Tag Archives: eu

Conundrum of referendums and why we need another one

Referendums? Are you really so dumb? Surely it should be referenda? All right, I openly admit that I’m no expert on referendums, or referenda, my background being in science and medicine. The following thoughts are strictly those of a layman, but they should be relatively light on establishment bias and received wisdom.

I see five problems and a conundrum

The first problem is that referenda are subject to ‘populist’ forces. What is meant by that?

Suppose there was a referendum on whether we wanted to pay taxes. The populist lobby, attuned to the visceral nature of taxation, would urge us to take back control of our own money. Why let faceless bureaucrats in the government tell us what to do with it? The people should decide how much to give to public services, the armed forces and so on.

In an ideal world of sensible altruistic people, that might work. More likely, the country would go bankrupt.

The second drawback of any referendum is that it polarises and divides with the efficiency of a football match. Supporters flock to opposing sides, whatever the question at issue. Had the question on the ballot paper been “Should be EU remain as it is or move towards greater integration?”, we would now be a nation of remainers pitted against integrationists. A better sort of division, but still a divided nation.

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Baroness Joan Walmsley writes….Tories ensure more taxation without representation

It was Thomas Mayhew, minister of the West Church in Martha’s Vineyard, who coined the slogan “No taxation without representation” in 1750, capturing in that phrase one of the major causes of the American civil war.

Of course, this phrase reflected a clause of the Magna Carta, written in 1215.

British citizens who live outside of the United Kingdom are currently entitled to vote in elections for only 15 years after leaving the UK, but the Conservatives promised to extend this to lifetime enfranchisement in their 2015 election manifesto. The Tories said they were intent on “scrapping the rule that bars British citizens who have lived abroad for more than 15 years from voting” and would introduce “votes for life”, opening up registration to more of the five million Britons who live abroad. (There are currently less than a quarter of a million overseas residents registered to vote.)

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Farron: May taken to Tusk

The Lib Dem Press Office has had its Weetabix this morning. Not only did it get its punchy analysis of the EU’s statement about the Brexit negotiations out quickly, but it came up with a pretty eye-catching headline.

Here’s what Tim Farron had to say about the EU statement – and it does not reflect well on Theresa May and her Brexiteers:

These guidelines show the strength of the EU in these negotiations, and the carelessness of the UK government in isolating themselves from our European allies.

The terms are clear: no sector by sector deals, no bilateral negotiations and no new trade deal until the withdrawal terms are agreed. This leaves no doubt that Davis’ comments about special arrangements for the car industry or financial sector are worthless.

It is still possible for the British people to stop a Hard Brexit and keep us in the Single Market. And if they want, it is still possible for the British people to choose to remain in the European Union. The Liberal Democrats are the only party opposing this hard, destructive Brexit.

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LibLink: Nick Clegg: The EU is facing a liberal insurgence. Now is not the time for Britain to leave

Nick Clegg has been writing for the Independent in the wake of the Dutch elections in which the racist populist Geert Wilders didn’t do as well as expected. He recounted a family gathering in the Netherlands at Christmas time.

What was striking when we were talking about the Dutch elections, however, was almost everyone around the table wanted to cast a vote that provided the best guarantee of keeping Wilders out of power. For most, that seemed to point towards supporting Mark Rutte, the affable and skilled Dutch PM, even if they’d never voted for him before.

It worked and the lesson, he finds, from D66’s success is not to pander to populism. Be yourself.

The polarisation of politics along new lines – no longer left vs right, but now open vs closed – is mobilising voters against right-wing populism. We are witnessing the beginnings of a liberal backlash against the backlash against liberalism. Of course, it wasn’t just Mark Rutte’s VVD which benefited, but other parties too.

D66, the second Liberal party in the Netherlands (lucky Dutch to have two liberal options) did well, surging to almost level pegging in the polls with Geert Wilders and adding seven seats to their tally in the Dutch Parliament. D66 are, ideologically, most similar to the Liberal Democrats in Britain. Alexander Pechtold, their experienced leader, told me when we met how he was going to run an unapologetically pro-European campaign. He was not going to bend to the populist times. His decision paid off handsomely.

And he sees the chance of reforms that would make British voters want to stay in the EU.

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That extra special relationship

The Anglo-American Special Relationship is becoming the EXTRA Special Relationship – and not for the right reasons.

The Special Relationship is based on a shared historic, legal, cultural, and philosophical root buttressed by military and political alliances, a shared outlook of the world and intelligence services which are joined at the hip and just about every other part of the political anatomy.

The Extra Special Relationship is based on a shared pariah status, siege mentality and Britain and America’s  common need for friends in an increasingly friendless world.  The Brexit vote has isolated the UK from its former partners in continental Europe. Trump’s style plus his anti-Islamic, anti-EU, anti-free trade, anti-Nato, anti-Chinese and pro-Russian and pro-Israeli rhetoric has done the same.

On top of that, Prime Minister Theresa May needs a big trade deal to show that Brexit can work to Britain’s advantage. Trump is offering a massive bribe—the trade deal.

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One union liberalism

So now we know what Brexit means. Other than the famous tautology, it means we’re out of the Union, out of the market, out of the travel area, out of the customs union, everything. To cut a long story very short, it means I feel lied to.

Far from governing in the interests of both Remain and Leave voters, this government’s Brexit objectives leave pro-Europeans with no stake in the proceedings that will define this United Kingdom perhaps for the remaining duration of its existence. Worse, we are being asked to meekly unite behind the most trenchant version of the opposing viewpoint available.

A bitter enough pill for an individual to swallow, but in summarily rejecting any compromise at all, this government is also dismissing a substantial majority view formed in a nation backing European partnership.

Liberal Democrats in Scotland have been making a virtue out of being the only party in favour of two Unions, the only pro-EU, pro-UK party. Given the ascendant and hegemonic views of the SNP and the Tories, the probability of retaining both unions is low. Those parties hold power and will remain in power throughout the negotiations as no elections are due between then and now. By the time we get a chance to propose having cake and eating it to the electorate, it will be too late. There will be no cake.

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Trying (too hard) to curb EU free movement: A symptom of the EU-wide social democracy meltdown

Just as I was reading Nick Tyrone’s blog about Corbyn betraying the EU freedom of movement but wanting to have the EU cake nonetheless, another recently-elected Labour leader came on Dutch public radio. Note the date: Tuesday, January 10th, 2017.

I’m talking about former Amsterdam alderman and present Dutch minister of Social Affairs, the ambitious lawyer Lodewijk Asscher of the “Partij van de Arbeid”/PvdA, literally: “Labour Party”.

In the 1980s, when Labour under Michael Foot was going through its “Militant Tendency” phase, the then PvdA leaders, ex-prime minister (1973-’77) Den Uyl and coming prime minister (1994-2002) Wim Kok deplored that leftist populism and leftist political correctness gone wild. So both criticised it: British Labour, come to your senses.

Not today.

In the Dutch campaign that just got started for the General Election on 15th March, Mr. Asscher, who just two weeks ago won a party leadership contest, just said that he counted on “European Leftist support” (PvdA jargon: from fellow Labour and social democratic parties) to pursue his top-profile policy: curbing free movement of labour through the EU. When the radio presenter quoted a phrase Gordon Brown grew to regret: “Jobs for our labourers first”, Mr. Asscher readily agreed. And who does he expect to get support from?

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Vince Cable calls for end to EU free movement

Vince Cable writes for this week’s New Statesman arguing for the end to the EU’s free movement of people.

He builds on the themes he initially set out on an article for this site just after the referendum – which turned out to be our most read article of 2016.

In the New Statesman he writes:

As a liberal economist, I welcome freer trade and globalisation in general; and as a political liberal I oppose attempts to fence people in. I naturally value the freedom to travel around Europe for business or pleasure with minimal restriction.

But I have serious doubts that EU free movement is tenable or even desirable. First, the freedom is not a universal right, but selective. It does not apply to Indians, Jamaicans, Americans or Australians. They face complex and often harsh visa restrictions. One uncomfortable feature of the referendum was the large Brexit vote among British Asians, many of whom resented the contrast between the restrictions they face and the welcome mat laid out for Poles and Romanians.

He goes on to argue that while there are benefits to immigration, they are not as conclusive as we would like to think for the country. He sets out what he thinks is the way forward:

The argument for free movement has become tactical: it is part of a package that also contains the wider economic benefits of the single market. Those benefits are real, which is why the government must prioritise single market access and shared regulation. Yet that may not be possible to reconcile with restrictions on movement. The second-best option is customs union status, essential for supply chain industries.

I do not see much upside in Brexit, but one is the opportunity for a more rational immigration policy. First, it will involve legitimising the position of EU nationals already here. It must involve a more sensible way of dealing with overseas students, who are not immigrants and benefit the UK. The permeability of the Irish border must lead to a united Ireland in Europe. And, not least, there can be a narrative in which control on labour movements is matched by control on capital – halting the takeovers that suffocate the innovative companies on which the country’s future depends.

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What the Lib Dem PPCs got up to in Brussels

Earlier this autumn I was at the London AGM where Liberal Democrat MEP Catherine Bearder  gave a rousing speech. I was lucky enough to see her at the Newbie Pint at Conference, so I know how passionate she is. When Catherine mentioned that she was running a training event in Brussels aimed at PPCs, I leapt at the opportunity. And what an experience!

It was my first time to Brussels, the European Parliament was gladiatorial in size and the scope of what it does is extraordinary. Even for someone who is an ardent European (currently Brexit will remove it legally but not in birthright) I hadn’t understood the wealth of research, knowledge and resource that it provides. We were given a tour and a tutorial to have a better understanding of exactly how all the cogs work.  That should be taught in all schools.

Then we had the chance to meet lobbyists, MEPs and the Brussels Lib Dems. They were kind enough to host us for the evening for a wonderful night, doing what we do best, waxing lyrical about liberalism! We took in a light show in the heart of Brussels to celebrate St Nicholas Day, with some amusing videography from the enthusiastic Daisy Benson. 

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Farron: Theresa May marching towards Brexit without “plan or clue”

Yesterday, Sir Ivan Rogers’ resignation as the UK’s representative to the EU caused New Year shock waves. Last night, his resignation email to his colleagues was published. His assessment of the Government’s performance so far is not one which inspires confidence in ministers. He told his colleagues:

I hope you will continue to challenge ill-founded arguments and muddled thinking and that you will never be afraid to speak the truth to those in power.

And this paragraph can only be described as “take that, Liam Foa.”

As I have argued consistently at every level since June, many opportunities for the UK in the future will derive from the mere fact of having left and being free to take a different path. But others will depend entirely on the precise shape of deals we can negotiate in the years ahead. Contrary to the beliefs of some, free trade does not just happen when it is not thwarted by authorities: increasing market access to other markets and consumer choice in our own, depends on the deals, multilateral, plurilateral and bilateral that we strike, and the terms that we agree. I shall advise my successor to continue to make these points.

Nick Clegg had already made his views clear yesterday, praising Ivan Rogers with whom he had worked for being “punctiliously objective” and “rigorous” in the advice he provided. 

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How could Liberal Democrats influence EU Reform?

This question has been raised by various contributors here lately, since the Referendum result revealed the depth of anti-EU feeling in the country. Some have wanted changes so radical that, if carried out, the EU would scarcely be recognisable afterwards. However, I realised that even those promoting more modest reforms had very varied ideas, which did not neatly split Leavers and Remainers either. Broadly, opinions seemed divided as to whether competency or constitutional reform was the main issue to be tackled.

Competency arguments have focused on the EU’s painful attempts to deal with the vast influx of migrants and refugees of the last two or three years. As the Dublin Accord was quietly set aside and eastern EU states in the Schengen area set up physical barriers at their borders, it seemed doubtful that the EU’s basic rule of freedom of movement within its borders could be sustained. While states argued about migrant quotas, contributors looked on with scepticism mingled with dismay, What were the rules now, what sort of people could be free to move? Maybe the EU should allow free movement to workers rather than people in general? All this needs rethinking.

Constitutional reform questions have centred rather on the ‘democratic deficit’ of EU government: basically, that legislative powers appear to belong to the Council of Ministers, executive powers to the non-elected Commission, and not much power at all to the Parliament. Moreover, the whole institution and its courts appear remote to ordinary people, and repulsive as a trans-national body with sovereign powers over us.

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The Independent View: Urgent Call for European Commission to reconsider its Dublin Transfer recommendations.

In the same week that the world marked Human Rights Day, the European Commission announced plans to resume the so-called “Dublin transfers” of refugees back to Greece. If this recommendation is adopted at this week’s meeting of European leaders in Brussels (commencing in February of next year) EU member countries will start returning refugees who arrive on their territory back to the country of their first entry into the European Union, wherever that may be. Dublin transfers to Greece from other Member States have been suspended since 2011 following two judgements of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) and the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) which identified systemic deficiencies in the Greek asylum system. I have seen with my own eyes the desperation of the situation in Greece and it is far from pleasant. For the last year I have been been volunteering on the Aegean Island of Samos in Greece, I can confirm that to reinstate the Dublin transfers could result in a catastrophic degeneration in conditions which are already unsanitary, unsafe and badly over crowded. Grassroots organisations and volunteers on the ground in Greece are very concerned about these findings for a number of reasons outlined below.

Despite the EC’s claims that “significant improvements have been made in the reception of Refugees in Greece’’, in fact many sites in Greece remain badly overcrowded and unsanitary, with inadequate , shelter, food or medical provision, not to mention provision for minors and vulnerable groups and child safe spaces and psycho social activities. As the UN high commissioner Filippo Grandi highlighted in August, all of the EU member states need to do more to Help Greece help to manage the impact of the refugee crisis  “The challenges ( in Greece) are very serious, and we need to continue to address them together,” Grandi said. “Especially the living conditions, security in the refugee sites, and terrible overcrowding on the islands. These are all issues for which we continue to be at the disposal of the Greek government.” He also stressed the need for EU member states to speed up legal options such as family reunification and relocation through the EU’s official relocation programme.

The report stated that “with Dublin transfers suspended, there is an incentive for asylum seekers who arrive irregularly in Greece to seek to move irregularly on to other Member States (known as ‘secondary movements’), in the knowledge they will not be sent back to Greece.” However it is completely unfair that only one mechanism of the Dublin ruling which is being applied, when no moves are being made to force the schengen states to make good on their commitments to receive a quota of refugees. So far only 3,054 refugees have been relocated from Greece to other EU member states, while another 3,606 are scheduled to depart in the coming months. Still, support lags as member states have pledged only 8,003 spaces out of 66,400 committed. If the transfers are restarted Greece will once again be bearing the burden for the refugee crisis completely unsupported by other responsible Schengen states. This ‘pull factor’ ascertain is very tiring. I feel it would be far more pertinent to prioritise processing people’s asylum claims more quickly and efficiently rather than wasting time and money on sending people back to Greece, only to be processed again. It is my firm held belief that if they do this refugees and asylum seekers won’t be forced to move ‘irregularly’.It is the terrible, unsanitary and inhumane conditions in Greece & the lack of income supplement, social welfare, inadequate medical care and the glacial asylum processing system is what propels people to move illegally rather than waiting it out. I feel that authorities must work instead to speed up the relocation and family reunification transfers & to improve living conditions in Greece.

Posted in Op-eds and The Independent View | Also tagged | 4 Comments

Parliament needs to stand up to the Government on Article 50

Are there any Parliamentarians left in Parliament?  That was the question that kept occurring to me as I watched the submissions to the Supreme Court in the Article 50 case this week.

Don’t get me wrong; I enjoy an interesting court case as much as the next person. The Supreme Court will do an excellent job determining the law, and it has every right to do so. The problem is that it should not have been necessary for the court to consider the matter in the first place.

Parliament alone has the right to determine what the division of power between itself and the executive should be. As it has not acted to overrule the government’s claim that triggering Article 50 is an executive power, Parliament has implicitly accepted that the power is a prerogative. 

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Want to stay an EU citizen? Now is the time to start lobbying for it

It has come sooner than we might have thought. But the first crunch parliamentary vote on Brexit is about to take place. Not in Westminster, but 200 miles to the east, in Brussels. And the British press is waking up to it.

Splashed across the front page of Saturday’s edition of The Times is the news that Guy Verhofstadt, the Belgian MEP who leads the Liberal group in the European Parliament, backs the idea of offering EU citizenship directly to Brits who want it post-Brexit. The Guardian and others have reported on it too (if you don’t have access through the paywall).

I first blogged about this idea last month, and wrote about it here in Lib Dem Voice earlier this month after learning that another Liberal MEP, Luxembourg’s Charles Goerens, had started to push for it.

Brexit might not yet happen, but on 8 December MEPs on the Parliament’s Constitutional Affairs Committee will cast the first votes on whether Brits might be able to opt back in to the EU as individuals in the event that it does.

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The new revolutionaries threaten our constitution

Yesterday evening I gave an interview to BBC local radio about the High Court judgement. It emerged that the station had been receiving emails from listeners saying it was time to take to the streets to protest.

It would have been easy to dismiss the emails as hysteria from a few right wing extremists but this morning’s tabloids clearly show that the British constitution is under attack from much of the traditional right.

The Daily Mail never ceases, of course, to push the boundaries of the unacceptable, as it has consistently since the 1930s. Today’s headline has the three judges (wigged, of course, but that it how they like to be photographed) over the headline ‘Enemies of the People’.

The Sun attacks the plaintiff as part of a ‘loaded foreign elite’. The Telegraph, which can know better, has ‘The Judges versus the people’.

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Is sovereignty just another source of likely disappointment for the Brexiteers?

Whilst there is a suspicion amongst the more ardent Remain supporter that Brexit was simply about immigration, there were those who claimed that, by voting to leave the European Union, we could reclaim our sovereignty, taking back control, as they put it.

Now, I’m in a sense relaxed about that, in that if that was their genuine wish, then it is at least philosophically consistent. Yes, the question of cost was never really discussed – like the Scottish independence campaign, the supposed benefits were in the headlines, the price in minuscule type, if it was ever mentioned at all. Fair enough, one might suppose – there is yet to be the political salesman that raises the relative drawbacks of their product.

But the problem is that sovereignty is a concept that, in a complex, inter-related world, is becoming increasingly blurred. Do nation states have the ability to “take back control” any more?

In his recent Ditchley Lecture, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer spoke of the increasingly complex nature of jurisdiction, noting that the United States has signed more than 800 international agreements, most of which defer supervision of some element of our lives to transnational, unelected, unaccountable bodies – the internet being the most universal of its type – yet which go virtually unnoticed by the general public.

Posted in Europe / International and Op-eds | Also tagged | 39 Comments

Party members massively endorse Farron’s call for referendum on Brexit deal

Lib Dem Voice has polled our members-only forum  to discover what Lib Dem members think of various political issues, the Coalition, and the performance of key party figures. 741 party members responded – thank you – and we’re publishing the full results.

So, here are the results of the Brexit jury.

We broke our readers in gently by asking them how they voted in the Referendum. The result will surprise nobody:

Remain: 94.06%

Leave:        5.94%

We wanted to gauge feeling in the party towards the elements of Tim Farron’s Plan for Europe:

First of all, we asked if members supported the call for a parliamentary vote on invoking Article 50. A staggering 86.41% were in favour and 13.59% were opposed.

The idea of a referendum on the final Brexit deal has been closely debated on Lib Dem Voice, but party members gave a whopping endorsement to the plan with 77.18% of respondents in favour and 22.82% against.

Finally, we asked what sort of arrangement people would like with the EU and the single market if we did end up leaving. An overwhelming majority, 79.16%, favoured the Norwegian style option with free movement of people and access to the single market. 

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Migration myths and unravelling of Brexit promises

The recent increase in hate crimes against Eastern Europeans in the UK has rightly been met with condemnation from across the political spectrum. Some dismiss this is a post-referendum spasm which will quickly ebb away. I fear that may not be the case and the Brexit decision may cause long-term damage to community cohesion and open a Pandora’s box of nasty populist politics. Let me explain why.

Brexiteer leaders – Farage, Fox, Johnson – made promises which are already unravelling. They told voters that leaving the EU would lead to better NHS services, improved job prospects and smaller class sizes. Those promises were largely based on migration myths which, unfortunately, many people believed.

Voters were promised that leaving the EU would lead to an improved NHS. Migrants were (wrongly) blamed as a drain on scarce NHS resources and that the UK cash contribution to the EU would be redirected to the NHS.

The reality is that the NHS is struggling because people are living longer, but often with multiple medical conditions and there has been a huge increase in conditions resulting from lifestyle choices. Neither of these is related to migration – these are home-grown problems – so leaving the EU will not resolve them and may make matters worse as it could discourage medical professionals from coming to work in the UK. 

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Introducing the new hate figure for the tabloid press…

The European Parliament has appointed its lead negotiator for the Brexit discussions. And it’s someone well known to Liberal Democrats. He announced it on his Twitter this afternoon:

The BBC has this to say about his appointment:

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LibLink: Tim Farron: The Lib Dems will fight Brexit. Labour is not doing its job

Tim Farron is popping up everywhere today. You’d think that this was co-ordinatd or something.

He’s written for us about his plan for Britain and Europe. He was on Good Morning Britain before dawn, Radio 5 Live, the Today programme.

He’s also gone and pitched a massive great marquee on Labour’s lawn in this article for the Guardian.

Labour, he says, are all over the place.

For Labour, it is still deciding whether it’s even a pro-European party. Owen Smith has made clear he wants it to be, but Jeremy Corbyn’s ambivalence was plain for all to see in the referendum campaign, and he has already made clear he wants to see the Brexit process get underway.

If they can’t or won’t hold the Government to account in the way that is required, the Liberal Democrats will. And if you think that’s unlikely, you might want to look back to the last session of the Scottish Parliament where it was the wee Lib Dem group that scored most forced changes in SNP government policy. Don’t ever underestimate us:

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Tim Farron MP writes…A Liberal Democrat plan for Britain in Europe

Today, I am announcing a plan to keep Britain at the heart of Europe. First and foremost, I believe the British people should be given the right to vote on the government’s negotiated Brexit deal.

Voting for a departure is not the same as voting for a destination. This is not an attempt to re-run the first referendum; we must respect the result. But the British people should be allowed to choose what comes next, to ensure it is right for them, their families, their jobs and our country. Our relationship with Europe affects our economy, our security, climate change, our influence in the world and so much more.

Until people get that choice, we will hold the Conservative Brexit Government to account and fight to make sure that Britain gets the best deal possible. So I am also setting out our approach on everything from the triggering of article 50 to the rights of EU citizens in the UK. While all the other parties are ducking these vital issues, we are tackling them head on. These questions are simply too important to ignore.

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Lib Dems gather for March for Europe

On a traffic island near Marble Arch, Lib Dems are gathering to take part in the March for Europe

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Vince Cable writes: What Brexit means

 

I appreciated the large response to my post-referendum blog on the 48 Movement.  The Bank Holiday Sunday press reminds us that this issue will very soon return with a vengeance as the politicians come back from their holidays.  The Brexit hardliners in the Tory party are already preparing their narrative of betrayal by Remainer ministers and sabotage by civil servants.

When I wrote my note there was agreement on many points, not least the negative impacts which still await us, but two things I said triggered a negative reaction.  One was my argument that the result was final and could not be wished away by legal subterfuge or attempts to reverse the vote.  I see that  Owen Smith in the Labour leadership contest is arguing for a re-run through a second referendum and that position appeals to many in our own party.  There will be debate on this issue at Conference. Since, unlike Labour, we have nothing to prove on the EU issue I hope we can be more realistic.  The most recent polls show that almost all Brexit voters and half of Remainers accept the result however much we deplore it.  Shock, anger and remorse are very understandable but not if these harden into the conviction that the majority of voters are gullible fools.

The second point of controversy was my view that the free movement of EU labour should not be regarded as an inviolable principle, but is now politically unsustainable and of questionable merit when at the expense of non-EU migration.  There are better ways of being liberal on immigration: opposing the self-harming stupidity of the current ‘crack-down’ on overseas, non-EU, students to help Theresa May meet her absurd target; defending the position of EU nationals who are already resident here; promoting a less pusillanimous approach to refugees, as Tim Farron has been doing.

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Liberal Democrats must enthusiastically occupy the clear pro EU space – nobody else will

The Liberal Democrats have historically been enthusiastically pro EU. The strength of that enthusiasm, it’s fair to say, has not always been uniform. While a small number of Liberal Democrats campaigned to leave the EU, the vast majority of us wanted to remain. That was very clear to the tens of thousands who have joined us in the aftermath of the vote to leave.

As a party during the referendum, we did more than any other to campaign for a Remain vote. That’s quite a staggering achievement given our size and resources compared to the Labour party.

However, there are signs now that the consensus is starting to develop some fault lines. Our position in the aftermath of the referendum has been very clear. We campaign to stay or go back in to the EU at the next election. We want the voters to have their say on the Brexit deal. It’s only polite, really, given that they weren’t given any indication about what it would look like before they voted.

I don’t want to over-egg this particular pudding, but it looks like our general unity as a party on this is now under threat. Many Liberal Democrats  have been very concerned to see that Norman Lamb and Nick Clegg have endorsed Open Britain, the organisation formerly known as Britain Stronger in Europe.  Open Britain accepts the referendum result as final even though they also accept that nobody knows what they actually voted for. They will not be calling for a second referendum which seems to be a bizarre and contradictory stance to me.

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An election or not?

Right now it feels a little like an electoral phoney war. Rumours of a possible snap general election prompted the party, rightly, to do urgent selections of prospective parliamentary candidates over the summer. Will the election happen? Could a possible false alarm be helpful?

One answer is to wait and see: a general election in October would point to a different strategy from one early in 2017, and we don’t have resources to invest a lot in an election that doesn’t happen.

But the appointment of a slate of Prospective Parliamentary Candidates (PPCs) and putting things in place for an election campaign is an opportunity to put forward strong party values and to engage with people who have joined recently in shock at the referendum result. If we get it right, what we do now helps to shape the national debate and strengthens our hand for whatever elections are on the horizon. Internally, this is also a chance to run meetings where PPCs (and others) speak, helping draw people together in a way that is more positive than just lamenting the referendum result.

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Tom Brake calls for Turkey to be suspended from NATO

As the human rights situation in Turkey worsens, Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesperson Tom Brake has called for Turkey to be suspended from NATO and for the refugee deal between Turkey and the EU to be scrapped.

He said:

Erdogan’s ongoing purge of newspapers, academics, teachers and judges has nothing to do with Turkey’s security and everything to do with blocking any opposition to his increasingly authoritarian rule. Today’s news that dozens more media outlets have been shut should send shivers down the spine of any person who believes in a free and open society.

The preamble to NATO’s founding treaty refers to it being “founded on the principles of democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law”, all of which are under threat in Turkey currently.

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LibLink: Tim Farron: What’s next?

Tim Farron has written a blog for the party website where he outlines 3 Liberal Democrat priorities. They are:

I’ve already announced that at the next General election, our party’s manifesto will contain a clear commitment to take us back into the European Union.

Our manifesto will contain a clear commitment to take us back into the European Union.

We have also launched a campaign to protect EU citizens right to stay in the United Kingdom. Thousands have already signed a petition backing the campaign online (you can add your name here) and this week, Tom Brake introduced a bill to the House of Commons, intended to do exactly that.

EU Citizens have built their lives here, they’re our friends, family, co-workers and neighbours and we must guarantee their future in this country.

EU citizens have built their lives here, we must guarantee their future

Our fight will not stop there – as Theresa May’s new government begins to negotiate Brexit, we must hold the Brextiers to account for the promises they have made.

They cannot be allowed to get away with the lies and half truths they told during the referendum and they cannot be allowed to escape responsibility for what they have done.

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It’s time to be positive about immigration

The only publicly acceptable approach to immigration seems to be, more or less, stating “immigration is a problem” and then making vague promises to control it in some way. This was particularly obnoxious in the run up to, and aftermath of, the referendum but it has been the case for some time. If we really want to stand out, and promote a truly liberal approach, we need to do the opposite. We need to stand up and say “immigration is a solution”. As liberals we understand the importance of everyone being able to pursue their own good in their own way. This entails a positive approach to immigration. Right now we should be pushing to make sure we retain free movement within the EEA. In the future we should be working to liberalise migration arrangements with the rest of the world as well.

This doesn’t mean that in practice we have to advocate for completely open borders, no matter how ideologically attractive such a system might be. There are genuine issues with rapid population growth, such as short term strain on public services and downward pressure on wages, and we should address these, but not by following the popular route of promoting the illiberal idea that immigration is a problem in itself. Instead we must emphasise the benefits of immigration, both in economic terms and in terms of individual freedom, and confront the myths that support the xenophobia behind a portion of the Brexit vote.

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An open letter to the leaders of the EU

I get it.  I really do.  We have been a difficult partner for the whole time we have been in the EU and its predecessors.  And after the Brexit referendum vote, you had to put up with Nigel Farage being his usual unpleasant self in the European Parliament.  You should know that many of us felt exactly the same as Mr Vytenis Andriukaitis whose facepalm went viral on social media (and we enjoyed his heartfelt blog as well).

So, I understand it when you demand that the UK get on and serve an Article 50 notice.  You want us to get on with it.  But I ask you to think again.

When I think of the Article 50 notice, I think of a scene in the Batman movie “The Dark Knight”. The Joker has rigged two ships full of explosives, one of hardened criminals and one of innocent civilians.  Each ship has a trigger to blow up the other one and save themselves.  The Tory leadership are like the boat of criminals – torn between a desire to trigger Article 50 to save their own skins and the consequences if they do.

One thing that I have heard a lot is that serving an Article 50 notice will reduce uncertainty.  That can’t be right.  If an Article 50 notice is served without a deal already being worked out in outline, uncertainty will massively increase because of the risk of a “Hard Brexit” in two years’ time.

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Lord Dick Taverne writes: A common cause to stop Brexit

There is a smell of defeatism in the air, a widespread view that the people have spoken and that we must respect them and accept their verdict. What nonsense! There is nothing sacred about a referendum vote, any more than the result of a General Election. We Lib Dems cannot accept Brexit because it would be a calamity that would undo everything we have always fought for. Furthermore reversing Brexit is not a hopeless cause.

When the time is right, there is every justification for a new referendum. A referendum must offer a clear choice, which the last did not. When Theresa May says Brexit means Brexit, what does Brexit mean? Some Leavers want no more free movement of labour, which means no access to the single market. Others want access, which means the free movement of labour must stay. Indeed with only a very tiny margin in favour of Leave, far more votes were cast for Remain than for each of these two incompatible objectives of the Leave Camps.

A re-run is especially justified if there is a dramatic change in circumstances, such as a massive shift in public opinion. This is very likely. Most economists and every independent expert organization, the IMF, the IFS and the Bank of England, predict a serious recession. Leavers promised a future in the sunny uplands, and lots of new money for the NHS, not more austerity and severe cuts in spending. Now they may be ringing their bells, but soon they will be wringing their hands.

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged and | 66 Comments
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