Stephen Kinnock and Nick Clegg debate Brexit strategy

Stephen Kinnock writes in Politics Home of his amicable clash over Brexit strategy with Nick Clegg.

Clegg is arguing for a change of course before 29 March 2019.

Look, it’s David Davis who famously said that ‘if a democracy cannot change its mind, then it ceases to be a democracy’. And the fact of the matter is that on an almost daily basis all those lies that were told by the likes of Boris Johnson during the campaign are being exposed, and the reality of what Brexit will do to our country is emerging,” he says.

Surely, as it becomes clear that things are not going to turn out as we were told, then we should be given the opportunity to re-consider, and to change course?

Kinnock disagrees with this and gives three arguments against, though he doesn’t offer an alternative – his position seems to be to fight on the terms of Brexit and to wait and see.

There is more accord on the issue of the ‘meaningful vote’ in Parliament on the Brexit deal, due next October – Nick attaches more significance to this than the talk – at this stage – of a referendum on the final deal.

I don’t talk about a referendum on the final deal as much as others do because I think that there is a clear chronology to this. The first thing which has to happen is that MPs like you have to say to May and Davis that this simply doesn’t measure up to what your constituents expect.

The meaningful vote in Parliament next October is therefore far more important than speculating about the exact circumstances where you do or do not have a referendum further down the line.

I put this more bluntly. If public opinion shifts (and I mean more clearly than a single poll showing a 10 point lead for remain) then Brexit can be stopped and politicians will find a way, and if public opinion doesn’t shift then Brexit won’t be stopped. My policy would be not so much a ‘referendum on the final deal’ as a ‘referendum on the final deal if and when it can be won’. If the referendum can’t be won then Brexit can’t be stopped.

Recognition that the Brexiters have not delivered what they promised, seen in the debate around the October vote, is one of the few things that has the potential to significantly shift public opinion.

They go on to discuss the future of the EU. Here Kinnock does give his view.

I was struck by President Macron’s recent speech at the Sorbonne, where he set out his vision for a multi-tier Europe, based on a core of eurozone countries, a second set of EU member-states that are currently outside the euro, but committed to joining it, and an outer ring that have no intention of ever joining the euro, are fully engaged in the Single Market and Customs Union, but have opt-outs from a number of other policy areas.

The fact is that this outer tier has always existed and it has always been where the UK has sat. But what is refreshing to hear is that a French President is ready and willing to frame this more flexible, concentric circles-based approach as a positive.

If Macron’s vision for a more flexible architecture had been in place a few years ago then we would have once and for all been able to explode the myth that the UK was being dragged inexorably into some sort of federal European super-state, thus shooting the Ukip fox.

* Joe Otten was the candidate for Sheffield Heeley in June 2017, is a councillor in Sheffield and is Tuesday editor of Liberal Democrat Voice.

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17 Comments

  • Eddie Sammon 19th Dec '17 - 12:03pm

    I think the best thing to do is to accept soft brexit then campaign to re-join once we have left. I just think ignoring the vote, effectively, will cause too much anger and resentment.

    I’d rather have no brexit than a hard brexit though. There was no vote for a hard brexit.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 19th Dec '17 - 12:55pm

    Good to read that from Kinnock, and Clegg, that’s sensible from Joe, as ever.

    Macron and Verhofstadt have been helpful on this idea of multi layer or twin track or any variety of real and versatile ways of doing business together.

    It was not talked of before for the lack of direction from this country and our colleagues, pro and anti EU.

    Too much in politics, and even once in a while in this party, is either or.

    All the orange book vs rather than aswell as, social liberal debate, similar to the Europhobe vs phile, argument.

    Many, especially those such as me, who are of recent part European heritage other than only uk, can see the pros and cons even as we favour remaining constructive in the union.

    Too many ideologues as usual get us nearly no place on certain issues.

  • paul barker 19th Dec '17 - 1:36pm

    The point about all the Superstate twaddle is that most of us decide what we want to believe first, finding evidence comes later if at all.
    Changes in reality wont affect what most Voters believe unless it changes what they want to believe, for example by visibly costing them money. Changers will look for someone else to blame, lets hope they dont choose us.

  • OnceALibDem 19th Dec '17 - 2:44pm

    “The fact is that this outer tier has always existed and it has always been where the UK has sat. But what is refreshing to hear is that a French President is ready and willing to frame this more flexible, concentric circles-based approach as a positive.

    If Macron’s vision for a more flexible architecture had been in place a few years ago then we would have once and for all been able to explode the myth that the UK was being dragged inexorably into some sort of federal European super-state, thus shooting the Ukip fox.”

    This may be true and a way forward. But it isn’t currently something on offer. And the Lib Dems have always argued for the UK to be in that central core eurozone group

  • Stephen Kinnock and Nick Clegg debate Brexit strategy….

    Sorry, but I wouldn’t trust either of them to run a bath!

  • “If Macron’s vision for a more flexible architecture……” I really don’t know why Liberal Democrats feel they should support that slick young man. According to ‘The Independent’ last September Macron’s ‘vision’ includes a European Army with a shared defence budget – and the introduction of an EU Identity card.

    As for Kinnock, a slippery fellow gifted an hereditary seat by his pop and of very little significance.

  • Christopher Haigh 19th Dec '17 - 4:44pm

    This article is top class. Big thumbs up !

  • Little Jackie Paper 19th Dec '17 - 9:10pm

    ‘Recognition that the Brexiters have not delivered what they promised, seen in the debate around the October vote, is one of the few things that has the potential to significantly shift public opinion.’

    Problematic though I would suggest. Essentially the reliance here is being placed on opinion turning against LEAVE. That, I would suggest, is not the same thing as a groundswell of pro-EU thinking. OK, Davis et al might not be seen as saviours, but I’m yet to be convinced that if follows that everyone loves the European Commission.

    Think of it this way, at the 2016 referendum REMAIN looked to Barack Obama to make their case. If there were a further referendum in 2018, would REMAIN invite Jean-Claude Juncker to convince the nation?

    Look, I know a lot of people on here don’t like it. But if that referendum proved nothing else then it is that there really isn’t a great deal of love for the EU as a political construct nor for its agenda. It wasn’t the media, it wasn’t the bus and it wasn’t the Russians. Indeed I read that Clegg quote as pretty much, ‘one more heave on the Cameron arguments.’ At best it comes over as being a sore loser and at worst it is looking for a procedural wheeze. If we were to remain now, what exactly does Mr Clegg think will happen? Every issue that (rightly or wrongly) was identified as problematic about the EU in 2016 is still there.

    Whilst I think that Kinnock rather overstates the point about Macron’s comments his general point I think stands. The REMAIN case of 2016 failed and failed badly. At the most broadbrush level that referendum result was a call for change, albeit there wasn’t consensus about what that change should be. More Of The Same won’t cut it now.

    Throughout 2017 it struck me that REMAIN thinking signally refused to think of what their ideas of change might be, still less engage with why so many wanted a change from the EU we have. At the moment REMAIN simply isn’t thinking deeply enough.

  • Richard O'Neill 19th Dec '17 - 9:45pm

    One thing that needs to be established is what terms would we be staying in the EU on? Cameron’s renogation was rejected by the electorate. Clinging to stray comments from Macron about vague future changes isn’t remotely close enough to the firm, fresh offer we need from the EU to justify a second Referendum.

    And I do wish figures like Clegg, Blair etc. would step back from the campaign. They are too identified with militant pro-EU attitudes to win over the previous leave voters needed to switch sides. Another bout of brexiteer-bashing is not going to provide a positive popular consensus to overturn Brexit.

  • “I was struck by President Macron’s recent speech at the Sorbonne, where he set out his vision for a multi-tier Europe…”

    Finally, I presume someone other than an Englishman (a Dutchman? (*)) broached the idea with him and he has seen the sense of it, unlike his predecessors. Shame as others intimate it might be too late. But then I suspect with a little more work, a ring that satisfies Brexit can be found.

    Only problem is the Brexit monkeys seem to have little idea of how to play the game needed to achieve both the result they are after and the result the UK needs. Cameron (was he advised by Clegg?) seemed to grasp the nature of the game when he negotiated his reform deal.

    (*) I’ve repeatedly found, over several decades, the Dutch to be good intermediaries, where you (an Englishman) need to get a Frenchman to agree to something.

  • Peter Martin 19th Dec '17 - 10:02pm

    President Macron’s recent speech….where he set out his vision for a multi-tier Europe, based on a core of eurozone countries, a second set of EU member-states that are currently outside the euro, but committed to joining it, and an outer ring that have no intention of ever joining the euro

    It’s arguable if this is going to be any better than what we have. I’d say it wouldn’t be. But in any case this “multi-tiered EU” would be a fudge. Look, either the euro is great idea and everyone should be using it. No ifs and no buts. Or it is a really bad idea and no-one should be using it.

    It could be a good idea if we had a single EU Federal govt and a single taxation system. If everyone wants that then, fine, everyone has to use the euro. But, if not, ……….

  • Little Jackie Paper 19th Dec '17 - 11:19pm

    Roland – My impression was that Macron was thinking about what every first-term President wants: the second term. In many ways Macron is a bit like Cameron. He is the relatively young, fresh (ish) leader of a large EU country where a significant part of the population has little love for the EU. The trigger might be different, in the UK asymmetric free movement and in France EZ operation. But the effect is the same – a divided and uneasy electorate, populists hitting the established parties and the like.

    I’m not aware that Macron has used the term ‘renegotiation’ but that surely is what he was talking about. Note that Cameron was told reopening the treaties was impossible, yet what Macron is talking about is serious treaty change (and likely referendums).

    It was always a bit unfair to think of Macron as Hollande Mk2. However Macron will have closely watched how Hollande ended up – not even with enough support to get on the ballot, never mind re-elected. Macron knows he has three years or there is a real risk he will end up the same way Hollande did. He needs some movement on EU reform. But I don’t see him having the support to get what he talked about in his speech.

  • Richard Underhill 20th Dec '17 - 10:04am

    Macron was elected at a particular time and against a particular opponent, Madame Le Pen. His support lasted through the elections for the National Assembly, but it is not automatic that it will continue. It depends on what he does. For instance reforming the labour laws is politically risky. He might stimulate the trade unions to take to the streets and start comparing him with Margaret Thatcher.
    Aa better yesterday would be for the UK to join with the original six before the Fifth Republic was created with a revised constitution to the liking of Charles de Gaulle.
    An “ever closes union” was always in contrast with the policy that any European country could join. There is a political, religious, diplomatic and military division in Ukraine. Forget what Nigel Farage MEP said about Ukraine. Note that Theresa May seems to be promising military help to a country which is not a member state of NATO.
    On freedom of movement understand what we were told during the Slovakian Presidency, namely that whole countries were imprisoned under communism and therefore value freedom of movement highly. In Romania under Ceausescu they would be shot at for trying to exit illegally. In East Germany they would trigger unmanned machine guns. There can be exceptions for very small countries, but Switzerland and Ukraine have arrangements.

  • The EU negotiators talk about it being a lose/lose situation and do nothing to remedy it. What are they scared of? Surely the eu is big enough to accommodate different countries’ views. What about Poland and Hungary? Have we ever formulated a set of criteria that if the eu implemented we would happily remain? We unfortunately have got ourselves into this leave mentality. Even an ultimatum would have been better as it would have given them something to chew over.

  • LJP – I think we agree, getting the EU to agree to travel in a particular direction isn’t a one time decision; instead it is lots of small decisions that nudge the EU supertanker towards a preferred direction of travel. So if Macron’s thoughts enable the multi-tier EU to be put on the ‘discussion’ agenda then I’m all for it. The challenge is that one-step-at-a-time-change isn’t particularly exciting.

    @Peter – It’s arguable if this is going to be any better than what we have. I’d say it wouldn’t be. But in any case this “multi-tiered EU” would be a fudge.
    Any arrangement involving 28 countries is going to be a compromise/fudge, the question is whether the fudge will be more to the UK’s liking if the UK are involved in the fudge making or not…

  • Antony Watts 21st Dec '17 - 12:25am

    Let’s stop arguing about the to and fro’s of theory. And simply get down to persuading 90% of the people that the EU is a good idea.

    I have had enough of this “considered” LibDem approach which is getting us nowhere.

    Will somebody please formulate a set of bullet point principles for remain and social justice – the two major points which we have to make clear and promote.

  • Peter Watson 21st Dec '17 - 9:05am

    @Antony Watts “Will somebody please formulate a set of bullet point principles for remain and social justice – the two major points which we have to make clear and promote.”
    More than two years after campaigning started for the EU referendum and 18 months after it was lost, it is telling that a Lib Dem feels the need to make such a call.
    We’ve had years of dismal campaigning by the Lib Dem party in particular and the Remain camp in general, failing to make a good case for being in the EU. Even the word “Remain” is a pretty downbeat rallying cry, and the campaign was and continues to be about the the consequences of not remaining rather than a more positive “in it to win it” message.

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