Tag Archives: eu

An example from the EU on what to do when you screw up

Oh my, the EU screwed up badly yesterday. There is no doubt about that. Invoking Article 16 of the Northern Ireland protocol, however briefly, to prevent Covid vaccines getting into Northern Ireland via the Irish Border.

The Northern Irish and Irish Governments made clear their displeasure and, in very short order, the EU backtracked, as it should have done.

It was an example of the appropriate way to behave when you get it wrong. The EU is no more immune to screw-ups than the rest of us. In fact, it was really quite incredible that it got through the Brexit process by being pretty reasonable most of the time, in the face of extreme provocation from our ministers.

Last night, their leaders, when confronted with the consequences of their actions, didn’t hunker down and get all belligerent about getting Article 16 done, or anything. They stopped digging. Earlier this month, Boris Johnson was pretty gung-ho about the possibility of us invoking the same provision. I doubt that it would be resolved so unremarkably if he ever does.

Our Layla Moran talked about the need for calm heads in a difficult situation:

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Alistair Carmichael sets out a route map back to the EU

There has been a lot of talk about the party’s future approach to the EU. In a speech to Liberal Democrats in Cambridgeshire this week, Alistair Carmichael MP set out a possible route map back to full EU membership for the UK and has given us permission to reproduce his remarks.

For the last quarter century Britain’s relationship with her European neighbours has never been far from the centre of our political debate.

For the last five years it has been absolutely dominant.

Brexit may now have happened but few would be naïve enough to think that would be the end of the story.

Less than a month after Boris Johnson signed his trade and cooperation deal with the European Union the flaws and gaps are already apparent.

Our fishermen have woken up to the fact that they were used by Johnson, Farage, Gove et al.

Our young people are coming to terms with the loss of the Erasmus Programme and the opportunities that it brought.

Our exporters are finding that before they can take advantage of the tariff-free access of which the Prime Minister is so proud, they must first get past the Tory red tape manufactured in Whitehall on this side of the channel.

Clearly our relationship with Europe will remain with us as a politcal issue for years if not decades to come.

For us as a party that is a challenge and an opportunity.

This is a point where we have to take stock and go back to our liberal first principles – free trade, enterprise, internationalism.

Since Jo Grimond, my predecessor but one as MP for Orkney and Shetland, took up the reins as leader of the Liberal Party we have been consistent in our view that the United Kingdom’s best interests have best been served by being a member of what was then the European Communities or European Union as it is today.

We have not always got it right. Too often our response to an unrelenting barrage of abuse and misinformation by a right-wing press was to be drawn into defending the institutions of the EU and to look, as a consequence, like uncritical fans.

I confess I never found that to be an attractive or even a particularly liberal approach.

That was why in my early years in Parliament I was one of a handful of Lib Dem MPs who wanted to see political reform before we joined the Euro. I think that time has vindicated that judgement.

It was also why I resigned from Nick Clegg’s front bench team in order to vote for the referendum on the Lisbon Treaty that we had promised in our manifesto in 2005.

I remember journalists describing me then as that most unusual animal – the Lib Dem Eurosceptic.

I won’t deny the “most unusual” bit but to the rest my response then, as now, was that as a liberal I would always be sceptical about the workings of government. The need to reform the way we govern ourselves in the UK was one of the main issues that motivated me to join the Liberal Party in 1980 as a fourteen year old schoolboy.

While we have made some progress in decentralising power away from Whitehall in the creation of the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Senned and Northern Ireland Assembly there remains much still to do.

The House of Lords remains stubbornly resistant to reform;

Our electoral system remains obscenely unrepresentative in the governments that it provides;

Local Government has been starved of funds and shorn of power piece by piece for decades.

At no point, however, have my frustrations with the institutions power government and politics dimmed my belief in the fundamental principles that underpin them – respect for democracy and the rule of law.

I mention that now because – as we saw most graphically in Washington DC a few weeks ago – these truths that were once regarded as being so obvious and universally held that it was trite to mention them – are under attack by a movement of nationalist populism as never before.

When the very idea of liberal democracy is under attack then the need for Liberal Democrats is greater than ever.

When historians come to write the story of the first two decades of the twenty-first century that is how I believe (and hope) that the debate about Britain’s relationship with Europe will be seen.

Yes, we have suffered a major set-back in that battle between those who believe that reform is possible and those who will tell you that it will never happen.

Our party has always argued for Scotland to have her own parliament within a federal United Kingdom. Not because of any nationalist sentiment but because we believe that produces better government.

Similarly we have always believed that the United Kingdom, while maintaining its own parliament and institutions should be part of the European Union. There again we should be guided by what produces better outcomes rather than the colours of a flag.

Nothing has changed in that regard. Our Federal Party conference confirmed as much as recently as last September when we passed a motion in these terms “Conference resolves to support a longer terms objective of UK membership of the EU at an appropriate future date to be determined by political circumstances, subject to public assent, market and trade conditions and acceptable negotiated terms.”

That remains the position. The Liberal Democrats are a party that wants to see the U.K. eventually rejoin the EU.

Of course, we should make it equally and emphatically clear that this is not something that we seek immediately. It is probably at best a medium-term objective. Quite apart from healing the divisions that have blighted our politics and communities since 2016 any party in government must be focused on rebuilding our economy post-COVID. Anything else would be unforgiveable.

Even a medium-term objective, however, must demand more than warm words.

This is a time when we as a party need to make it clear that we not only want to see the United Kingdom return to full membership of the European Union but that we have a clear and credible route map for getting there.

Liberal Democrats have always been a party where policy is set by our members, and rightly so. Just as we set ourselves that goal of EU membership at last year’s conference I would like us all to play our part in designing the route map to get us there. Full EU membership may be a medium-term objective but the problems caused by being on the outside are real and acute and immediate.

They need and deserve more than warm words about close cooperation.

So my opening bid in that debate is this.

I would like to see our party argue for the United Kingdom to rejoin the European Free Trade Association and to do so as soon as possible. We were, after all, founding members in 1960.

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LibLink: Ed Davey – The Liberal Democrats are the most pro-European party in British politics

It is fair to say that quite a lot of Liberal Democrats were a bit worried by Ed Davey’s comments on Andrew Marr at the weekend that “we are not a rejoin party.”

In an article on the party website, he sets out his thinking. Rejoin is not an issue for now, but the Lib Dems will make the pro-European arguments and hope to persuade people that we can rejoin in the longer term.

He also warns against Scotland repeating the mistake of Brexit with independence.

The Liberal Democrats are the most pro-European party in British politics. We truly believe that we are stronger together, and internationalism will always be one of our core values.

That hasn’t changed now that we have left the European Union.

I am proud how we Liberal Democrats campaigned tirelessly against Brexit, and proud that last month all Liberal Democrat MPs voted against Johnson’s dreadful EU Trade Deal – already proving so disastrous to small businesses, fishermen and the wider economy.

And I’m determined the Liberal Democrats remain a pro-European party committed to the UK being members of the European Union again.

But we are realistic. We get that we lost the battle to stop Brexit.

It’s also a simple fact that the UK won’t be rejoining in the immediate future because the Conservative Government has a majority of 80.

So for now we must make the case for a close relationship with the EU and for the merits of free movement of people and highlight the huge problems caused by the chaotic Brexit.

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Let’s fix this country first

I have thought for a while that Brexit is not just about Brexit. Leaving the EU is only a step on the way for fundamental Brexiters to get what they want, which is to turn Britain into a neoliberal paradise – Singapore on Thames is exactly what they want. That being the case, populism is not going to disappear, because it is still the primary tool for securing that end. Farage has already switched from Brexit to covid: he is adept at latching on to anything that stokes resentment, and we will continue to see the politics of resentment at high intensity for years to come.

For that reason, I think Nick Tolhurst here:

is right about future prospects but wrong about strategy. I’m coming to think more and more that figuring out how to rejoin the EU is the wrong focus, for two reasons. The first is that the populists will use it against us very successfully: it will actually do us more harm than good. The second is that if we are to be acceptable as renewed members of the EU we have to fix this country first. We have massive problems – the voting system which denies power to people, the Parliamentary system which denies power to MPs, the media system which allows newspapers to tell lies without consequence, the tax system which allows rich people to find all sorts of ways to protect “their” money, the economic system which promotes inequality (and inequality kills, as we are seeing ever more with Covid), etc, etc, etc.

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EU Trade Deal: there are no good options left

European and British flags.

I hate 13th December. I really, really do.

On this day in 1984, my Grandma died, way too soon, at the age of 64. I still miss her.

And last year, in the early hours, any hope of avoiding Brexit evaporated as Boris Johnson got a majority that could have enabled him to govern with more wisdom and flexibility from the constraints of the reckless extremes of his party. He chose not to take that chance.

On top of it all, we lost Jo. I’m still not over that. She remains one of the most exceptionally talented people I have ever known. She’s proof that the best people don’t always win in politics.

An election once Jo had had the time to establish herself would, I suspect, have had a very different result.

We are where we are though. And it isn’t fun. 2020 has not excelled itself. A couple of bright spots – the election of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, to be confirmed by the Electoral College tomorrow, the development of effective vaccines against Covid have not lifted the gloom by much.

Now the dreaded 13th December is the day we enter the final stage of the Brexit drama.

Whatever emerges from the EU negotiations over the next hours is going to be far from good. We’re looking at a catastrophic no deal or a damaging fig leaf of a deal that will hurt our businesses and cost people their jobs and homes. Let’s be clear. The Government is choosing this path. It had better options open to it. When we were gripped in the first wave of Covid, they could have done the responsible thing and requested an extension to the transition period. We’d have voted for it, so would the SNP. Labour probably would and the EU would almost certainly have granted it. The more excitable ERG types on the Conservative benches would have made a lot of noise, but we would have bought ourselves some time and stability.

I’ve always thought that the Brexit agenda was mostly about turning our economy into a low regulation, rights-free zone. This is why they are so resistant to any future improvements in things like environmental standards or workers’ rights. They dress it up as sovereignty, but it’s an oligarch’s charter really.

They manipulated people’s feeling of powerlessness with false promises of taking back control. The truth is that those people at the sharp end, the lowest paid and most vulnerable, will have less control than they had before.

There should be no problem with accepting the EU’s reasonable level playing field requirement in the trade deal. I doubt that there will be any major changes within the next few years anyway. These things take time to get through and would take even longer to actually come into force. If there were any changes, we could debate them and decide whether to accept them or take the consequences.

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27 September 2020 – Conference day 3 press releases

  • Liberal Democrats challenge Government’s “power grab” planning proposals
  • Liberal Democrats adopt transformative racial justice plan
  • BBC licence fee should be set by independent body, Liberal Democrats say
  • Stalled talks with EU threaten climate action, Liberal Democrats warn
  • Stopping no-deal must be the priority, Liberal Democrats say

Liberal Democrats challenge Government’s “power grab” planning proposals

In a policy motion adopted today at the Liberal Democrats’ Autumn Conference, the Party has warned that the Government’s planning proposals will “disempower” councils and allow developers to “run roughshod” over local communities’ wishes.

The motion lays bare the risks of the Government’s proposals, which the Party argue amount to a Government “power grab” that will reduce investment in affordable housing, damage public scrutiny of planning decisions, and potentially undermine climate commitments.

By supporting the motion, the Liberal Democrat members reaffirmed their commitment to challenging the move through the Government’s consultation process and reject the “reduction of local control”.

Liberal Democrat Housing, Communities and Local Government spokesperson Tim Farron said:

Planning decisions have incredible power to shape the places we live for the better. Local people are clearly best placed to decide what “better” looks like in their area, and to know what their community really needs.

Yet the Conservatives’ planning power grab will disempower local people and local authorities alike, and lead to even fewer affordable homes being built. Instead of addressing the root cause of the housing crisis, the Tories’ proposals serve the interests of wealthy developers, giving them carte blanche to run roughshod over local communities’ wishes.

As this motion shows, the Liberal Democrats wholeheartedly object to these proposals. We’ll be doing everything in our power to ensure our voice is heard through the consultation process. We are also calling on the Government to act now to address the housing crisis, by matching the Liberal Democrats’ ambition to build 100,000 social homes for rent every year.

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Party’s new European policy – reaffirming our values

For the past few months via numerous zoom calls and countless redrafts, I have been heavily involved in formulating the Europe motion that was debated at Conference and fully endorsed the party’s new policy which was adopted overwhelmingly and stated our long term commitment to membership of the European Union unequivocally, that we believe Brexit to be wrong and that the EU is the UK’s natural home. I know for some that position probably doesn’t go far or fast enough, but as hard as it is to say – as someone who spent the past five years trying to prevent …

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Lib Dems back long term aspiration to rejoin EU

On Lib Dem Voice: Reportage | Contribute
On the official party website: Conference home


Well, that was tense!

Of all the votes to have technical issues, it would just have to be the one between two hotly contested amendments, wouldn’t it?

Thankfully, the outcome wasn’t even close with 331 backing the more emphatic “Rejoin now” Amendment 1 and 1071  backing Amendment 2 proposed by Duncan Brack and eventually accepted by the leadership. It’s a huge number of people taking part and was the outcome I thought most likely but at times did not seem assured.

The debate was at times a bit fractious, with speeches on both sides going a bit over the top.

However, there were some very thoughtful and measured contributions which probably did more to persuade people.

There was a small moment of drama when Wera Hobhouse MP was called. It had been reported that she would support Amendment 1, but she confirmed straight away that she was supporting Amendment 2.

So what have we passed? You can read the main motion on page 11 here.

It’s as you would expect, pointing out the problems with Brexit, the Government’s appalling handling of it and affirming our support for freedom of movement, EU Citizens and all manner of food and environmental and security co-operation.

The contentious bit was this:

In the longer term, conference resolves to keep all options open for the UK’s future relationship with the EU, including membership at an appropriate future date to be determined by political circumstances, subject to public assent, market and trade conditions and acceptable negotiated terms.

The amendment passed changed that last bit to:

In the longer term, Conference resolves to support a longer term objective of UK membership of the EU at an appropriate future date to be determined by political circumstances, subject to public assent, market and trade conditions and acceptable negotiated terms.

So here are some of the highlights of the debate in tweets:

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Ten former MEPs write….Why now is not the right time to campaign to rejoin the EU

This weekend at our party conference we will debate our Europe motion, clarifying the party’s policy on our relations with and towards the EU.

The main focus of debate between members is likely to be around  ‘r’. Not the COVID ‘r’, which we have all become used to, but the Brexit ‘r’ word – rejoin. 

We all remember the joy we felt last May when our representation in Europe went from one solitary MEP, Catherine Bearder, to a surprisingly fulsome group of 16 from right across the country – several of whom had not expected to be elected. 

It was a symbol of how strongly people felt about Brexit, and, thanks to a proportional electoral system, their commitment to EU membership was reflected in our election result. 

I can honestly say no one in the party, or outside it, regrets our departure from Europe more strongly than the 16 of us. 

But the world has changed since 31st January beyond what any of us could have imagined.

Hard though it is to accept, for those of us who fought tooth and nail to stop Brexit, most people’s attention is now far more  are now far more focused distracted by on COVID and the implications it is having for their families and jobs, the economy, education and our health and social care services. 

As a party, it would be wise for us  to focus on the fact that only 2% of UK voters now think Brexit is the most important issue facing us. We are back to the sort of numbers seen before the EU referendum was even a thing. Remember that? When no one ever talked about our relationship with Europe – except the Daily Mail!

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How you can help save the Au Pair programme

Spending a year as an au pair in Berlin was one of the best years of my life. I made lasting friendships, learned a language and gained a lot of sympathy for the challenges of parenting. 

The experience of au pairing abroad at a young age has been enjoyed by young people for hundreds of years. Long before the Erasmus student exchange program was born, Europe’s youth have been swapping their home for a year in Rome, Paris or London. At the same time, thousands of families benefit from the au pair program with affordable childcare and the opportunity to exchange cultures and languages. 

German au pairs will continue to spend a life changing year in Paris, and Polish au pairs can enjoy a summer as an au pair in Dublin. In the UK, this is all about the come to a stop because of Brexit. 

According to the British Au Pair Agencies Association (BAPAA), the number of au pairs coming to the UK has already plummeted by seventy-percent

This is because au pairs from EU member states have been able to arrive in the UK without a visa under the rule of free movement of people. As the Tory government is hellbent on putting a stop to free movement, the centuries old au pair program is collateral damage. 

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A longer read for the weekend: The case for an extension to the Brexit transition period

It’s hard to believe that something which had dominated our lives for so long – Brexit – has almost completely fallen off the radar.

After the shock of the December General Election, and the brutality of losing our jobs and heading home from Brussels in January, we former MEPs were geared up for the long haul of holding the government to account as it ground its way through tortuous post Brexit trade negotiations with the EU.

And when Boris Johnson spoke of ‘healing the rift’ between leavers and remainers, it seemed an impossible idea. 

Little did any of us think a global pandemic would sweep across the globe and make those two words almost redundant within weeks. We are now a people divided between frontline workers and those who stay at home, the vulnerable and those less at risk, the sick and the well.

But while many people have far more urgent things to concentrate on, it is vital that some of us don’t take our eyes off what’s happening with Brexit. The transition clock is ticking loudly and it’s only a few weeks until the UK has to decide whether it will ask for an extension to the transition period that is due to end on December 31. 

Senior Europeans say that while the case for an extension is overwhelming, there is little appetite for it on the UK side. And while the Government might be tempted to use COVID-19 to camouflage the disaster of a crash out from the single market and customs union at the end of the year, the costs will be high – and less affordable than ever. 

This government, picked for its adherence to the Brexit mantra rather than its ability to steer us out of the COVID-19 crisis, still seems hell bent on crashing out, rather than looking at the changed landscape we now find ourselves in and accepting that not only we, but other governments too, have other things to think about.

We are so far away from reaching an agreement with the EU that it is fantasy to assume it is now possible. The timeline was extremely tight to begin with, but after talks stalled due to illness and isolation, the prospect of a deal has become even less likely.

And the UK’s refusal to make their negotiating mandate public is infuriating EU capitals. They don’t even know what the UK side is aiming for.

“The problems are immense: the British texts, which are not made public, don’t cover a number of key priorities. Nothing substantial on a level playing field, no text whatsoever on fisheries so far, no recognition of the role of ECJ or ECHR, no commitments regarding climate change, no certainty in the protection of data… The Political declaration is forgotten,” said one senior European who is well aware of what’s happening in the negotiations. 

The source said there was nothing concrete so far on how the UK sees its relationship with EU security or defence policies but by contrast they are making huge demands about access to European data, with no strings attached. 

“More generally, there is an aggressive tone which hurts and doesn’t help. There are many reasons why the talks are only talks, and not proper negotiations. The risk of a no deal is serious and obviously a scenario which has some traction in London.” 

During a remote meeting of the UK-EU Friendship Group set up by MEPs before the UK contingent headed home, Polish MEP Radek Sikorski (EPP) said: “We should all prepare ourselves for a super hard Brexit at the end of this year.”

And French MEP Nathalie Loiseau (Renew Europe), said: “The pace of negotiations is pretty slow. There’s very little progress. We ask for no posturing ideology, but for care for individuals and businesses who will be affected by this.”

The feeling in Brussels is that the UK still wants an agreement with all the benefits, but with minimal obligations. Their language is couched in ideology and hubris. Never mind the details of what being a ‘third country’ means in reality, fulfilling an election promise still seems far more important – regardless of the fact that whole world order has fundamentally changed. 

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Von der Leyens promises to address some of the UK’s direst needs: Poverty, Social Security, Clean Air Cities

The speech by German minister Von der Leyen (VDL), the proposed president of the European Commission, appealing to the sceptical centre parties (Liberals, Social Democrats, Greens) in the European Parliament, brought the Brexit Party MEPs to howls of both approval and anguish, according to Dutch media.

When she regretfully accepted that the UK appears on the way out, Farage’s bench applauded wildly. But when she added that she is ready to extend negotiations beyond Halloween, those cheers instantly turned into jeers.

And in his response, Farage again trotted out the “EU = Soviet Eastern Bloc” trope, to which VDL responded “we can probably do without what you have got to say here”. Dutch media quoted VDL responding to Farage’s Orbanite allies:  “I didn’t expect to get your support”.

In her speech, and in the accompanying resignation of controversial EU insider/super-technocrat Martin Selmayr, many saw new points that address failings in the present EU procedures, decision-making and legislation:

  • Giving the European Parliament the right to initiative; possibly heralding a critical review of EU nomination, decision and policy making procedures;
  • Opening up a formal debate about transnational party lists and “Spitzenkandidaten” at the next European elections; and
  • Starting, in this Trumpian era, a debate in the EU Human & Civil Rights agenda about sexual violence and its female (and LGBTQ+) victims.

Which beggars the question: why leave the EU just when it finally addresses shortcomings and failures of its democracy and human rights?

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The Truth about Europe

I had the opportunity to visit the EU Parliament in Brussels last week with a group of PPCs. We were hosted by Sir Graham Watson, former Lib Dem MEP (1994-2014), and the Friedrich Naumann Foundation. Our group heard informative talks by the EU Commission’s Director General of Trade, by the Senior Advisor to Renew Europe (former ALDE) and by the Research Director from the European Policy Centre, amongst others.

Representing a constituency which voted Leave in the EU Referendum, I thought it would be useful to post some of the information sources on the workings of the EU. So much of the 2016 Referendum was shrouded in hearsay and untruths, here are the facts.

There is a great resource online, “What the EU does for me” which has information on EU projects in your area, briefings on EU policies, and a large section on how the EU affects various aspects of daily life. This website is a great place to start.

An issue which came up several times in our discussions was how to combat fake news. There are several websites which tackle the myriad untruths:

And here is a download of the June 2019 report on the EU’s action to fight fake news.

The ‘EU Citizenship Portal’ contains information about people’s rights and how to get involved in EU policy making. The ‘Have Your Say’ portal on the Europa website is for citizens and stakeholders to send their concerns and interests directly to policy-makers and decision makers.

European Citizens’ Initiatives (petitions) allow citizens to initiate legislation themselves, such as was the case with the Right2Water citizens’ initiative. The European Commission responds to all citizen correspondence it receives, in the language of the citizen contacting them.

We all know that in campaigning, emotional appeal works better than facts and figures. So for stories on how the EU makes a difference in people’s lives, check out the #EUandME campaign which includes short films highlighting European values and experiences.

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Our European Election campaign priorities

It seems inevitable that the elections to the European Parliament will be read as a vote on Brexit. That risks the election campaign being a rehash of the referendum,  alienating an electorate frustrated by #BrexitShambles, and putting the emphasis on whether we should be there rather than on what our we are electing people to do.

Instead of this, campaigning on the core of the programme of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe gives us a chance to shift the debate, adding something new and inviting supporters of Brexit to see things differently.

ALDE’s programme begins with a summary the British electorate would do well to hear:

In more than 60 years of European integration, the European Union has served us well in achieving peace, stability and prosperity. The EU has promoted and extended to half a billion people the four freedoms: the free movement of people, services, capital and goods across borders. We want the Union to play a key leadership role in tackling today’s and tomorrow’s global challenges.

As such, the ALDE Party believes in a Europe based on the fundamental Liberal principles of liberty, democracy, the rule of law, human rights, tolerance and solidarity. We believe in a fair, free and open society which harnesses the abilities of each and every one of its citizens to participate fully in society, presenting them with the opportunities to fulfil their potential, free from poverty, ignorance, and discrimination.

The full ALDE manifesto is something to be proud of. The core statements in the political programme strike a powerful chord: a prosperous Europe, sustainable development and peace in the world, renew the EU and building a transparent, democratic and accountable Europe. Nuancing the descriptions a little for a British audience:

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D’Hondt complain afterwards if you d’Hondt understand it…

Not everyone in the country takes a lot of interest in the intricate details of electoral systems, and that probably includes most politicians including the new Chukkers on the block, and almost all the media.

A lot of people know that you can have “first past the post” (FPTP which in practice usually means the candidate who has got closest to the post when the whistle goes) and “proportional representation” which includes all the other systems ever invented. And that’s about it.

The thing is that the way the votes are counted is one of the two things (together with how people vote) that decides who gets elected. Stalin is supposed to have said that what matters is not how people vote but who counts the votes. In the Euro elections, the counting takes place by a system known as d’Hondt after one Victor of that ilk who is (possibly) one of the most famous Belgians to have lived.

FPTP is designed for a binary choice. It works perfectly when there are only two candidates – or in a for-and-against referendum. In elections when there are lots of parties, all standing for different things, it’s hopeless. On the other hand, d’Hondt is designed for just that – it will allocate seats more or less proportionately between lots of parties standing for different things (though it discriminates against the smallest ones). It is useless at making a binary choice.

Yet it has for a long time been as clear as daylight that if we have EU elections next month they will be proxy for a new referendum on the UK’s EU membership. It would work if there were just two parties standing (though I suppose we would have to let the Labour lot in to provide a third choice for the fence-sitters.) In practice, there are going to be more serious contenders than ever. And there is a huge danger that Farage’s Brexit party will sweep up the Leavers and “top the poll” in both votes and seats, while the People’s Voters and Remainers are split umpteen ways.

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Article 50: Into extra time

I suspect I was far from the only Liberal Democrat who had a stiff drink pre-arranged for 11pm last night , to drown my sorrows if the UK did crash out of the European Union. The notice of a reprieve was quite short, but for Remainers the threat still hangs over us, like the sword of Damocles. As Article 50 moves into extra time, the EU has made clear that it is serious that 12 April is the next deadline, just two weeks away, when a No Deal scenario will snap into effect as the default option unless the British government manages to produce a rabbit out of the hat.

Alas, our zombie Prime Minister, Theresa May, is incapable of such magic. Indeed, she has already paraded her dead parrot of a Withdrawal Agreement three times to no effect, yesterday  afternoon serving it up without the accompanying political declaration. It was still defeated by nearly 60 votes, Nigel Dodds of the DUP declaring that his party would rather stay in the EU than agree to it.

The House of Commons vote was live-streamed to a packed The UK in a Changing Europe conference on “Article50: Two Years On” at the Queen Elizabeth Conference Centre opposite Parliament, prompting a big cheer from most of those present. But have we in fact now been granted anything more than another fortnight to enjoy the EU sun? Or are we heading for a new referendum at some stage, when, as polling guru Sir John Curtice told the conference, voters have polarised to two extreme alternatives: No Deal or Remain?

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My contribution to the EU Budget – the best tenner I ever spent

My annual tax report for the year 2017-18 arrived the other day.

It outlined to me what I get for the relatively low tax I pay every month.

The last item on the breakdown broke my heart.

“Contribution to the EU Budget – £10”

That’s all it costs.

For that I get:

Freedom to work and travel and live in 28 countries

The prosperity that being in the customs union and single market brings, with the added advantage that showing up with 27 of your mates when you are trying to do business with the likes of Donald Trump and the Chinese Government brings.

This country’s universities getting access to research funding to carry out investigations which will help us to learn more about how the world works and develop ways to fix its problems.

My son having the chance to study anywhere across the EU via the Erasmus programme

Joint arrangements on radioactive isotopes and the like through Euratom

Co-operation on security across the 28 member states

Protection of my employment rights, keeping me safe from the right wing small state instincts of most of the politicians who campaigned for Brexit. 

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LibLink: Vince Cable: Don’t let healthy scepticism about China become paranoia

A tasty breakfast

As Business Secretary, Vince Cable was responsible for global trade and had to deal with the growing economic might of China. He writes about this in an article for City AM.

He has a stark warning for those seeking a trade deal. It’s not going to be much fun without 27 of your mates to watch your back:

And while the EU with its combined heft is able to be both tough and constructive, Britain on its own will be a largely powerless supplicant. I suspect that the Chinese, seeing Britain desperate for a trade deal of its own, will

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The path to victory lies through Brexit Britain. As Remainers, we need to show them we’re on their side

This week in Parliament we might just have scored the first victory in our long march to a People’s Vote. Now, if a referendum is truly close at hand, the hard work must now start: we need to convince Brexit Britain that it ought to change its mind.

Sure, Remain’s supposedly got an eight-point lead in the opinion polls. But that was true in 2016… plus ça change?

To win, we must convince Leave voters in places like the East Midlands town of Wellingborough, where I live and had the pleasure to be Lib Dem candidate at the last General Election. In many ways this ought to be natural Remain territory: it’s a diverse town, with both a mosque and an ornate Hindu temple. Local voters elected New Labour in 1997, electing a MP who called for the legislation of cannabis, and we even host an annual Pride event in a town centre park. Yet we voted Leave by 63% and are represented by arch-Brexiteer and Sven-Goran Eriksson lookalike Peter Bone.

How did this happen? When you speak to ordinary voters, the mystery becomes clear. Yes, it is true that some voters talk of immigration, a lost identity or misplaced notions of ‘lost sovereignty’. For most Brexit voters, however, the root causes of Brexit are emphatically human: they feel let down and left behind by politicians in Westminster and (yes) Brussels, and they feel buffeted from the consequences of a fragile global economy. Above all they feel they’ve lost control.

These are people who see ever more fragile employment, with an explosion in zero-hour contracts and ten years of pay restraint, coupled with impossible house prices. They see an education system failing to deliver practical skills, with FE colleges where funding has been cut to the bone and where those without a degree are ever more marginalised. In town centres they seem the places they are proud of become ever more empty, bereft of the brands with which they are familiar. And, as they struggle to take control over their lives, is it any wonder that the pledges and half-truths of the Leave campaign were so attractive?

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Lord William Wallace writes…Heading towards a real crisis?

When I first read a commentator in a serious newspaper saying, in the early summer, that the UK was heading towards a potential political and constitutional crisis, of the sort that we have not faced for a century, I thought that was an exaggeration.  Now I’m not so sure.  In the course of the next few weeks, if the Prime Minister’s attempts to achieve a deal to leave the EU which will at once satisfy enough members of her party, appeal to a number of Labour MPs as well, keep the DUP on board, and not provoke a run on the pound and a slump in business confidence, collapse, with less than six months to go before the UK is due to leave, British politics – and the British economy – will be in unknown territory.

The atmosphere in Westminster is surreal.  I ran into two senior Conservatives with whom I have worked this week, both of whom remarked bitterly to me about the behaviour of colleagues within their own party.  Confusion, bitter rivalries, and for some despair, grip many MPs within the Labour Party as well.  Neither House is busy; legislation is thin, while we all wait for the government to send us the weight of bills and statutory instruments needed to arrive at an orderly transition at the end of March.  It’s now almost too late to manage that without emergency sessions and extended sittings.  Even the  trade bill, which has been through the Commons and had its second reading in the Lords, is now stalled until some clarity emerges on what sort of future relationship it needs to cover.  And behind that stretches a succession of bills and statutory instruments, promised for last Spring and postponed by the government’s own failure to agree.

The government statement on Tuesday, as Parliament returned, talked of a possible ‘delay between the end of the implementation period and the entry into force of the treaty on our future relationship.’  That suggests that the current uncertainty, which is leading banks and companies to start moving investment and staff out of Britain, could lead after the 21-month transition period, to a void without an agreed framework. Most trade experts say that it will take 3-5 years to negotiate a treaty which will then require ratification by 27 EU states as well as the UK.  The battle within the Conservatives about whether any ‘temporary’ arrangements should be strictly time-limited is about what happens in 2021, with the ideologues determined that we drop out of current arrangements then, and the pragmatists within the government (yes, there are still a few) recognising that our economy – and our security and foreign policy – need certainty about some continuing framework.

Meanwhile, panic preparations are underway to prepare for a ‘No Deal’ outcome, which begins to look quite possible.  You will have heard of the start of work on lorry parks stretching back for Dover – for up to 10,000 lorries, potentially tying up a significant part of the freight transport fleet.  Stories from Whitehall say that officials are being pulled out of their regular duties into emergency teams to prepare for a No Deal scenario.  Across the water, the DUP is threatening to bring down the government, while the SNP is preparing to campaign for a second independence referendum if the UK crashes out of the EU – which they would probably win. The possibility that the UK might break up, with Northern Ireland opinion moving towards favouring unification with Dublin and Scotland going it alone, looks real.

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Vince: PM’s plan weakens Britain

I should have actually written it on here, but I reckoned that the number of Cabinet ministers resigning today would be zero. Whether that holds up when they start to get grief from their constituency associations is yet to be seen.

It was always clear that whatever came out of the Chequers summit today would be less than what we have already.

We can’t get as good a deal as we get from being a full member of the European Union. We should be in there shaping hhe EU response to the challenges facing us all whether they be on security or …

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How Britain staying in can help hold the EU together

 Little by little, the Brexiteers are losing their battle to force our country out of the EU. Although it isn’t yet generally recognised that the vaunted ‘will of the people’ is being exploited by wealthy individuals who have no interest in the economic well-being of ordinary citizens,  moderate pragmatists in both the UK and the EU seem to be strengthening our ties, to mutual benefit – all the more desirable, in a time of trade war.

First, there was the acceptance by Mrs May’s government that things will stay the same, in UK  contributions and rule-keeping and access, throughout a ‘transition period’ up to the end of 2020. Now we hear that the EU Council, representing the individual states, has invited Britain to help determine the EU’s budget up to 2027, in the expectation that we will still be paying large sums to Brussels for years after Brexit.

According to a report in The Times on Tuesday, our government is accepting this invitation, to the fury of both Brexiteers and, interestingly, the EU Commission, which has just presented its seven-year budget proposals for the years 2021- 2028. The Commission is proposing that the gap in finances caused by Britain’s departure should be filled by higher national contributions and spending cuts. The Council apparently prefers to keep Britain’s contributions flowing in. If so, May’s wish for ‘greatest possible access to the single market’ could be granted for several more years, at a suitable price.

Yet this is surely just another sip from a poisoned chalice for Remainers. As with the transition period, acceptance of a further period of ‘belonging’ – like a foster-child bound to leave ‘home’ eventually – obscures the fatal date of the end of March next year when we are pledged to leave. Later rather than sooner, all the ills of severance from our greatest trading partner must happen, unless the British people are given the chance to vote to stay in through a referendum on the deal arranged this year. 

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Brexit: what will happen to the European Social Fund?

The Work and Pensions Committee has been conducting an inquiry into the future of the European Social Fund.

This fund provides £500 million each year

“for employment support programmes for people who struggle to access and benefit from mainstream support.  This includes disabled people, ex-offenders, and the long-term unemployed.

The future of ESF-type funding after Brexit is currently uncertain. Leaving the European Union could offer the UK an opportunity to design its own, improved version of the funding. The Committee is considering the case for a successor fund to the ESF, and what this fund might look like.

The report released yesterday says the government will create a UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF) which “will serve a similar purpose to the existing European Structural and Investment Funds (ESI—of which ESF is one)”.

But will it?

Witnesses in the inquiry emphasised that the transition between European Social Fund monies and future funding must be “seamless and immediate”. A gap in funding would be a ‘nightmare scenario”. 

Just one example given was the testimony by Steve Hawkins, Chief Executive of Pluss. This is a Community Interest Company who supports people with disabilities in finding employment. Mr Hawkins outlined some of the issues faced:

Rural isolation, for example, where people are further away and require additional support, whether it be housing issues, transportation needs, training or confidence building, a whole range of things that need to be addressed fundamentally before they are in a position to sit in front of an interview panel and secure a job.

The Work and Pensions Committee says:

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Why we should “Stay” and not “stop Brexit”

Much of our campaign since the 2017 general election has revolved around the “Exit from Brexit”. We need to win over Remainers; by having a clear and repeated anti-Brexit position, the electorate will know what we stand for.

There are a few problems.

Firstly, we are not “anti-Brexit”, we are pro-EU. Every time we say “Brexit”, we evoke certain thought patterns within the minds of voters, particularly the so-called ReLeavers (those who voted Remain but feel we should Leave because of the referendum).

We normalise Brexit. We make it seem mainstream. In an effort to be radical outsiders, we make Liberal Democrats seem like they want to do something weird that nobody voted for. As such, we should avoid the term at all possible costs. For starters, Tom Brake should no longer be our Brexit Spokesperson but our EU Spokesperson.

Secondly, “stop Brexit” terminology forces our current campaign to be negative.

Thirdly, in many areas of the country, we are trying to win over Leave voters.

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How Brexit could strengthen us

Amid all the bad news about Brexit – the lies on the bus, the shrinking economy, the paralysed opposition, we are prone to forget the benefits it is bringing us. I am talking about our understanding of the European Union. Politicians who have for years loftily ignored it are at last being forced to find out a bit about how it works. Large numbers of the population who had hardly heard of the EU before the referendum are gaining some glimmer of what it’s all about.

So a nation for years isolated …

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The final deal: what would we say?

If there is a referendum on the final deal about leaving the European Union, what would we say? Here is my starter:

Background

We recognise that the vote to leave the EU was fuelled (in part) by dissatisfaction with growing levels of inequality, and felt pressure on cultural values and identity. So we need to address a) the reasons why staying in the EU is better than leaving, as well as b) how we are going to address inequality in the UK and the identity issues tied up with some of our suspicion of foreigners. I think it is also important to make the point that staying in the EU is not the goal. It is a step towards our goal of ensuring that this country works for everyone, and not just the élite.


This is not just about the EU, it is about how we run this country, and about the fact that we can run this country better for the benefit of everybody in the EU rather than out of the EU.

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For liberal, independent voices

This is a liberal site, a place for discussion amongst liberals, and those who are supporters or members of the Liberal Democrats. But it is an independent site, and welcomes those with different views , as long as there is respect.

On the most important decision and issue for many, currently, it is the moment for liberal and independent voices.

The decision and display of and by Martin Schulz, the leader of the Social Democratic Party of Germany, to push for, as a declaration of intent for coalition, ” a united States of Europe ” has changed the nature of this debate for Liberals and any of an independent disposition. He goes so far as to , more than imply, but to encourage those states who do not agree to leave the EU. This attitude and all that goes with it, spells the destruction of the EU as it is, and changes the naysayers of Brexit, and those who voted Remain, myself included, to reconsider.

I am no Europhile. Nor am I a Eurosceptic. I am a Europragmatist. I have, as one of part Italian and Irish origin, a view,  in no way as sentimental, in favour of the EU project. It is  in my view, a project. It is not, nor should it be a state, super, or not. We cannot be supporters of individuals and nations, of localism in our Liberalism, and back the creation of a superstate, a continent as a country, a Leviathan.

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Vince: Lib Dems demand an exit from Brexit referendum

Here’s Vince addressing the considerable crowds at the #stopBrexitManchester march. This is what he had to say.

We are in Manchester because the Conservative Party are here and we want them to hear our voices – to tell Theresa May and Boris Johnson that we are not ‘citizens of nowhere’, but people who are proud to be British, and proud to be European.

We must tell the government what is at stake here.

Take the great research institutions in

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Discussing the European Refugee ‘Crisis’ and the UK’s Responsibilities.

We had a very well attended fringe meeting in Bournemouth on this important issue – helped and sustained by the great Dorset  High Tea, kindly provided by Liberal Democrat Voice.

There are over 65 million forcibly displaced persons worldwide, 22 million of whom are refugees who have left their country of origin. Over half of refugees are children. Nearly 90% of refugees currently reside in states bordering conflict zones in the global south. A relatively minimal amount have sought and been granted safety in western European states. This insightful and fascinating fringe event explored and analysed the European response to refugee flows and the UK’s involvement in that response and their policies towards refugees.

Professor Brad Blitz, Professor of International Politics at Middlesex university, opened the discussion with the serious concern that there is very little critical evaluation or accountability of the EU and UK policies towards refugees. Aid and humanitarian polices are not currently based on enough evidence of effectiveness, and decision-making is poorly informed. Numerous reports have condemned French and in particular UK policies as failing to protect refugee children, failing to protect the human rights of refugees and migrants, and the failure of EU’s policy of containment.

Professor Blitz emphasised a note of caution in using the term European refugee ‘crisis’ as it fails to acknowledge that crossings of the Mediterranean and informal settlements have been occurring for over a decade, and the term can invite a reactionary ill-informed response rather than a well-considered and sustainable legal and political framework through which to aid and settle refugees.

A reactionary response aptly describes the majority of EU states’ policies towards the influx of refugees and migrants from 2015-2016 (Germany being a notable exception). European states responded with border enforcement, increased passport control between Schengen area countries, and the construction of fences (notable examples being the 180km fences on the Hungarian border as well as like blockades at Idomeni and Calais). These measures reflect an ‘inhospitality towards migrants’, leave thousands of refugees and migrants stranded on borders. They also have a knock on effect on Lebanon and Jordan who have similarly reinforced border controls in relation to Syrians. 

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Reintroducing Liberal Leave

 

Liberal Leave was formed as a part of Vote Leave during the EU referendum. It had the slogan “Liberal. Democratic. Internationalist.” and it mainly operated through social media. The most high-profile figure in the Group was an ex-MP called Paul Keetch who wrote an article in the Independent called “Think that if you are liberal you should vote to stay in the EU? Think again”. I was part of that group during the EU referendum and I now chair it.

I have tried to change the group so it is about a compromise between Remain and Leave, one that can be found in the ‘Icelandic option’ which differs from the ‘Norway option’ due to its use of safeguard measures. Compromise is what I feel Brexit should now be about, because otherwise hard-line groups on either side will shape it for us in the years to come.

We are against a second referendum. The argument used by Tim Farron during the recent election campaign was that we didn’t vote for a destination, just to leave the EU and that’s right. Therefore, we should have a referendum on just that, the destination. Do we want to remain members of the single market and do we want to remain members of the customs union? We should ask that rather than replaying the EU referendum.

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