Stopping a crash out Brexit

It should be obvious now that the current government, effectively headed jointly by Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings, is prepared to break almost any constitutional convention to ensure that Brexit occurs by 31 October 2019.   This is even though such a Brexit will almost inevitably be a crash out Brexit without a deal with the EU, an outcome which Michael Gove dismissed during the Leave campaign, saying that it was as likely as Jean-Claude Juncker joining UKIP.

This is a sea-change from the May government which, for all its faults, never tried to defy the will of parliament or take us out of the EU by stealth.  As a result, the Cooper-Letwin Bill requiring the government to seek an extension from the EU was implemented without question and without trying to exploit the loopholes which it contained.  This will not be the case this time around and, as a result, there is a strong likelihood that the government would find ways to defy the will of Parliament expressed in similar legislation.

Furthermore, a simple Vote of No Confidence won’t work because it is likely that the government would postpone the General Election until after 31 October 2019 and ride roughshod over the convention that a government which has been no confidenced should do nothing controversial.  Nonetheless, Parliament does have the ability to stop them by a passing a Vote of No Confidence plus installing a caretaker government to request an extension from the EU.

However, in terms of such a caretaker government, there has been an outbreak of what has been dubbed Meatloaf Remainerism (“I will do anything to stop No Deal but I won’t do that”).  Corbyn has made it clear that he won’t back a government headed by a non-partisan figure, and Tories, Lib Dems and various independents have made it clear that they won’t back a Corbyn-led Labour government.

In my view, the Liberal Democrats need to break this destructive cycle by saying that, if required, they would back a minority Labour caretaker government (even if led by Jeremy Corbyn) for the simple act of requesting an extension from the EU.  I realise that many find it unpalatable to put Corbyn into No 10 even for this simple purpose but there are good reasons for doing so.

First, it makes absolutely clear that the Liberal Democrats are 100% committed to opposing No Deal, a position which is likely to be popular with reasonable people everywhere.  Secondly, it deprives Labour of an attack line against us and puts the pressure back on them to justify why they don’t show a similar level of commitment.  Thirdly, and most importantly, it increases the chances of stopping a crash out Brexit, either through a minority Labour caretaker government or through one headed by a non-partisan figure.

The alternative is an unpleasant blame game with the Labour party and likely a crash out Brexit.  Is that really what we want?

* Mark Goodrich is a former vice-chair of Richmond & Twickenham Liberal Democrats, a former expat who saw Brexit unfold from the other side of the world and now lives in Sevenoaks, Kent

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41 Comments

  • Mark Goodrich 14th Aug '19 - 10:49am

    When I wrote this yesterday, I was unaware of who first came up with the Meat Loaf analogy but was prompted on Twitter this morning that it was Sunder Katwala so all credit to him. (I also made the frequent error of calling him Meatloaf). Hope you all enjoy reading and listening!

  • This raises some real problems.
    If Labour committed to asking for an Extension, we have to ask – “an extension for what ?”
    We already know that The EU won’t grant an Extension except for some specific purpose. The current Labour position is to Negotiate a New ” Labour” Deal & not to hold a Referendum on that Deal. Such a “New” Deal probably wouldn’t get through the current House of Commons but we can’t be certain about that. Theres a lot of Brexit Fatigue going round & enough Backbenchers might just say – “Sod it.Lets get it over with.”

    So, do we simply ask Labour to commit to asking for an Extension or do we demand a Referendum as well. That would imply an Extension to next Summer at least & probably a General Election before that.

  • David Evershed 14th Aug '19 - 11:32am

    What Paul Barker says.

  • Mark Goodrich 14th Aug '19 - 11:43am

    This happens in a post Vote of No Confidence scenario so a General Election is already coming. I am not suggesting propping up a Labour government for any more than requesting an extension from the EU to prevent Johnson crashing us out with No Deal *before* that General Election can take place.

    In reality, if he can see such a caretaker government on the horizon, he will probably cave in anyway. It’s the prospect of it not happening which is the basis of the Cummings / Johnson plan.

  • There is fatigue about Brexit. You can see it in the posts of our Brexi’s and Lexi’s, just get Brexit past the winning line and everything is finished. Of cause in the real world the day after Brexit, Depeffle and Co will be knocking on the EU door asking for a deal ( and every other trade block in the world) and that will go on for years. What can our dear Brexi’s and Lexi’s do, well dear readers they will ignore the consequences, start whitterring on about other things and pray no one notices the mess they cteated is still ongoing. I don’t rate their chances.

  • The possibility of leaving without agreement was made perfectly clear during the Referendum. Indeed many prominent Remainers mentioned it during the Referendum. We still voted Leave.

    Luckily with the www and the likes of YouTube they can be reminded of what they said.

    It was even in the White Paper.

  • Indeed many remainers said it was a possiblity John, but your mob said that was Project Fear. It is nice to see you are now fessing up to the fact it is project reality. You can’t really say well people warned us but we disregarded the warning. Your leaders said
    Leave campaigners: let’s stay in the single market
    So stop playing the hypocrit , you didn’t believe the warnings when they where issued, your leadership trashed the warnings, you can’t now say you where warned because you and your ilk did everything you could to discredit the warnings.

  • I can only speak for myself. I never had nor have a concern about leaving without agreement.

    Personally I thought Project Fear was comments like World War 3, the end of Western Civilisation, won’t be able to pay pensions etc.

  • How convient that you can redefine “Project Fear” to discount the bits that are happening. How convient that you are happy with no deal, of cause you will be able to prove that, a comment perhaps from around the referendum campaign would be useful. No didn’t think so, I think my comment about hypocrisy stands, please prove me wrong.

  • Letting Corbyn form a temporary Government, simply to request an Extension in order to give time for a General Election ?
    That sounds reasonable to Us but how many Tory “Rebels” will vote for it ? My guess is not enough.
    Thats the fundamental problem : the Rebels on both sides will only go so far & its not far enough. They will only work together up to a point.
    Hardly any Tory Rebels would Vote for even a temporary Corbyn Administration.
    Not enough Labour Rebels will Vote for “Watered-down Tories” as they see Us.
    When it comes down to the choice between Country & Party, too few choose Country & that doesn’t seem likely to change until the effects of Brexit are impossible to ignore, if then.

  • Nick Collins 14th Aug '19 - 1:44pm

    John Peters 14th Aug ’19 – 11:57am
    “The possibility of leaving without agreement was made perfectly clear during the Referendum. Indeed many prominent Remainers mentioned it during the Referendum.”

    One has to admire (well be impressed by, it’s not really admirable) the facility with which advocates of leaving the EU are able to re-write history. As Philip Hammond points out in today’s “Times”, the BBC “reality check” has had to remind Dominic Raab that the possibility of no-deal was not “regularly raised” during the referendum campaign. And Michael Gove said in March of this year “We didn’t vote to leave without a deal. That wasn’t the message of the campaign I helped to lead”.

    John Peters states that some “Remainers” did mention the possibility of leaving without a deal. If they did, it was to warn of the risks thereof; a warning that was promptly rejected by their opponents as “Project Fear” .

    During his campaign for the leadership of the Tory Party, Johnson alleged that no-deal was a “million-to- one-chance”. By pretending,now, that he has a mandate for a hard Brexit, it seems that he and his fellow Brexiteers are still labouring under the delusion that they can have their cake and eat it.

  • Andrew McCaig 14th Aug '19 - 3:14pm

    To add to what Mark Goodrich says above, Labour insiders on another forum suggest that following the conference any Labour manifesto will commit to a referendum in any circumstances. I think that if we failed to support a Corbyn government long enough to stop a no deal Brexit pending a General election which would offer a route to stopping Brexit altogether, we would be throwing away everything we have gained in the last few months.

    Since i have watched our MPs commit electoral suicide once already in the last decade, i cannot rule it out though.

  • Jonathan Linin 14th Aug '19 - 3:22pm

    One way or another we have to reach an accommodation with Labour. The EU will only grant an extension if there is a referendum or general election taking place, either can only be triggered in cooperation with Labour.

    Then what ?, if we then face a general election we cannot afford to split the remain vote. If the remain vote splits Labour vs Lib Dem/Green/SNP/PC then we could end up with a hard Brexit government who would claim a win, even without a majority of the votes as an endorsement.

    The Brexit Party will not do us the favour of splitting the leave vote where the sitting Tory is a hard Brexiteer (ensuring a lot of them suddenly see the light on hard Brexit), and the Northern Ireland vote will go to the DUP.

    What is important here ?

  • William Fowler 14th Aug '19 - 3:25pm

    Corbyn et al would not believe their luck if we left without a deal, what better excuse for an emergency nationalisation of the whole country?

  • John Peters 14th Aug '19 - 3:32pm

    @Nick Collins

    I have always wanted a clean break.

    I am sure some would prefer a deal to cushion the economic shock.

    However the Lib Dems, Labour, Green, and the SNP have repeatedly voted against the only possible Withdrawal Agreement (if you believe the EU).

    As a country we now have no choice but to leave without an agreement.

    https://youtu.be/me4JYkCJM0Y

  • @ John Peters: “I never had nor have a concern about leaving without agreement.”

    Really? Whether one starts from apposition of Leave or Remain there is much to be concerned about simply because of what it means for the negotiations that must follow with various parties.

    For example, influential US economist and former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers told Radio 4’s ‘Today’ program last week that, “Britain has no leverage, Britain is desperate … it needs an agreement very soon. When you have a desperate partner, that’s when you strike the hardest bargain.”

    So, when Trump – who famously sees negotiations as a zero-sum game – says how keen he is to do a great trade deal with Britain, he is the spider inviting the fly into his parlour. Besides, even before Trump, the US famously doesn’t negotiate trade deals so much as give dictation.

    As for any subsequent deal with the EU27 how is that supposed to turn out to our advantage? The glee in some quarters about the harm Brexit will do the EU27 economies (which it will) can have created no goodwill so don’t expect much sympathy from EU electorates nor from their governments. And remember that the EU rule is that EVERY country must agree before anything is signed. What’s the betting that Spain and/or France will insist on the right to fish in UK waters just as now but without any reciprocal rights? Or perhaps even more! And what else might any EU27 country ask for? My guess is it will be open season on Britain.

    In other words, negotiations and agreements matter, and outcomes are heavily path dependent. To say that is not ‘Project Fear’; to ignore it is foolhardy.

  • John Peters 14th Aug '19 - 3:50pm

    Gordon

    We have no trade deals. We can’t have any trade deals until we have left the EU.

    That is true regardless of whether we leave with a Withdrawal Agreement or not.

  • Nick Collins 14th Aug '19 - 4:05pm

    @ John Peters

    There’s no such thing as “a clean break”; it’s going to be messy.

    “Leaving without an agreement” (a slightly nicer sounding phrase than “crashing out with no-deal” which is a more accurate description of the reality) may be what you and some other hardline Brexiteers “have always wanted”, but it’s not what was promised or advocated by the leave campaign in the referendum; so the UK was sold a false prospectus.

    As three and a bit countries, we do have a choice other than to crash out with no deal and the current occupant(s) of Number Ten have no mandate for steering us towards such a disaster.

  • John Peters 14th Aug '19 - 4:16pm

    @Nick Collins

    Yes there will be disruption, it may well be messy.

    Isn’t that the point of all the no deal planning though? All the no deal planning which Hammond claims to have done (there seems to be doubt as to the effectiveness of his planning). Boris is continuing to prepare so that leaving on October 31st will have as little mess as possible.

    As to the mandate I will repeat leaving with no deal rather than a bad deal was in the last Tory manifesto, the manifesto all Tories were elected under.

  • Richard Underhill 14th Aug '19 - 4:30pm

    frankie 14th Aug ’19 – 12:24pm
    David Cameron has resigned and been replaced as an MP with a leaver.
    We did not win the by-election.
    Cameron’s book must be out soon.
    George Osborne has resigned and does interviews, such as with Portillo, who thinks that the Tories are losing because of Europe.
    Portillo and other Leavers are blaming Theresa May and calling her a Remainer,
    which is not historically accurate, but the winning side hope to write the history.
    The Tories are losing because they are divided, even in local government.
    Can we trust Boris? evidently not.
    Can we trust Corbyn?
    There is ample negative evidence, pre-Brexit, where he spoke against Labour party policy in the Commons and numerous Labour MPs told him what the Labour conference decided.
    Len McCluskey (UNITE) does not trust us, citing Jo Swinson’s voting record in the coalition.
    If Jeremy Corbyn wants Labour to win the next general election he should resign soon. There must be doubt as to whether he would accept a peerage.

  • Richard Underhill 14th Aug '19 - 4:34pm

    Andrew McCaig 14th Aug ’19 – 3:14pm
    IF there is a Labour conference this year it will be too late

  • David Allen 14th Aug '19 - 4:58pm

    Mark Goodrich is right. Paul Barker argues that accepting a temporary Labour-led government means taking a risk that Corbyn will not do everything we would have wanted. My response is that if we want to stop NDB, that risk, though important, is quite simply unavoidable. To reprise an earlier post:

    Forming a “government of national unity” is like forming a Second World War Atlantic convoy. There is only one way to operate such a convoy. It must travel at the speed of the slowest ship in the convoy, even if that is an ancient rustbucket. Once you have recognised that you need that rustbucket in your convoy, you must recognise that it will set the pace.

    We need Corbyn, and those who align with him rather than Watson, in our convoy. An emergency government that will stop NDB cannot possibly be achieved without Corbynite votes.

    That gives Corbyn – unfortunately – a great deal of leverage. Leverage he has never had before, and probably will never have again! Corbyn has us over a barrel. We have to accepty that reality and cope with it.

    Corbyn will have to ask for more than just an Article 50 extension, or else the EU will not grant his wishes. Corbyn would be very unwise to resuscitate his “A customs union, not The customs union” schtick at that stage, because suddenly he would need to engage with reality instead. Facing complex, lengthy negotiations to make some sort of sense of the semi-mythical “Labour Brexit”, Labour’s temporary partners would be well placed to let Corbyn make himself look silly, then collapse the “government of national unity” and make hay in the election that would follow. So Corbyn would probably be forced to go for the referendum option – and we would be home.

    Yes, Corbyn might perhaps come out of it all smelling faintly of roses. So might we, so might the SNP, etcetera. But if we have helped stop NDB, and stop Brexit altogether, will we really be terribly upset if we also see the Tories behind the Labour Party in the opinion polls?

  • Dilettante Eye 14th Aug '19 - 5:00pm

    This may seem a bit of a boring ‘admin’ query, but it’s a serious question regarding your Conference process on policy approval.

    Would the Lib Dem membership need to be consulted via Lib Dem Conference, asking membership for a vote of approval, in order to give your 14 MPs official permission to install Corbyn (or anyone else for that matter), as leader of this rumoured National Unity government?

    And if so, are you confident that your Conference will simply allow your 14 MPs to ‘wave through’, the installation of a Marxist, anti-Semite, leader of our next government, for a possible 6 months or so?

  • Dilettante Eye 14th Aug ’19 – 5:00pm………………………………And if so, are you confident that your Conference will simply allow your 14 MPs to ‘wave through’, the installation of a Marxist, anti-Semite, leader of our next government, for a possible 6 months or so?…………………….

    ‘Your Conference’? You are obviously neither libDem nor Labour; that leaves UKip, Tory or, considering your inaccurate rant against Corbyn, something ‘right’ off the map?

  • Paul Barker,

    It does not matter what a Corbyn government wants an extension for. The important thing is to get the extension which keeps options on the table and stops a no deal Brexit.

    It does not matter if there is a general election either, as you say it is possible there will not be 434 MPs who will vote for an early general election before Brexit. It is possible that a Labour minority government would put a Labour Brexit to a referendum.

    Dilettante Eye,

    Article 23 of our constitution states that a motion to support a government of another party or parties has to be passed by conference, but it is not clear if MPs could support it before a conference is held, or what happens if the conference does not support the motion.

  • Mark Goodrich 14th Aug '19 - 6:56pm

    Thanks so much for all the comments, especially those ones on the topic!

    A couple of important things to respond to:

    1. In the scenario I am suggesting, a VONC will have passed, probably by the narrowest of margins, legislative methods having failed. That leads to a General Election unless an alternative government can be formed. I don’t think any stable government can be formed and so a General Election is coming. We shouldn’t try to frustrate that and any attempt at doing so is likely doomed to failure. If Johnson and Cummings respected the constitution, they would ask the EU for an extension to ensure that the election could be fought on whether we want a No Deal Brexit or not. However, they won’t t so we need a caretaker government to do that task only.

    2. Several people have noted that moderate Tories probably won’t support a caretaker government if it is headed by Corbyn. I don’t disagree but it’s just with the bounds of possibility. Also, if it falls over on that basis, Corbyn and his acolytes can’t bash Lib Dem intransigence, hence massive pressure on him to agree a compromise candidate.

    3. Very interested to read the point about conference policy being necessary (although could potentially be done afterwards). Just wondering if people would support an emergency motion to give MPs this limited permission?

    Regards
    Mark

  • Paul Barker 14th Aug '19 - 7:40pm

    On the Party constitutional point about needing Conference to pass a motion, I imagine that was thinking of negotiations after an Election, to form a long-term Administration. We are facing a completely different situation, a temporary fix to enable an Election to go ahead smoothly. Its at least arguable that the Party Constitution doesn’t apply to these unforeseen circumstances.

  • Richard Underhill 14th Aug '19 - 8:24pm

    At the first conference of the merged party elected delegates were provided a copy of the constitution. This led to a series of constitutional amendments, some of which were passed, but we were never issued with an amended edition, except for the Preamble, which was unchanged.
    Maybe HQ has an amended version, hopefully on an electronic medium, but if a delegate wishes to write a constitutional amendment and get it approved at federal conference, he/she needs to have a copy of the constitution and not just a copy of the constitution of one, or both, of the preceding parties.

  • Has anyone considered that another referendum could still support the restoration of British sovereignty and even if it didn’t do you think true democrats would suddenly go away and accept such a trashing of the original result. Spoiler- no we won’t, that’s when the gloves would come off.

  • When the gloves come of Martin, a few keyboard warriors like yourself will go into melt down, the EDL types among you will cause a bit of fuss and that will be that. Remain can put a million people on the streets, you couldn’t even hit three figures for Fromarges walk from Sunderland. You hard core supporters are old, ill educated and pretty dammed apathetic if there is a threat of rain. So no I don’t fear you, but I do fear the damage that Brexit will do and so should you, if pain is to be inflicted on us all there will be scant sympathy when it is inflicted on you.

  • Dear Frankie let me assure thee, thou hast nothing to fear just the sunlit uplands a bright future to enjoy.

  • EUR ING R Farman 14th Aug '19 - 9:46pm

    What worries me is that the language used towards Brexiteers has become harsher and harsher. Those favouring remain seem prepared to use all means in, to coin a phrase, a “do or die” attempt to stop any Brexit. Through not listening to the 52%, there is a real danger that hearts and minds will be lost.

    If so, then it will push people further and further right. Indeed, former heads of the intelligence services have warned that the hard right is rising and may even pose a greater threat than those inclined to become “jihadis”. Indeed, this week marks the 50th anniversary of “The Battle of the Bogside”, where the hearts and minds of Northern Irish nationalists had been lost and horrendous violence all sides resulted.

    We can see in Hong Kong how hard people will fight for free speech and democracy. Brexit denied may result in a move from the ballot to the bullet, like Tommy Mair did on 16 June 2016. No politician seems to be considering this or heeding what the intelligence services are saying. That is most unwise.

  • Martin,
    Delusion doesn’t pay the rent, neither will it pay your pension. The old and weak are the first to go under when times get hard. Look at the implosion of the old Soviet union for details, neither the old or stupid did well in that environment. The chaos of Brexit is likely to have a similar outcome, which given the demographic of the leave voters, older and less well educated, well I’d put a small wager what the outcome for them will be; grim with a coating of even grimmer.

  • @ Richard Underhill – the current version of the Federal Party Constitution is available online from the party’s website (should anyone feel the urgent need to consult this).

  • Richard Underhill,

    I purchased a party constitution c 1989 and another one I think in September 1994. You can find the party constitutions on the party website – https://www.libdems.org.uk/constitution.

  • Michael Romberg 15th Aug '19 - 8:41am

    Support Corbyn as Prime Minister?

    No real point in swapping one hard Brexiter for another.

    We are not just opposed to No-Deal. We are opposed to Brexit.

    Support a neutral caretaker PM.

  • Boris Johnson’s remit is to leave the eu by whatever means possible and as soon as possible. Thus part of his plan might be to allow a further vote on a deal if sufficient Labour MPs support it. The debate then becomes again deal or no deal rather than our preferred remain or leave. In some ways leaving with a deal is worse than no deal as it will be essentially irreversible. A further referendum is the way out of this conundrum and our price for serving under a Labour administration would be this further vote.

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