Senior Liberal Democrats respond to Theresa May’s hard Brexit

We brought you Tim Farron’s response to Theresa May’s announcement that Britain is seeking reckless isolation, but what have other Liberal Democrats been saying about it.

Liberal Democrat MEP Catherine Bearder:

This government’s pursuit of a hard Brexit and pulling Britain out of the Single Market will mean losing so much more than just free trading arrangements.

Theresa May’s hard Brexit will strip future generations of the life-changing opportunities to travel, work and study across Europe.

Millions who voted both Remain and Leave on 23rd June don’t endorse this extreme version of Brexit. It must be the people who have a say on any final Brexit deal.

The EU referendum left Britain deeply divided and it seems Theresa May is intent on stoking further discord and division.

Sooner or later this Conservative Brexit government will realise that it cannot govern for only those who endorse Nigel Farage’s vision for Europe.


Paddy Ashdown:

Willie Rennie: The Conservatives are hell bent on a hard Brexit that nobody voted for

Nick Clegg:

On the same day that the leader of the world’s largest communist party publicly lectures the world on the virtues of free trade, Theresa May has finally turned her back on Margaret Thatcher’s greatest economic achievement, the world’s largest borderless single market. It’s an astonishing mutation from Conservative into UKIP-light.

By siding with Donald Trump and against Angela Merkel, Theresa May has made it inevitable that the rest of the EU will react by safeguarding the integrity of the EU itself. Throwing the gauntlet down against the rest of Europe, the PM is virtually guaranteeing that acrimony rather than compromise will prevail.

The Prime Minister has pledged to act in the interests of the young and future generations. Yet she has now set herself on a course which emphatically rejects what the overwhelming majority of young voters said they wanted in the Brexit referendum. Claiming to represent the interests of the young whilst pursuing a hard Brexit which will damage their interests will only deepen the generational divide highlighted by the Brexit referendum. This speech is a kick in the teeth for the youth of Britain.

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

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Eddie Sammon 18th Jan '17 - 6:00am

    Nick Clegg is right that Theresa May is increasing the chance of acrimony prevailing. Hard brexit might have been the destination anyway, but Theresa May is coming across as cold and people don’t do nice deals with people who come across as cold. It would be the same if Farage was leading the negotiations.

    Not all of Theresa May’s speech was bad, but overall the main message being sent to Europe is a cold one.

  • I know plenty of people who voted for so called hard Brexit. Now, absolutely nobody in Britain voted to join the EU because it was never put them.

  • Mark Goodrich 18th Jan '17 - 7:36am

    @Glenn – The trouble is that people voted for Brexit for a whole host of reasons; some for hard Brexit; some for soft Brexit; some thinking they could have both (a belief ed on by the Leave campaign and now disabused by May). If the terms outlined by May yesterday were clearly on the table (and they are still way too optimistic), would Leave have won? Nobody knows. My personal hunch is that the references to Norway and Switzerland convinced nervous Leavers that were not taking that much of a risk and would still be in the European mainstream.

    The only way out of the mess is to negotiate a deal and ask the British public whether they like it better that what they have now. It is curious that Brexiteers are both keen to say the vote was for a Hard Brexit but so unwilling to test that theory.

  • Of course Willie Rennie then went on yesterday to vote with the tories against noting that Scotland and the UK losing membership of the single market would have a detrimental social and economic impact. The tories may be hell bent on a hard brexit nobody voted for but he seems determined to vote with them while they do it. Even Scottish Labour managed to put aside tribalism to vote with the SNP and Greens for single market membership. Once again, the Scottish Liberal Democrats fail the test on Europe.

  • Mark .
    people also voted for remain for a lot of different reasons too. Most notably based on the idea of reforms that simply were not going to happen and economic fears that so far have proved unfounded. Politics is always about compromise between conflicting desires. People voted for Blair despite opposition to war and high levels of immigration. I vote Lib Dem despite my opposition to the EU and doubts about free movement/trade because the party is less censorious/dictatorial than the others and because I am in most respects a liberal. Ideally what I would like is a Lib Dem Party that balances a commitment to the usefulness of government spending within a sovereign nation state with a commitment not to be bossy. At the moment I fully accept that my views place me in a minority of Lib Dem voters (although I’m not convinced that around 30% is as insignificant as portrayed by the more aggressive element within the remain camp).

  • Nick Cunningham 18th Jan '17 - 9:28am

    Some do really need to go back and do a bit of research and they will find the British people had a vote in 1995 to confirm whether indeed they wish to stay in Europe, just under 70% said yes. Then it was known as the ‘Common Market ‘ and like the world around us the world does evolve, which the Common Market did over time. It evolved with the consent of governments, both Labour and the Tories, with countless debates, countless votes and where Parliament, in our representative democracy, the Government was held to account. Today the Brexiteers run from that basic of all democratic principles, they have not the inkling to follow the values that should underpin democracy, why, because for some unknown reason they believe that a little under 4% which they manage to scrape by gives them the right to trample over the rights of the 48% who voted to stay in Europe. A blank piece of paper won, sadly we are all going to pay a hefty price for it and where the divisions will be here for many a year.

  • Nick Cunningham 18th Jan '17 - 10:33am

    The date in my last comment should read 1975 when the referendum was held.

  • Peter Watson 18th Jan '17 - 10:36am

    @Nick Cunningham “It evolved with the consent of governments, both Labour and the Tories, with countless debates, countless votes and where Parliament, in our representative democracy, the Government was held to account.”
    Indeed, and Lib Dems have long campaigned for an In/Out referendum to confirm that voters support that evolution, e.g. from the 2010 manifesto:”The European Union has evolved significantly since the last public vote on membership over thirty years ago. Liberal Democrats therefore remain committed to an in/out referendum the next time a British government signs up for fundamental change in the relationship between the UK and the EU.”
    Prior to that, Lib Dems opposed a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, preferring instead a full In/Out referendum (discussed here) and appeared to be calling for a referendum regardless of any further transfer of power.
    It is sad that having got the referendum the party wanted, it did not get the result it wanted. I believe that pro-EU politicians deserve a lot of blame for the outcome, more for sins of omission than commission. For years the positive case for the benefits of EU membership was not made and the obvious concerns of voters for whom those benefits were not self-evident (of which the rise of UKIP was an obvious manifestation) were ignored. Then, at the 11th hour Lib Dems supported the Tories in running the sort of negative Project Fear campaign that had served that party so well in previous referendums and elections.

  • @Peter Watson

    I am always interested in what you have to say, I have always found your comments to be thoughtful and sincere.
    I am glad that there are Liberal Democrat members who are not prepared to engage in rewriting party history,
    I hope you don’t mine me asking are still a party member?

    “. For years the positive case for the benefits of EU membership was not made ”
    “at the 11th hour Lib Dems supported the Tories in running the sort of negative Project Fear campaign”
    I agree. Nick Clegg and his team always believed they could make the arguments for staying in the EU and win a referendum debate, hence the reason they had called for an in/out referendum in the past. Problem is Nick Clegg nailed his colours to the mast and shot himself in the foot during a referendum debate with Nigel farage and was asked the question on how he saw the EU in 10 years time. response, the same as it is now. A complete lack of vision for reforming the EU, that was never going to be acceptable to the majority of Britain.

    We keep seeing endless articles and comments about Brexiters not having a plan, voting for departure not destination. And yet we hear nothing from remainers about their plans for staying in the EU, the kind of reforms they would want to see and how they would go about achieving them.
    One could easily get the impression from the lack of substance, that remainers do not actually see anything wrong with the EU and are actually quite content to carry on as normal if not for even more integrated EU.

    I am getting more and more baffled about what peoples idea of being democratic now amounts too. I certainly did not realise how high up the authoritarian ladder the party was steadily rising too

  • Nick Cunningham 18th Jan '17 - 11:21am

    Peter Watson.
    You are going roundabout so many ing times I have lost count. The points I raise are valid and you have conveniently failed to answer the central point. Democracy and how 48% are just simply ignored, but more importantly how parliamentary sovereignty, which we were told was the core argument for leaving the EU is conveniently put to one side. May said Parliament will get a vote, then we find out that the vote is meaningless, because we are leaving anyway. Do you support this approach regarding our supposedly democratic governance.

  • @Nick Cunningham

    Sovereignty is a core Leave concern. The people lend their sovereignty to parliament for mundane decisions. On a core concern as to how individuals are governed the people always have the final say.

  • Peter Watson 18th Jan '17 - 11:59am

    @matt “I hope you don’t mine me asking are still a party member?”
    I stopped being a Lib Dem member a long time ago. I stopped being a Lib Dem voter more recently! 🙁

  • Nick Cunningham 18th Jan '17 - 12:36pm

    It goes to show what a tolerant and open party the Lib/Dem’s are. Made the right choice Joining last week.

  • Peter Watson 18th Jan '17 - 12:53pm

    @Nick Cunningham “The points I raise are valid”
    Indeed they are. I was pointing out that they are exactly the reasons why Lib Dems wanted an In/Out Referendum on EU membership.

    “Do you support this approach regarding our supposedly democratic governance.”
    In 2010 I voted for a Lib Dem party which went on to deliver referendums on Welsh devolution, an AV electoral system, and Scottish independence, and which helped to deliver the sort of In/Out referendum on EU membership for which it has long campaigned. I was also voting for a party which wanted referendums on joining the euro and a written constitution for the UK.
    It never felt like I was voting for a party that did not value democracy or parliamentary sovereignty simply because it loves referendums.
    Then, in 2015 voters (sadly, with more than a little help from Lib Dems) delivered a majority Tory government with a mandate to deliver a referendum on EU membership and to respect the outcome. In that sense, we are seeing parliamentary democracy in action.

    As for the tolerance of Lib Dems, again sadly, it looks like that is in short supply on LibDemVoice these days.

  • Nick Cunningham 18th Jan '17 - 1:11pm

    Peter Watson

    More roundabouts.
    I think Tim was excellent yesterday, hit the right buttons, cares deeply for our Nation. The picture you wish to paint, sorry I don’t see, but everyone to their own.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 18th Jan '17 - 1:55pm

    Eddie , as often says it in a way that gets to the nub of it. Nick Clegg, as often does so with the broad and specific both. A shame the very likeable and able Catherine Bearder overdoes the doom re travel and study , neither effected in a dramatic way yet , so why say it !

    If there is one thing being supposedly evidence based tells us, it is to be more than supposedly evidence based !

  • Peter Watson 18th Jan '17 - 2:14pm

    @Nick Cunningham “More roundabouts.”
    I’m not sure what you mean or which one of us is going round in circles.
    If a referendum is a good way to choose between two courses of action (it certainly seems to be the preference of Lib Dems), then why use Parliament (particularly an unelected House of Lords) to ignore or overturn the outcome of this one?
    If representative Parliamentary democracy is paramount, then why ignore the fact that this majority government was elected with a manifesto commitment to hold a referendum and to respect the outcome?
    We may want / have wanted to remain in the EU, but many of the arguments being used to disregard the result of the referendum appear weak, confused, illiberal and undemocratic. This risks a terrible backlash from the electorate that could lead to an even worse state of affairs. I don’t particularly agree with him, but I do believe that Tim Farron manages to make a coherent and consistent case that the outcome of the referendum can be respected as a choice of departure and a second referendum should be held to agree on the destination, and potentially this allows time for Remainers belatedly to make a positive case for remaining in the EU. However, even that position is undermined by Lib Dems who dispute the validity of a referendum in the first place.

  • @Peter Watson

    ” this allows time for Remainers belatedly to make a positive case for remaining in the EU. However, even that position is undermined by Lib Dems who dispute the validity of a referendum in the first place.”

    And therein lies the problem. Remainers and Libdems in particular, continue to fail to make a positive case for remaining in the EU, their arguments still fall back on relying on project fear, doom and gloom.
    What are the reforms that the Liberal Democrats would like to see TM and her team negotiate with the EU? All we hear from the party is apposing Brexit entirely. They are not coming up with anything constructive apart from we appose this we appose that.

    Personally, I do not think it will be possible to hold a 2nd referendum on the terms of brexit, we will have to wait and see the outcome of the Courts ruling on that one.
    I think it is going to be a simple case of
    A) accepting the deal reached with the EU
    B) Leaving the EU and resorting to WTO rules
    I dont think their will be provisions for a withdrawing from Brexit, but we will have to wait and see

    However, even if there were, and a 2nd campaign / referendum took place, I do not see the Liberal Democrats doing anything differently, they have no vision for a reformed, that much is obvious. The public rejected that before and I suspect that they would reject it again even in greater numbers.

  • Nick Cunningham 18th Jan '17 - 2:55pm

    We agree on one thing concerning the House of Lords. But if the executive seeks to ignore Parliament that action undermines our democracy, for we are representative democracy and the referendum was only advisory. We can never be governed by referendum, just look what happen in Switzerland and the problems they had recently had. Our governance is by representative, it must be able to hold the executive to account, so it’s no good crying wolf about the Lords when the Government is hell bent on a path where they seek to impose THEIR will over Parliament. That is not a proper functioning democratic chamber, it’s a rubber stamping one and God help us all if that becomes the rule. Without opposition and their right to vote, there is no democracy.

  • “This is your decision. The
    Government will implement
    what you decide.”

    An extract from the governments referendum leaflet sent to all UK households.

    There is no mention about the result of the referendum being “advisory”
    If that had been the intention of HMG then we should have been informed at the time.Ordinary people do not have the means or time to scrutinise every bill that passes through parliament !

  • Alans (and others) re: “This is your decision. The Government will implement what you decide.”

    Clearly the contents of the leaflet differ markedly from the wording contained in the Act and it’s associated official guidance notes. If the powers that be in Westminster can get something as simple as this wrong, it doesn’t bode well for our Brexit and subsequent trade negotiations. But it does give credance to the words of those who have worked on Brexit for the government, that thinking was muddled etc…

  • @Al

    Looks like I’ve found the reason Willie Rennie voted against the Scottish Govt.’s motion. He proposed his own amendment (which was defeated 5-117) which criticised the report for not leaving open the possibility of remaining in the EU as one option and basically repeated the LD’s stated position.

    It could thus be seen that he voted against the motion on the grounds that the report had already surrendered too much to the idea of Brexit.

    The amendment:

    “As an amendment to motion S5M-03427 in the name of Michael Russell (Protecting Scotland’s Interests in Negotiating our Future Relationship with Europe), leave out from “welcomes the options” to end and insert “regrets that the paper does not countenance the UK remaining a full member of the EU; considers that voting for a departure is not the same as voting for a destination; believes that this democratic decision cannot end with a ‘blank-cheque Brexit’ and a deal that nobody voted for being imposed by a Conservative administration still unable to provide any certainty and beset by contradictions, and calls on the UK Government to agree to a referendum on the final terms of Brexit and all of Scotland’s MPs in the House of Commons to vote against the triggering of Article 50 unless this is guaranteed.”

  • Peter Watson 18th Jan '17 - 7:24pm

    @matt “They are not coming up with anything constructive apart from we appose this we appose that.”
    Unfortunately there is a lot of truth in that. It would be brilliant if that creative energy could be directed more constructively!
    As somebody who eventually stuck with an instinctive Remain vote in spite of the dismal Remain campaign, I feel very disappointed by the approach of Lib Dems before the Referendum and the reaction of the party afterwards.
    Off the top of my head, my concerns include:
    1. emphasising during the campaign that the result would be implemented makes it look duplicitous to point out afterwards that the referendum was only advisory, that Parliament should have the final say, etc.
    2. voting for a referendum (consistent with a long term policy) makes it look hypocritical to disregard the result or dismiss the notion of referendums
    3. emphasising how “hard” Brexit would be in order to scare voters away from it makes it difficult to complain now that voters did not know what sort of Brexit they were voting for
    4. taking such a strident “Block Brexit” position makes it difficult to engage in debating the terms of Brexit at the same time to ensure that it is as liberal / soft / etc. as possible
    5. rather than acknowledging that perhaps the adopted approach to stopping Brexit is a bit illiberal and a bit undemocratic but is the lesser of two evils, Lib Dems seem to tie themselves up in knots defining and redefining what democracy and liberalism mean to justify reversing the result of the referendum
    6. supporting a Tory-style negative fear-based campaign without explaining to voters why membership of the EU is a good thing was a disastrous strategy and lessons don’t appear to have been learnt from that
    7. dismissing those who voted for Brexit as old, working class, uneducated racists whose opinions and experiences should be ignored is no way to win over hearts and minds if they start having second thoughts

  • Andrew McCaig 18th Jan '17 - 8:30pm

    You would think that by now Willie Rennie would have learned that voting against a motion that you are mostly in favour of and WITH the nu-UKIP Tories because the SNP would not back your amendment is a colossal error! Nowhere that I have seen this reported have I seen any mention of this amendment! Abstaining would at least have avoided being Ruth Davidson’s poodle! But that is what Willie is right now!

  • @Andrew

    An error, yes, but that doesn’t mean that he’s colluded with the Tories to support Brexit there. When is there ever proper, in-depth coverage of something like this rather than headline grabbing stuff which doesn’t tell the full story? You’re right that he’s walked right in to it, though.

    The details of the amendment are on the Scottish Govt.’s website, though, which is where I found it.

  • Katharine Pindar 18th Jan '17 - 10:58pm

    @ Peter Watson. Hello again, Peter. If I as a Lib Dem activist were guilty of even a tenth of the duplicitous and hypocritical approaches you accuse us of, I wouldn’t dare show my face to canvass again in Keswick tomorrow. We haven’t ever disregarded the Referendum result, we have just said that the destination intended was never made clear, and people should be given a chance to reconsider. Most of us didn’t go round shouting and trying to frighten the voters, but offered reasoned arguments as to why staying in was good for Britain. (We didn’t recognise all the emotions involved, and the fault I will concede is that we didn’t put strongly the benefits of immigration.)

    It’s not true to say that we dismiss the notion of referendums, clumsy instruments though they be, where once we backed them, because we have all along said that democracy demands there be another referendum on the negotiated destination, and only yesterday Tim Farron affirmed that the now-promised Parliamentary vote on the outcome of the negotiations wasn’t good enough, because the people themselves should be allowed their say.

    It’s never been the case that ‘we will do anything to reverse the result’, but instead we have listened to the arguments of the Outers, and tried to work out how to further the interests not only of the neglected 48%, but of all our people. Thus, we consider how immigration can be managed even within the EU (it will be possible), and how the EU itself might be reformed, which our European partners may lead us towards. We are in short not only reasonable and fair-minded but also honourable people, and we try to do our best here for British people, for the other citizens of Europe, and also for the unhappy refugees and other migrants who see the EU as their great hope of a better life.

  • Peter Watson 19th Jan '17 - 12:36am

    @Katharine Pindar
    You certainly demonstrate the sort of attitude, temperament and views that I always used to associate with and like about Lib Demmery, and if more Lib Dems take a leaf out of your book I could even imagine returning to the fold.
    Coalition and then the EU referendum have heaped disappointment on top of disappointment but I can’t break the LibDemVoice habit (despite a few New Year’s resolutions!) in an attempt to get a sense of the nature and the direction of the party, though I suspect it won’t be much clearer until the next General Election manifesto emerges.

  • ‘No deal is better than a bad deal’ – by giving Parliament a vote on the final deal is the PM signalling that if the EU plays hardball with us and refuses to meet her requests halfway, Parliament could, at the final hour, vote the deal down?

    Is there any way our exit could be reversed after Article 50 has been triggered? As someone who has no regrets about voting leave, I hope this is not possible.

  • Antony Watts 19th Jan '17 - 9:37am

    Hey guys, we are spiralling down the toilet in discussing how, not what.

    Let’s get back to the issue: is it better to stay in the EU or leave, on any terms (or on May’s tough terms)?

    By all my analysis – economic, social, geo-political it is infinitely better to remain. We are a member of the largest free trading block in the world, with no hinderance at all of shipping our goods to any of the 27 other nations, we are part of the most law abiding, free, democratic (yes democratic) grouping the the world, we have shed isolationism for some every important freedoms and citizen rights.

    Look at any topic from Agriculture to Travel and Transport and we in the EU have world leading policies, also for the most important, that of climate change.

  • Brian Woodcraft 19th Jan '17 - 10:47am

    A narrow majority of the public support the UK leaving the EU single market, according to a new Sky Data poll. In her much-anticipated speech on Brexit, Theresa May said the Government’s plans for negotiating Britain’s exit from the EU “cannot mean membership of the single market”.

    Having been informed of the Prime Minister’s stance, 51% of those surveyed said they support leaving the single market, while 39% oppose such a move.

    Some 4% answered “neither” and 6% said they did not know which they’d prefer.


  • Katharine Pindar 20th Jan '17 - 9:06am

    @ Peter Watson. Peter, thank you for your gracious response to my comment. I read it too late last night to respond then, having got absorbed in too many threads at once. I hope you will find in your own area at least one or two sympathetic Lib Dems, as well as others on LDV.

    I am actually very proud of my party, so want to share some of the reasons with you that are in addition to shared values and beliefs. When I became an activist again in May 2015, out of indignation at the result and sadness for all the good LD people who had already lost or were about to lose jobs they had been doing well, at first I struggled for information and communication. But then I found a couple of leading figures were responsive and helpful – Baroness Sal Brinton, the party president, for whom I have a great admiration, being one. And of course I found my local party, and LDV itself, which I so much appreciate being able to contribute to.
    Above all I was inspired by going to the party conferences. I produced a possible motion which wasn’t accepted, and I didn’t mind at all because at Brighton we passed one much broader in scope which had been carefully and lengthily researched by a knowledgeable group of people and which was very good, on social security and welfare. There were many good motions (I remember I mentioned some of them to you) which showed that patient hard work had gone on for many months before that, and they were discussed in an efficient manner, with many thoughtful contributions, plenty of passion but little acrimony. Members were kept very busy, as there were always stimulating fringe motions and meetings one wanted to get to going on simultaneously, and so finally I felt very satisfied and happy with the experience over three days. The regional party conference was also worthwhile for me.

    Maybe you can’t get to a conference, but stick with us – there’s a lot that is very worthwhile about this party. Best wishes to you.

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