jan '17 - 2:37pm


    That is not what the Liberal Democrats are proposing and I doubt if we would back a referendum on that

  • That is not what the Liberal Democrats are proposing and I doubt if we would back a referendum on that

    Given that, clearly, the whole point for the Liberal Democrats in having a referendum on the final deal is that they want to abort Brexit and stay in the EU, and that there is no final deal that would cause them to campaign to vote for the deal rather than Remain…

    … can you explain why it would not be in the Liberal Democrats’ interest, if they got an agreement on such a referendum, to undermine our negotiations at every turn, in order to make sure that the eventual deal is the worst possible (WTO terms or close to it), in order to encourage more people to vote for Remain rather than the deal?

    And can you explain why such obvious bad faith should be indulged?

  • Matt (Bristol) 25th Jan '17 - 3:40pm

    Speaking entirely personally, I would be happy with a situation where we argued for a referendum on the deal in principle, and within that context, tried to secure remaining in the EU as one of those options, failed, and then agreed (or had MPs simultaneously backing a parallel, more widely-popular amendment to any bill) to a referendum on the deal on the terms David suggests. I think other LibDems would be, and it is compatible with our policy afaik. Communicating this would possibly be desrided and maybe therefore tricky, but not as tricky as communicating Labour’s ever-changing position, methinks. It would – to me – have some integrity and avoid the accusations Dav is throwing.

    TBH, at this time without a really significant Labour revolt accompanied by – at the very least – Tory abstentions, I don’t think we’ll get to the point where that sort of thinking is viable, as support for either option is unlikely to be at the levels that would bring a government defeat.

    As I have posted elsewhere, there is an issue of how many times and in which houses of parliament we will seek these measures during the debate on the Bill to come.

  • James Betts 25th Jan '17 - 3:57pm

    The comparison of Brexit to elections has always been a weak one simply because of the timescales involved.

    Elections happen every 5 years. The last EU referendum was 43 years ago.

    That’s the difference between paying off a car and paying off a mortgage. It’s the difference between the time taken to complete school versus potentially more than half of your life. By the time the next election comes around, I hope to be raising my first child. In another 43 years I may be watching my grandchildren get married.

    This isn’t pedantry. There is a MASSIVE difference between those timescales.

  • Little Jackie Paper 25th Jan '17 - 4:35pm

    Matt (Bristol) – Isn’t the problem with a second referendum deeper though? All a second referendum does is lead straight to a third, fourth and so on.

    Don’t get me wrong here, like you I just don’t understand why Cameron seemed to work on the assumption that there could only be a REMAIN win. I think that there should have been something that at least said how A50 would be triggered. And perhaps it should have been binding.

    But even if REMAIN did win in a second referendum I don’t see what problems it solves beyond short-term. The only longer-term answer I can see is a second referendum on a qualitatively different proposal (presumably with something strong on free movement). But I can’t see anyone with the appetite for that.

  • But even if REMAIN did win in a second referendum I don’t see what problems it solves beyond short-term

    Certainly if Remain won by a similarly slim margin, on a similar turn-out, then all the arguments Remainers have used for a second referendum would equally apply to a third.

    However! Remember that whatever happens, the European Union Act 2011 is still on the statute books. So even if the 2016 referendum were to be somehow overturned, there would still have to be a referendum any time there was a transfer of further sovereignty from the UK to the EU.

    And given that the pro-EU side won’t be able to use ‘project fear’, as the anti-EU side will then be on the side of the status quo, I can’t imagine such a referendum ever passing.

    So no, this issue is not going to be over. Ever.

  • Mark Wright – You make very good points about things which should have been discussed at least before holding such a referendum. All more grist to the idea that it was foolish to give way to such demands for a referendum.

    Dav – In relation to your answer to my comments about media headlines being influential etc, yes I can envisage people well-informed who take an anti-EU position, but those who do tend to be quite obsessive nationalists or buccaneering free traders, which I recognise to be opinions held among fairly small groups of people. I also see many people who are not very interested in what we all on here would describe as “politics”, who don’t want to be involved in the detail, who could well have voted Leave because they saw the EU as a mechanism to actually involve them in more detail on an international level.

    For me, I cannot comprehend why people concerned with democracy would reject direct voting for people dealing with these issues, in favour of ministers, who they only vote for in their role as MPs, and who they might have absolutely no time for in their ministerial role, to be sent away negotiating / discussing / deciding issues at meetings with little democratic accountability. Why would you do that, apparently just because they belong to another country? Surely political ideas spread between countries? Surely problems to be dealt with spread across borders and this is becoming more so as the world becomes more interdependent.

    If the problem is that sometimes the EU (like any other institution) takes decisions you don’t agree with, or adopts methods you don’t like much, then surely you campaign to change those things? I haven’t seen you on here demanding to be independent of Westminster, though I am sure like me there are things they do there that you don’t like?

  • @Dav – “Well, we know it’s not: it’s a political unification project with pretentious to statehood. That’s why we’re leaving it.

    If it were just a free trade area, there’d be no reason to leave.”

    You are welcome to point out when, in our 44 years of EU membership, there was ever a proposal before either the House of Commons or even the European Council for EU statehood (or indeed any sign that such a proposal is imminent).

    Instead the primary focus of the EU in day-to-day matters remains free trade (or to be more precise the common market which is and always has been more than just free trade). Therefore as we have opt outs in virtually everything else the EU does, we are basically leaving the world’s largest free trade area for no reason.

    If we make decisions based on remote possibilities we’ll end up with crazy political decisions – by that token if we dig up some pro-Leave Marxists hell bent on turning the UK into a Communist “utopia” in the wake of Brexit then we should all immediately oppose Brexit even if, in reality, there is little probably that they’ll ever get their hands on power.

  • Edward Molyneux 25th Jan '17 - 5:50pm

    I completely agree with you Ben, saying that only 37% of people voted leave is meaningless. The people who didn’t vote chose not to have a say, and while more may have been remain than leave (even if 100% were remainers) it matters not one jot.

    The remain campaign did not manage to get them to vote so they didn’t. That means we got the result we did, that’s democracy unfortunately. If we’d had a threshold then it would matter but we didn’t.

    I agree there is no such thing as regrexit either, but there certainly are leavers who are unhappy with the direction Brexit is going. People who wanted a model more like Norway or Switzerland, so we should be fighting for them too.

  • @David Evershed
    “Having already voted to leave the EU in the last referendum, any second referendum would be between:

    a) the deal negotiated with the EU and
    b) leaving without agreement but under World Trade Organisation terms.

    I think you mean “should”?

    I find it quite extraordinary that Tim Farron is proposing a referendum in which “leave without agreement” is not even on the ballot paper- despite the fact that large swathes of the population feel that way (39% according to Yougov last week), and these people were on the winning side in last year’s referendum.

    At the same time, Farron is happy to put “stay in the EU” on the ballot paper – despite the fact that few people seem to want that now (23% according to the same Yougov poll), and those who do were on the losing side in last year’s vote.

    This goes beyond disrespecting the result – he’s practically ignoring it.

  • I totally agree with Edward that many Leavers may not be happy about the direction Brexit is going, and with Simon that we need to try to persuade people that the EU is worth fighting for.

    I believe that we should continue to make the case for the EU unapologetically, and especially for staying in the single market. And I think that Tim Farron is doing really well.

    All I’m saying is please let’s cut out the “post-truth” claims: we’re better than that!

  • Katharine Pindar 25th Jan '17 - 9:01pm

    Ben, evidently there is a balancing effect going on in this outlet, in that a rather negative article like yours produces good positive responses, whereas my positive one on Monday {Maybe not! etc.) produced surprisingly negative ones which dwelt, for instance, on inconsistent Lib Dem statements about referendums. I did point out in my piece that the polls do not show much change of view, and give good reasons for that. So when you write, ‘the British people voted to leave, and they don’t seem to regret it’, my response is, ‘Not yet.’ What were you trying to achieve with your piece, may I ask? I would have asked you to stop decrying people who were exploring all possibilities, but in fact many good responses have been given above.

    I would like to ask some of the correspondents here also to contribute to the other debate, where I did and do have clear objectives: to clarify the strong case we have to put to people in the current by-elections, to defend Tim’s and the party’s positioning, and to ask Lib Dems to come and help us persuade people. You wrote at one point, Ben, ‘I’m not saying that we shouldn’t fight for the 48%…’ Well then, come and do so in Copeland, there are many votes for Rebecca to gain here.

  • @Katherine. That was a little odd. It sounds like you’re just saying “why are people reading this? Read my well thought through goal orientated piece instead!” I don’t know if that’s what you meant, but I’m more than happy to read your article if you like.

    I agree that people may change their minds about Brexit in the future – and I think that we should try to persuade them to. All I’m saying is that it is disheartening and counter-productive to see Lib Dems making disingenuous arguments about Brexit, and being reinforced by an echo chamber of people who will agree with any argument which is vaguely “anti-brexit” whether it’s true or not. I expect lazy post-truth nonsense from Trump supporters. Not fellow Lib Dems. We have always been a party which are evidenced based and non-sensationalist. Let’s not change that now, especially when there are plenty of perfectly good reasons to oppose Brexit.

    And as for fighting for the 48%: I work full time for the Lib Dems. I’ve spent lots of time volunteering in by-elections. I don’t know why you assumed that I hadn’t!

  • Peter Watson 25th Jan '17 - 11:19pm

    @Simon McGrath “the need to actually persuade people to change their minds”
    @Ben Andrew “”we need to try to persuade people that the EU is worth fighting for”
    I agree entirely with the sentiment here.
    So much energy and publicity seems to be going into the idea of simply blocking Brexit, and this can look undemocratic and illiberal, a continuation of the failed Remain campaign. The scare stories before the Referendum did not work and polling suggests that many of those who continue to support Brexit accept there will be a degree of worsening of the British economy (though perhaps feel it will impact upon others more than themselves).
    Persuading people that being in the EU is a good thing in itself (not just a slightly better option than economic Armageddon), an approach that seemed to be AWOL before the referendum, is essential if remaining in the EU is ever to be accepted by those who voted to Leave.

  • Yellow Submarine 26th Jan '17 - 4:43am

    This is a good piece. There is no evidence any statistically significant amount f people have changed their mind. That’s enormously painful but it’s true. Europhile should devote every resource into blocking Brexit if possible, if not getting the softest Brexit possible then campaigning for reunion. However these objectives can only be secured by changing some leave voters minds. The evidence so far is we haven’t.

    All campaigning strategy needs to be based on that fact.

  • Katharine Pindar 26th Jan '17 - 8:31am

    Ben, thanks for your comment to me, and I wrote a reply last night but was banned on grounds of writing too many comments, told I could reply at 3 am which didn’t quite fit with my sleep! And now I’m getting ready to go out, so can’t reply properly. Was tempted to say, ‘Yes, exactly!’ but you might not realise then I was joking! I note, though, that you hadn’t read my piece although it is topical, and I would love to see a few more of the commentators you have attracted come in there too, to keep the discussion going. As to your and my different stances, and where I am disagreeing with yours, I’ve now thought a lot about it, see how it happens, and will explain when I return from the day’s campaigning. Meantime, keep up all your good work for the party, of course! Regards,

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 26th Jan '17 - 8:46am

    Katharine, please have a look at the comment I made just now on your own article 🙂

  • Little Jackie Paper 26th Jan '17 - 8:51am

    Peter Watson – As a thought on that, I agree with you that the remain campaign (ALL parties in it) made a catalogue of errors. The basic argument seemed to be, ‘vote for the EU – it’s not really all THAT bad.’ But I think that in addition there does need I think to be a much more explicit reckoning about how successive UK governments, Coalition included, could and should have done things differently within the EU. That means spelling out to voters what could be done differently within the EU.

    For example I know Denmark is able to reconcile the EU with strong restrictions on ownership of residential property. If Danes can do it then so can we. Germany is proposing welfare restrictions that I understand go beyond what Cameron negotiated. If Germany can do it then so can we. It may well be that the UK’s system of in-work welfare is either changed or referred to the ECJ to test the public policy exception rules that are clear on the face of the treaty. It may well be of course that some of this is distasteful to some liberals.

    On free movement I think that the EU does need to have a more serious think about just how asymmetric the movement has been and what can be done about it. It appears that some EU politicians are starting to look more closely at this question. Free movement of labour is one thing, an open-ended right of establishment is another. I think that Juncker’s clear pause on EU enlargement is right.

    And in Britain more generally we need to think about economic inequality. The remain campaign seemed surprised that economic messages were not very effective. But if you live somewhere where the economy crashed 10 years before the referendum and never recovered the threat of an economic crash isn’t all that potent.

    I think that we need to be clear that Business As Usual, More Of The Same will not do, yet that was the exact ground REMAIN fought on. There’s probably been a LEAVE majority for 10+ years on those terms. Recognising the problems isn’t enough – what will be done about them is the ground to fight on.

  • You are welcome to point out when, in our 44 years of EU membership, there was ever a proposal before either the House of Commons or even the European Council for EU statehood.

    Oh, come on.

    It has a currency. It has a Parliament. It has an anthem, a flag, it has its own foreign commissioner. You know what has those things? States. Sure, some other organisations have some of them too (like NATO has a flag) but all of them?

    It has citizens. States, have citizens. and there’s even now talk of decoupling such citizenship from the citizenship of individual member countries, so that you could be a ‘citizen of the EU’ directly, without being a citizen of a member country. How is that anything but a step towards statehood? What would we think if NATO started offering citizenship?

    And that’s not all: there keep being calls for the EU to be able to levy direct taxes, like Federal income tax in the United states. Since the referendum the desire of some in the EU hierarchy for an EU army has resurfaced.

    The EU already usurped Britain’s seat at the WTO, and there kept being talk of it doing the same at the United Nations Security Council.

    And thanks to shenanigans and stitch-ups, it claims to have an elected President. and you know what that President just said, in response to Trump’s support of us leaving?

    ‘We don’t go around calling on Ohio to pull out of the United States.’

    So he definitely sees the EU as analogous to the USA, and members like Britain not as fully-independent sovereign countries, but as mere ‘states’ like Ohio.

    I don’t think the idea that the EU is not intended to be a political unification project sustainable.

    Of course those who desire such unification knew, and know, that if the question were ever put to the peoples of Europe, to the French and Germans and Italians and Brits, ‘Would you like your old country to cease to exist and instead become part of a United States of Europe?’, they would answer with a resounding ‘Non’/’Nein’/’NO!’.

    So the tactic has always been to proceed by stealth; bit by bit.

    But make no mistake: a federal USE, along the lines of the USA, is (as Juncker basically admitted with his ‘Ohio’ comment) their goal. to argue otherwise is frankly to not be listening.

  • I’ve had a number of conversations with people who voted Leave and now regret it — in some cases, people who have gone from very excited by it in the summer to saying “it’s the young who will suffer” more recently.

    The big points to bear in mind are:
    1) we’ve not left the EU, so are only seeing the beginning of the economic trauma of Brexit: signalling that it is a done deal means we have to put up with this, where we need to signal that it is not too late to stop it;
    2) support for EU membership goes to the heart of our self-understanding as LibDems: to give up on this would be as absurd as to say that, because the AV referendum was lost, we should conclude that no improvement on first-past-the-post should happen;
    3) we are in a time of immense turmoil: staying close to core values is essential — tomorrow Theresa May is due to meet Donald Trump, and the impression is that the “special relationship” is central to a post-Brexit future… I look at Angela Merkel’s robust and appropriate criticism of him and every part of me thinks I want the UK much closer to the EU than to the US — general horror in the UK at Trump is bound to be affecting public opinion;
    4) Because “leave” was not defined, there is a major democratic problem for making any assumptions on what it is a mandate *for*. If the majority had been for Remain, that would have been straightforward, but as there are so many possible configurations of “Leave” there is a big problem with any of them being taken to have been chosen.

  • @Mark Argent
    “I’ve had a number of conversations with people who voted Leave and now regret it ”
    Ive heard of just as many conversations going the other way, people who were tittering between leave / remain, chose remain and now regret it because they feel lied to about the “immediate economic” catastrophes that would happen, the economists admitting they were wrong and more importantly because they see what is happening with a lot of hardcore remainers as an assault on democracy. So it goes both ways

    “4) Because “leave” was not defined, there is a major democratic problem for making any assumptions on what it is a mandate *for*. If the majority had been for Remain, that would have been straightforward, but as there are so many possible configurations of “Leave” there is a big problem with any of them being taken to have been chosen.”
    Leave was defined clearly by both the remain campaign and leave campaign, Nick Clegg, David Cameron, George Osbourne, Tim Farron the all part of the remain campaigners all said that a Vote leave would mean leaving the single market. Leave campaigners said the same we would leave the EU / Single market and hopefully get a deal to allow us to “access” the single market, which is of course very different to being a member.
    Why is the assumption that a majority for remain would be straightforward? Even amongst remain voters a majority want some controls on EU immigration, so how would you go about squaring that circle?
    Then there is the talk of the EU Army
    The EU Tax Code
    lets not pretend that all remainers are united behind this Utopian Ideal of more EU integration.
    From what I have gathered from some, The EU’s response to Brexit and some hardcore

  • Andrew McCaig 26th Jan '17 - 11:15am

    The Lib Dems are hardly in a position to “undermine the negotiations”

    However the Tories seem intent on doing so by going on about “punishment” all the time, and getting rid of any negotiators who might understand the views of the other side (normally considered a critical thing to do in negotiations).

    Meanwhile the goal of “ever closer Union” was clearly the aim of the EEC in 1975 (after all it was in the 1957 Treaty of Rome) when we voted massively to stay in, and it beats me why people are promoting an alternative history where it was not.. However it has been pretty clear that significantly closer political union and a “United States of Europe” has not been on the agenda for quite some time, although of course in many pragmatic areas including coordinating defence forces (as we do already BTW in NATO, now threatening by Trump) and anti-terrorist activity, closer co-operation continues to occur

  • However it has been pretty clear that significantly closer political union and a “United States of Europe” has not been on the agenda for quite some time

    Um, there was the small matter of the Constitution in 2004, and then 2007? That we were promised a referendum on, but never got simply because they changed the name?

    That was a pretty big step towards political union.

    There’s also been the expansion in the powers of the ECB that have happened in response to the (self-created, and still ongoing) Euro crisis.

    ‘Ever closer union’ is still going on, but as above, the whole tactic has been to do it bit by bit and gradually, an increased competence there, a wider remit here, so by the time it’s noticed what has been happening the web is so tightly-woven and tangled up that it’s impossible for any country to break free.

  • Oh, and if you think they’ve given up on the USE, how do you interpret Juncker’s ‘Ohio’ comment?

  • Ian Hurdley 26th Jan '17 - 2:16pm

    Just now the most important thing is to begin from where we are. The Supreme Court has confirmed that this is a decision to be made by Parliament. Moreover, it is for Parliament to demand that on such an important topic, the whips of all parties should be withdrawn and the Bill be subject to a fee vote by MPs in accordance wit heir conscience and having considered the views of their constituents. I am at present getting the necessary five supporters to have a petition in these terms uploaded to the site.

  • Ian Hurdley 26th Jan '17 - 2:17pm

    ‘Fee’ should of course read ‘free’

  • it is for Parliament to demand that on such an important topic, the whips of all parties should be withdrawn

    This makes no sense. ‘Importance’ is not the criterion for free votes. We’ve had whips on votes about going to war, which is surely a more important matter.

    Moreover, this is for the government a manifesto pledge. We can’t have governments giving their MPs free votes on manifesto pledges (unless the manifesto pledge was specifically to have a free vote).

    Opposition parties are free to do what they like, but for the government, this must be a whipped vote.

  • AC Trussell 26th Jan '17 - 2:36pm

    I don’t know if this has already been said- not got enough time to read all above-:
    Those that voted to leave and now see the consequences are NOT going to admit it and will cling to any “good” news.
    Those that did not vote were happy with the status quo- not neutral.
    As it would only take 1.9% to vote the other way to be a draw- and it should be at least a 2/3rds majority to change such an important decision.

  • AC Trussell 26th Jan '17 - 2:38pm

    Sound like you have given-in already Ben.

  • Katharine Pindar 26th Jan '17 - 8:42pm

    Ben, to resume after a day of delivering surveys in Copeland and getting to discuss the campaign with Rebecca’s new organiser Andy in the new Keswick base – I just haven’t heard the ‘nonsense claims bouncing around our echo chamber’ that you cited in your piece. I have been reading the majority of the posts on LDV and most of their comments for several months now, and they have to my mind displayed a sensible and moderate level of debate on the vital topics surrounding the Referendum decision, such as the likely effects on trade, the questions of free movement, democracy, sovereignty, control and so on. To be specific, the hopeful suggestion that older Leavers will be dying off (which made me smile!) I have seen only three times in literally hundreds of comments. And more importantly, I have seen very little suggestion that the Remainers are winning now, but very many sceptics writing about unfavourable polls and the various issues that might cause people to still want out.

    Helping to fight a by~election now, I felt impatient that commentators would home in on this, when they could be discussing after reading my piece the fantasies of Teresa May and the irrelevance of the UKIP challenge (for example), really engaging with what we can usefully say in leaflets and on the doorsteps of Copeland and Stoke. I even began to wonder (since this reminds me of a previous reaction) whether it was possible that, since we are now governed by a mature woman, there might be some unconscious prejudice against responding to a piece by an unimportant mature woman! But I guess that’s nonsense, more probable is the fact that I always defend Tim Farron’s standpoint strongly, where many contributors do feel a bit uneasy about this proposed follow-up referendum.
    But finally, Ben, I realise that the likely explanation of how you and I are seeing Lib Dem reactions differently is that I gather my information from LDV, the serious press, TV , Radio 4, and my neighbours and friends here in this rural fastness, while you presumably are in a cauldron of political heat and (some) light in the London environs and the social media frenzy. Peace be with you! Do come and give us a hand if you can.

  • Katharine Pindar 26th Jan '17 - 8:47pm

    PS – Should be Theresa May with a ‘h’ in it, why didn’t I notice!

  • Antony Watts 26th Jan '17 - 11:49pm

    The act made no provision for the result to be legally binding on the government or on any future government. The act did not specify any specific consequences that would follow the result of the referendum.

    It was the “opinion” of the people, not the “will” of the people.

    So now its down to politicians. And here we have a problem.

    – vote in accordance with what you said when you were elected
    – listen to this “opinion” and flip-flop

    If our politicians are what we demand of them, if they are moral, accountable etc thenthey MUST vote for the view they expressed when they were elected.

  • ethicsgradient 27th Jan '17 - 5:48am

    I’m not sure how I missed this article and the ensuing debate.

    An excellent article Ben.

    These are the points I have been consistently arguing against on the various brexit related arguments that have appeared in LDV.

    I have never argued that people should not put forward solid arguments in favour of remaining/ the status quo. ease of trade, integrated supply chains, bargaining strength of numbers.

    I have though consistently argued against these weak debate points which have been based on flawed contentions which had no evidence to support; that you have mentioned. Regret of voting leave, change of mind, older people dying off/new voters reaching 18 changing the demographics.

    Another area (which I think is probably is for another article) which also falls into ‘wishful hope’ that things will go one way when there is no evidence is on the economic effects of brexit.

    Let me please make this crystal clear. Both Remain and Leave suffer this! My contention is nobody knows and we just have to wait for the data. So remains doomsday predictions have clearly not come true. And remains continuing contention that is is only a matter of time simply cannot be known. Conversely Leave view of the sunlight uplands and Britain will shoot into some new golden economic age is also only contention and we simply do not know.

    So I will also argue against people who state that the economy will ‘definitely’ be damaged as we just can’t tell. Economic data has been good so far. My personal view (it is just a guess and not a fact) is we will get a fair trade agreement with the EU and will go one to gain some of the benefits of being more flexible with the rest of the world. But I don’t know for sure. And I’m ok with that. There are opportunities and there are problems ahead.

  • ethicsgradient 27th Jan '17 - 5:56am

    @Katharine Pindar

    I am always impressed by your considered and thought out reasoning/pondering of discussions. I’ll take look at your article as I must have past by that one too.

  • Little Jackie Paper 27th Jan '17 - 9:00am

    Antony Watts – Whilst the Act itself did not make the referendum binding it is I think worth pointing out that the Conservative Party 2015 Manifesto p73 states,

    ‘We will honour the result of the referendum, whatever the outcome.’

    Whilst one can argue about the exact meaning of the word ‘respect,’ I struggle to read that as anything other than envisaging that the result would be implemented by MPs elected on that manifesto. Conservative MPs elected on that manifesto then appear to be bound by that sentence. I note in passing that p72-73 of that manifesto states, ‘So the choice at this election is clear. Labour and the Liberal Democrats won’t give you a say over the EU.’

    The 2015 LDP manifesto states p149 states,

    ‘[We will] Hold an In/Out referendum when there is next any Treaty change involving a material transfer of sovereignty from the UK to the EU. Liberal Democrats will campaign for the UK to remain in the European Union when that referendum comes.’

    Whilst that doesn’t say, ‘and if the result of that referendum is to leave then we will ignore it,’ I struggle to see how a party can accept the principle of a referendum but not accept the result.

    p77 of the Labour 2015 manifesto contains the rather odd paragraph,

    ‘Labour’s priority in government will be protecting the NHS and tackling the cost-of-living crisis. It is not to take Britain out of Europe. However, Labour will legislate for a lock that guarantees that there can be no transfer of powers from Britain to the European Union without the consent of the British public through an in/out referendum.’

    To be honest I don’t really know what that means.

    It is striking that none of the three manifestos as far as I can see state what they believe should happen in the event of a leave vote despite all envisaging an in/out referendum at least in principle.

  • Little Jackie Paper 27th Jan '17 - 9:07am

    Edit ‘respect’ should read ‘honour.’

    Edit function?

  • ‘respect’ should read ‘honour.’

    And obey?

  • “But they’re laughing at us too. Because so many of us are making unsubtantiated claims about the public opinion on Brexit, which circulate around our echo chamber to make us feel better, ”
    Nope. We laugh at LibDems for their holier than thou attitudes which last 5 minutes when in power.

  • The £350 million per week for the NHS is another Remainer myth – Vote Leave published their suggested post-Brexit plans on 15th June 2016, it included £100 million per week for the NHS, not £350 million: NHS (Funding Target) Bill:

  • @Paul Walter

    in fairness Paul that advert on the bus does not say
    We send the EU £350 million a week
    Lets fund our NHS instead with all this £350 million

    Regardless of the rights and wrongs with the Ad, it is wrong to claim it says something it doesn’t

    Vote leave did say
    “National Health Service (Funding Target) Bill – The NHS would receive a £100m per week real-terms cash “transfusion”, to be paid for by savings from leaving the EU”

  • Peter Parsons 27th Jan '17 - 6:51pm
  • @Peter Parsons

    Absolutely spot on.

    That advert DOES makes that claim that the whole £350 Million should go to the NHS.
    But the bus one did not.
    I don’t engage in spin

    BTW I had no seen the Priti Patel poster before

  • David Allen 27th Jan '17 - 7:19pm

    Yes, there is a mote in our eyes. We are rightly confident that Brexit will be widely recognised as a terrible mistake, once its economic and political consequences bite. However, we are wrong if we argue that this has yet happened to any substantial extent.

    However – There is a beam in our enemy’s eyes! A marginal victory, based on an appalling referendum campaign mired in hypebole from Remain and outright lies from Leave, is now being parlayed as a Churchillian declaration of united British national resolve. Even ITV News last night talked of the “huge” vote to Leave – What would they have called it if it had been 53% to 47%? They have fallen victim to May’s propaganda. It is hugely wrong!

    The Tories have learnt a lesson from the political success, alongside abject economic failure, of their 2010-15 austerity policy. That is – Talk tough, talk extreme, talk decisive, never mind facts and realities. Go for the hardest Brexit possible. Bet the farm. Act like a strong leader. People will be conned. And, when it all comes to grief, find an innocent scapegoat to blame. Gordon Brown never caused the financial crash, and Michel Barnier won’t cause Britain’s self-inflicted ruin. But he can be given the blame.

    So by all means let’s avoid the slight exaggeration some of us are guilty of. But let’s not ignore the massive distortion of reality that the Tory Brexit adventurers are guilty of!

  • @matt – Also in fairness, the slogan on the side of the bus is obviously intended to be misinterpreted and given it was the Leave campaign who chose both the words and layout of the words on the bus… So not it isn’t wrong to read the slogan as it was so obviously intended to be (mis)read, which clearly it was, given the amount of times “£350 million per week for the NHS” was used by the Leave leaning media during the campaign.

    So I think many “Remainer myths” are in fact Leaver trying to create myths to deflect critism from the myths of their own campaign…

  • ‘The one which I hear most often is that, *having seen what Brexit really means* those who voted Leave have decided that this isn’t what they wanted after all and that they now wish to turn back the clock. ‘

    May I have access to the same crystal ball please.

  • @Matt @Peter Parsons

    Both of those ad’s wording were never anything but a simple suggestion. Basically a ‘I think we should’
    Proven by the fact nobody peddling it, had, or would never have the power to implement it.
    Remainers have spent 1000’s of internet hours demeaning brexiters for being gullible over that bus, yet it appears they were taken in too.
    I personally think if the bus would have had the true figure of 200 million a week and guaranteed 50 mil would go to the NHS it wouldn’t have made any difference to brexiters.
    The biggest scam, if you want to call it that. was painting the bus red to grab the attention of traditional Labour voters. The older ones who would still remember when the left supported leave.

  • @Simon Shaw

    “You might not think it says that, matt, but it actually does”

    It actually doesn’t It just says “lets fund our NHS instead”, It never mentions with £350 Million

    Simon you are a stickler for the finer points, as well all know, you love to go through things with a fine tooth comb { I am not knocking that BTW}

    However the poster that Peter parsons linked too does say it “Lets give our NHS the £350 Million the EU takes every week”

    I am not really that bothered about getting into an argument about the £350 Million NHS pledge, as I do think it was a ridiculous and unviable pledge for the leave campaign to have made. I was just pointing out that what Paul Biggs said about the slogan on the “bus” was accurate.


    I accept that the leave campaign indulged in some misleading tactics.

    The only thing I will say is that there is a world of difference between misrepresentations from the leave campaign {who is not part of Government} and would never have the ability to put policies into place
    The Government of the time, David Cameron, Osborne the Treasury etc. who were in Government and yet constantly misrepresented the facts and figures.

  • GnosticBrian 27th Jan '17 - 9:50pm

    This is what Paddy Ashdown had to say BEFORE the vote (and when he expected to win): “I will forgive no one who does not respect the sovereign voice of the British people once it has spoken. Whether it is a majority of 1% or of 20%, when the British people have spoken you do what they command. Either you believe in democracy or you do not.”

    And on Pienaar’s Politics on New Year’s Day, Paddy claimed 17.4m voters opting for Britain to leave the European Union showed the country was now retreating away from democracy. Is his memory failing?

    Paddy went on to assert that Brexit was a return to the 1930s and the rise of Hitler. OTT or what?

    Remain fought a fear based campaign and lost. Time to move on.

  • Simon Adney 28th Jan '17 - 7:13am

    Post referendum we have had the fastest growing economy in the G8. Employment has hit a record high. Unemployment has fallen. Direct foreign investment has remained high and unaltered. The developed ad developing world are visibly keen to sign trade deals with the fifth largest economy and the USA is promising to replace the single market at the signing of a single document.

    Meanwhile the economy and politics of the EU continue to make unhappy reading.

    Have a second referendum tomorrow. A third next week. A fourth at Easter. They will all return a result to LEAVE THE EU.

    STOP deluding yourselves.

  • Duke Bouvier 28th Jan '17 - 8:20am

    Interesting and thoughtful piece – glad to see it being discussed. A couple of thoughts:


    A week after the referendum, YouGov found 58% of voters opposed a 2nd referendum vs 31% in favour (so c. 2:1 against). Even if this meant that Scotland were to leave the UK as a result the figures changed little. Support for a 2nd referendum after the terms of exit had been agreed was higher but still only 33% cs 51% against.

    ICM Poll after 6 months: 54% of voters want a “swift exit” with only 20% of voters disagreeing. Even 25% of Remain supporters agreed. (That is, ex-don’t knows, 72%/28% for swift implementation which is a MASSIVE majority figure by anyone’s standard)


    It is easy to stereotype older voters views. Certainly for my father and a number of his generation they were very angry that Edward Heath’s clear position in 1975 was that the EEC was purely a trade community but then later claimed that it had always been clearly more than that. Perhaps older people are more likely to be against staying in the EU because they have good reason not to trust what they are told about it.


    Equally people here are in denial if they think that only the Leave messages and points were factually dubious.

    The Treaury “gravity model” was one of the most appalling pieces of propaganda that I have ever seen come out of government, deliberately released well after the Today programme headlines, deliberately tried to intimidate non-specialist readers, and yet failed to provide the detail that would allow a full academic deconstruction. Despite requests the Treasury still refuses to give all the details.

    And whatever happened to Stuart Rose after he made the mistake of giving his honest opinion.

    Anyway, always good to see thoughtful discussion,

  • Simon, yes but we are CURRENTLY operating on the basis of structural and investment decisions made one two three years back. The crux is what are the investment decsisions being made now and over the next 12 months. They may continue what you qoute, I fear they will be the opposite.

  • There’s a need to recognise the obvious here – Vote Leave were a cross-party campaign group, not the government or the Treasury – so they couldn’t promise or implement anything – they could only make suggestions. The bus was a striking poster campaign that gave a ball park figure for the UK’s gross contribution to the EU (probably nearer £270 million per week although there was general agreement that our net contribution is £8 billion per year) – the bus suggested that we fund the NHS instead, but that doesn’t necessarily mean with the whole £350 million, which was a gross figure, not net – I already provided a link to prove Vote Leave published the suggestion of £100 million per week to the NHS. Of course, the government could give the NHS an extra £350 million per week if they wanted too, but they don’t and won’t.

  • @Paul Walter

    “Can I just point out the obvious – there is no full stop or comma after “week” and “let’s” starts with a lower case “l”?”

    Only if your being overly pedantic

    Does not matter how many full stops, comma’s you use it will not change the sentence.
    The sentence did not say lets fund our NHS “with the £350 Million” instead
    lets fund our NHS “with ALL this money” instead

    Can we move on to some better arguments please. I am sure we all accept that even though the bus slogan did not say it, the leave campaign produced other posters that did in fact say they would use the entire £350 million.
    Arguing over the proper use of the English language is hardly going to be informative over discussing our departure from the EU

  • I’m not sure how the Leave campaign can be criticised for not putting their spending suggestions in to practise when they are not in power. How does that work?

    And were the official Remain campaign’s figures any less questionable? They claimed ( ) that the UK’s “annual net contribution” was £5.7bn, or about £110m per week. Needless to say, they chose the lowest of the numerous alternative estimates available; but even more sneakily than that, they misrepresented the IFS document from which the figure was pulled, because the IFS made it clear that the £5.7bn figure was an unusually low one-off figure for 2014 (compared with £9.1bn in 2013), and that “going forward, we can expect the UK’s net contribution to be just over £8bn a year on average”. So Remain’s talk of an “annual net contribution” of £5.7bn was as bogus as the Leave bus.

  • john stevens 28th Jan '17 - 1:53pm

    In a democracy no vote is final. In the country, the polarisation over the referendum result remains profound. The advent of President Trump has now placed this national polarisation potentially in a new and dangerous geo-economic and geo-political context. With the deepest regret, I believe our travails are only just beginning.

  • @Simon Shaw
    No, we have a Conservative government led by Theresa May. What do you mean?

  • Andrew Carey 29th Jan '17 - 12:12am

    “Why can’t we just face the truth?”
    The number one item in the EU budget is not mentioned in this article. It never is, not by the leader, not by MPs. I suppose justifying the transfer of public funds to people who own farmland is tough. It’s also tough to justify that it be protected from having to compete for funding with police, education, tackling communicable diseases etc. The truth – Lib Dems can’t handle the truth. They barely ever mention the primary fiscal purpose of the organisation they endorse.

  • What a stupid, partial piece of writing. GEs are different as we get to change our mind every five years. Also old people tend to vote Labour and Tory equally. Here is was 2:1 Leave for the elderu and 3:1 Remain for the under 24s.

    Democracy is the will of the people; ALL of the people. Yes, even the losers. Brexit is like having a GE and declaring the Tories in sole power, with no opposition, forever.

  • Cheers Jason! Your point here is pretty unclear though. Are you saying that we should have referendums on the EU each five years? Or that we should never have referendums because we shouldn’t be bound by one time decisions? Or that young people’s votes matter more than old people’s? Or that parties should loudly oppose Brexit?

    Regardless of what point you were trying to make, my article didn’t really express a view on any of that. It just argued that we shouldn’t use incorrect facts or disingenuous arguments (like the ones which I listed) as a way of voiding the vote on June 23rd. Maybe there are good arguments for not pursuing Brexit. But many of the ones I’m seeing on my timeline are lazy, post-truth clickbait, and that bothers me.

  • Really? Of all the arguments against Brexit, you bring out those two. I don’t believe that loads of people have changed their mind. I do however believe there would have been a different result if known facts and rational opinions had been taken precedence. And the

  • Those aren’t two common arguments that i have hear. And if Kate Hoey is tweeting this page, you’ve almost certainly got it wrong. The closest argument to the first point you made is that people were brainwashed by horrendous media coverage. If they were presented with rational reporting that would have meant that they lies proven within a minute of Brexit were poo-pooed before the vote, the result probably would have been different. The second point about people dieing is more reflective of either satire or the dodgy people you socialise with. The problem we had is that the debate was polarised as being right versus left amongst an environment where people who are left or centrist were led to believe they were and are right wing. They were then treated to a very vocal and populist hard right wing narrative that had no opposition. No credible Lib Dems and no credible Labour. The country from a political point of view is a mess with people on the far right conducting in fighting of the general populace. There’s still a belief amongst many that its hard right wing versus hard left wing with nothing in between. The problem is that theres nobody effectively claiming the centre and encouraging people back from the hard right. The general populace like popular leaders and they only saw that on the right and this hasnt changed. Corbyn isnt a leader of the common man and Fallon, whilst a decent man, isnt either. Until the centre ground gains a believable voice and somebody to visibly debunk Leave myths to the man on the street, the right will continue to orchestrate their pawns. If you think your myths are representative then you’re affected

  • @ Andrew Carey

    The Common Agricultural Policy “has undergone several changes since then (1962) to reduce the cost (from 71% of the EU budget in 1984 to 39% in 2013)” ( As a share of all central government spending it is a very much smaller figure. (For example of a total UK government expenditure of about £762 billion only £6 billion goes to the EU; the total EU expenditure is only 116 billion Euros (c £98 billion). From 2014 the biggest expenditure item is “Growth” which includes regional development and infrastructure projects (

    Food production protection has been a feature of many countries for a long time and there are security reasons for ensuring that some food is produced internally. I think I heard on the TV this week that food was not covered by World Trade Organisation rules. I think this might be a simplification, but the WTO rules do allow payments under CAP and the USA’s version. Also the Leave campaign did promise to ensure that farmers did not lose their subsidies if we left the EU.

  • David Pearce 30th Jan '17 - 8:26am

    ” As yet I’ve yet to hear any politician say why Brexit is such a good thing”

    There are a few. But the line seems to be to place responsibility squarely on the voters and for politicians to avoid responsibility for the decision. Why? Politicians are always eager to take credit for good results. because they know there is a good chance of a bad outcome, and are trying to avoid blame. Imagine the Great fire of London, with officials wringing their hands trying to organise a firebreak to prevent the entire city burning down. That is where we are. May and company are trying to get the credit for being firemen rather than being branded the people who started the blaze.

    Incidentally, the statistics say those who die ARE more likely to have been leave voters. Anyone wanting to win an election always needs to be mindful of facts, though it is equally possible that remain voters who are a year or two older at a new referendum will have become more nationalistic and some will have changed to leave, replacing those who died. The real issue here is a campaign by Leave to claim remainers are willing people to die. This is an example of leave propaganda, not remain.

  • david thorpe 10th Feb '17 - 10:37am

    the lib dems genera;;y oppose referendums as a system of government-yet are now trying to claim moral high ground for wanting a referendum now-hypocrisy that stinks and shows it to be a party devoid of actual principle…

  • Abigail Slade 6th Jun '19 - 8:05pm

    A good article I voted lib-dems since their creation and voted leave.
    The arguments are hypocritical, yes there were lies told on the leave side but the remain camp was as guilty with stories of our economic crash. GUESS WHAT? Every election has half truths barefaced lies and misdirection and we know it.
    Attacks on Brexit funding without considering the remain camp spent more including 9 million by the government which was illegal under EU law to have a leaflet supporting remain placed through every door.
    We should also consider the claims that leave voters didn’t know what they voted for, hardening attitudes and making many leavers more determined.
    I am in my last year of a history BA about to do my final exam and the similarities between our government and that of the senate at the end of the Roman republic are clear, an elite only interested in self and maintaining the status quo, most working class people can’t tell the difference between labour and Tory anymore, so much so my Dad a conservative and my Mum a labour supporter both voted Leave as did everyone else I know, none of them trust the establishment anymore.
    I am sure some of them have reservations about Nigel Farage but they all respect him because “he did what he promised”, and because he can’t do any worse than those who have been in power.
    So there is no coherent argument for leave, I feel much the same way about a remain campaign focused on negative predictions when no one knows what will happen. I understand there are those that worry about the future of your children and the NHS but you need to understand something, most working class have felt this way for decades.
    Anyway you want a coherent argument for leave I will give you some,
    The EU is undemocratic,
    The EU is in severe financial and political straights it is struggling to maintain itself Greece, Italy and Portugal in financial crisis and populist parties have been gaining support across Europe, with plans for an EU army which might mean your children being conscripted into an EU army.
    Then the financial costs, the money wasted moving to Strasbourg and back every month, having 2 parliament buildings and the fact the EU has not published accounts in 18 years.
    Anyone who wishes to listen to an intellectual discourse on why Brexit is a good thing to look up Douglas Murray who is very intelligent, witty, polite and though provoking.
    good day.

  • Michael Pejcic 15th Dec '19 - 10:57pm

    I must say that I was disappointed with the election outcome…. I have recently got remarried, to a Russian lady, and was taken aback by what she said. She had been over hear in the UK to visit me. My very good friends made her very welcome, but her comments were surprising, she felt that the British did not seem to want to be part of the wider world, including being part of the European union and that she was not surprised. The sad part is that many countries that have taken the nationalistic path have become poorer. I believe that being together we can be stronger. My wife comes from a family of professors and I would like to value her comments..

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