The clock is ticking down to March 29th and Parliament is far from a resolution

Remain-inclined MPs refuse to contemplate May’s hard Brexit. The hard-line Tory Right are fearful of a backstop, keeping trading links and protecting pesky inconveniences like workers’ rights and basic health and safety standards.

Nobody is willing to compromise. Including us. This is no bad thing. We are passionately and proudly open, internationalist and outward-looking. We cherish long-held cooperation with the rest of the world on trade, innovation, fighting climate change and much more. Many of us celebrate free movement. Above all, we value our place as leaders on the global stage.

We should continue to fight for a People’s Vote on this nebulous and measly-mouthed withdrawal deal.

However, with less than fifty days to go, a referendum on the deal is far from guaranteed. Only a maximum of 150 MPs currently backs a public vote. Moreover, even if the Labour leadership grew a backbone and supported our option, there’s a problem. The notorious lack of party discipline in Labour could still endanger the cause. It will be an uphill struggle.

Why? Because a People’s Vote would not be feasible after 29th March. Tusk has already said we must accept that a new referendum won’t happen. From this it is clear that the EU would not let us rejoin, bearing in mind the constant U-turning of the past two years.

All of which is to say, what should our policy be if Brexit does sadly go ahead? Surely, we wouldn’t want to risk becoming the ghost of the SNP, harking after a horse that’s already bolted?

Some will say we should be focusing solely on delivering a referendum and not contemplating any alternatives yet. That is entirely valid, but we still need a policy in place, a course of action ready if Brexit happens. The parliamentary maths mean we do need to look to the future and in my view the possibility of a Plan B.

My preference for a Plan B is a Common Market 2.0 deal, keeping us at the heart of this European community. We must protect our leading role in pan-European projects like Erasmus, Europol and so on. We must protect the border-free trade with our neighbours. Because only by working with our neighbours do we lead on the global stage.

Let’s fight for a People’s Vote. However, if Brexit goes ahead, how do we move forward? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

* Thomas Shakespeare is a Lib Dem activist and a member of Liberal Youth

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This entry was posted in News and Op-eds.


  • Leaving the EU is an extremist position. It makes sense that only extremists back it – precisely so they can put in extremist and fascist policies – be it renationalisation of rail and scrapping offshoring of jobs, or curtailing immigration and opting out of human rights legislation.

    More than ever we need to argue that oppositon to the EU is extremist and that anyone who opposes it is enabling the extreme left and extreme right.

  • John Marriott 13th Feb '19 - 9:34am

    @Thomas Shakespeare
    To paraphrase your namesake “Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by a People’s Vote”. I shouldn’t believe everything that Donald Tusk tells you just as I wouldn’t believe ANYTHING that the other Donald tells me. But, would another Referendum really resolve anything?

    Like you I could live with Common Market 2.0. Mind you, it was Common Market 1.0 that many people thought they were voting for back in 1975. I wish that more Lib Dem activists thought like you. Putting all your eggs in one basket is a grave mistake. Whatever emerges, I can’t see us leaving by 29th March.

  • William Fowler 13th Feb '19 - 10:20am

    Latest “news” is that the backstop was actually meant as a back-door way of staying in the customs union and it wasn’t a bad deal, full access and no payments, until such a time as some way of sorting out the NI question turned up.

    Hard Brexit probably means Ireland unity, Scotland stuck in the UK as you would have the same hard border problem as with NI and the govn then left with falling revenue even as it promises ever more spending (talking Mrs May here who is into Big State) until the next election. If you have hard left versus hard right that then leaves plenty of room for LibDems to be in the centre rather than trying to be Labour with extra taxes.

    As for the EU, only time we could join is if it rolled itself back to just a trading bloc and took down all the political nonsense – good luck with that, though, as politicians rarely do anything to dowsize their power.

  • Sadly I have to concede that we will need to think of a plan B in the case of another referendum . Also it makes me extremely sad that the British people have not backed the Lib Dems in greater numbers as the opinion polls seem to show that we have not improved our position a great deal even though the two opposition parties are led by the most stubborn and blinkered leaders in recent times and both being dictated to by the extremes in their respective parties. It was also very interesting, for me, when my daughter visiting us this week from her home in Copenhagen where she mixes with people from various European countries told her that they cannot believe the mess we are in and that we could have even thought that leaving the EU was a good idea, I agree with them.

  • The papers today seem to suggest that May has shifted position with the threat of No Deal being replaced with a new threat of long delays to the Leave date. Does anyone know what’s happening now ?

  • The cliffedge is getting closer.
    Wales is the only part of the UK with a trade surplus.
    A NO DEAL for Wales will be very damaging to one of the key industries in Wales: Farming.
    80% of all Welsh lamb goes to the EU. Welsh lamb, as with most Welsh products, are the best quality products in the British Isles.

    Welsh public opinion now does not want to leave our greatest market, Labour failed to explain this in the 2016 referendum.
    If the UK continues with NO DEAL Brexit then I can see a opinion turning towards Independence from the UK. Then we will be able to join as a new country, just the same way those in Eastern Europe have done. Scotland will also want to do the same.

    So, hasn’t the UK failed?
    Should we just close down this centralised bureaucratic failure which is the unreformable UK?
    You cannot even get a fair electoral system in the Westminster system due to vested interests.
    Here in Wales Plaid Cymru has now become the liberal force in Welsh politics.
    A New Independent Cymru : member of the EU and UN; A liberal Cymru.
    Scotland will follow with the SNP.
    Perhaps England can drop this mess to also become a sovereign state.
    We can have a better understanding between Wales, Scotland and England based on equality without a centralised state running over democratic institutions.

  • Graham Jeffs 13th Feb '19 - 4:28pm

    Reference is made to “the notorious lack of party discipline in Labour”

    Arguably “party discipline” through the medium of the rigid party whip system is one of the reasons that we are now where we are! Perish the thought that MPs should actually use their own judgement!

  • @Paul Barker – The papers today seem to suggest that May has shifted position with the threat of No Deal being replaced with a new threat of long delays to the Leave date. Does anyone know what’s happening now ?

    I would hope that finally May and/or her advisors have finally realised that the only way to bring the Conservative Brexiteers into line is to threaten to deny them Brexit.

    Personally, I think she has left it rather late, she should have acted immediately after the failed Conservative leadership challenge: done a cabinet reshuffle and withdrawn our Art.50 notice, picked up the tea and biscuits and sat back…

  • As with Electoral change and the partys involvement in 2016 referendum I feel that the Lib Dems are spoiling the people’s vote debate..public mistrust of the Lib Dems is still extremely high and any good input is lost due to the near zero press coverage..maybe stay low profile and let Tory Labour and Green remainers do the heavy lifting…this is way to serious for political pride.

  • @John Marriott

    Equally would NOT having a referendum lead to any sort of resolution? The Remainers are increasing!

    Clearly if we were to have a People’s vote to re-join if we were to leave after March 29th it would be a reasonably easy process. The EU27 would be pleased to have us back and the key issue for a candidate country is compliance with EU rules and we would have that completely on March 30th.

    I think it is worth noting that “People’ Vote” and “Labour Policy” – not a million miles away from a People’s Vote – well may be a thousand – from a People’s Vote has 295 MPs. You can foresee some Tory Remainer MPs voting for May’s Deal and the Deal being subject to ratification in a People’s Vote. It depends whether they have got the guts to do what is in the long-term interest of the country and indeed the Tories (as allegedly the party of business) at the risk of losing some Brexit voters.

  • John Marriott 13th Feb '19 - 7:15pm

    @Michael 1
    You are obviously becoming my nemesis! Regarding rejoining the EU having left, wouldn’t it mean our having to sign up to the Euro and Schengen? Ending the present farce with another referendum might appeal to people like you. I don’t know whether you are an ‘armchair Lib Dem’ or someone who goes out campaigning. You may be both. All I can say is that my experience doesn’t come from Wikipedia but from over thirty years of door knocking and leafleting. The last referendum was an unpleasant experience and I reckon that any others on the EU could easily be equally nightmarish. Is that what you really want? Remember, we might not always be dealing with rational people on either side of the argument.

    I hope my response isn’t going to provoke another flood of facts, figures and speculation. Besides, YOU might be able to work the LDV system; but I clearly am not.

  • For those proclaiming “Do nothing, or bad things might happen”, sorry to rain on your parade but “It us nailed on that when people get poorer, bad things happen”. Tis a sad fact that those that feel safest will be the worst hit, those that feel they can’t lose more will, those that feel they have safe pensions and houses will find the pension don’t stretch and the property can’t be maintained. In a country getting poorer the old and the poor are the first under the bus.

  • @John Marriott

    Lol 🙂 !

    I have been a Lib Dem councillor so I have talked to a fair few people on the doorstep over the years. As I have said before the best thing is to combine experience on the doorstep with opinion polls etc. I always distrust any MP (from the other parties of course!) on the TV who starts their answer with “when I knock on a door…” as you can be fairly sure that they are answering with the answer they want to give!

    There is a very big trap in politics of taking TOO much from what people say on the doorstep as it is a horrendously small and biased sample and only from the area you are knocking. Equally there is a big trap in taking TOO little notice from what people say.

    The really odd thing about Parliament is there is basically a “secret” majority for a referendum or Norway. Us, Nats, basically Labour and a sizeable chunk of the Tories who know that it would be so much better for the economy and business. There are times IMHO for MPs to be fearful of the electorate, but this is a time to grab the bull the horns and go for it. It will actually work out so much better for them! As regards the Lib Dems’ future success I hope they remain scared but I would actually prefer a better future for the UK!

    On Schengen and the Eurozone, the EU is a practical organisation and whatever the rules say and I think they say you don’t (really) have to be part of either – we won’t have to join either. Indeed the EU is very much more “pick and mix” on differing regimes etc. than people in the UK say.

    There you go some speculation for you! But you have to admit that I was right on the ECJ’s judgement. Back to google and Wikipedia…. !!!!!

    On a referendum campaign:

    As you know I welcome robust debate. I think it far better for a democracy to talk out their disagreements – sadly we didn’t on Europe over the years and that was a big mistake. And if we don’t the resentment among Remainers will rise. I am not sure why they should be denied their voice and vote.

  • Jayne Mansfield 13th Feb '19 - 11:01pm

    @ David Raw,

    Good for them.

  • Katharine Pindar 14th Feb '19 - 1:32am

    Reading his remarks in the reference given, Donald Tusk didn’t say that another referendum is impossible. He said that AT THE MOMENT the stances of both the Prime Minister and the leader of the Opposition make it so. We can still hope that the majority of MPs manages to force an agreement to have one, that being the best and possibly only way out of the impasse in the Commons. And it has been mooted for many weeks that the EU 27 will grant an extension of the deadline for the enactment of Article 50. provided there is some solid reason for it, such as a General Election or another referendum. It is too soon to despair of the latter, though I do hope the MPs will insist on decisions by the end of this month, rather than in desperate days in March.

  • John Marriott 14th Feb '19 - 7:24am

    Why are so many contributors putting so much faith in another referendum. Messrs Tice and Farage are already building up a war chest and, although opinion polls show a ‘lead’ for Remain, if we did get one on a binary choice again, either the ‘Deal’ or Remain, are they so sure that the ‘campaign’ will be conducted in any better fashion than the 2016 version?

    Adrian Childs’ recent excursion to the provinces revealed a kind of coming together where quite a few Leavers and Remainers appeared to be settling for a deal, whatever that deal might be. With George Sorros’s recent warning about the current direction of travel of the EU and the prospect of a load of nationalist MEPs being returned in June, perhaps an arms length attachment to the EU might be the best place to be, given that the chances of it reforming itself may be as remote as ever.

  • John Marriott 14th Feb '19 - 7:44am

    Spelling check. That’s Chiles and Soros. (Memo to self. Check with Wikipedia first!)

  • John Marriot
    I think “the people’s vote” has become an article of faith. It’s inconceivable to some that the EU could be rejected again. For them this is a righteous cause.. The heathens must converted and saved. In this thinking the EU is a benevolent entity from which the unbelievers have been “left behind”(a term that seems to have been borrowed from The Rapture, look it up). Thus the rejection of the EU is seen as a rejection of higher morals.
    Of course the real EU is just a bunch lawyers, corporate lobbyists, politicians and so going about the business of business.

  • Arnold Kiel 14th Feb '19 - 8:25am

    David Raw,

    it is worth adding that Fox’ failure to “roll over” any meaningful number of the EU- third country deals the UK currently trades on would not be healed by ratifying May’s WA and entering the transition period. They will be lost on March 29 in any scenario except a definite Art 50 revocation.

  • David Raw 13th Feb ’19 – 10:32pm
    BREAKING NEWS The Guardian 21.53….“Jeremy Corbyn faces up to 10 resignations from the Labour frontbench if he fails to throw his party’s weight behind a fresh attempt to force Theresa May to submit her Brexit deal to a referendum in a fortnight’s time, frustrated MPs are warning………………..

    I’m sure I read that BREAKING NEWS in 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018…Only the reasons have been changed.

  • Peter Martin 14th Feb '19 - 9:40am

    @ Expats @David Raw,

    ” ….up to 10 resignations….

    Note the little weasel words so beloved of advertisers who promise “up to 20% off ” in their sales etc.

    1 is “up to” 10. So is 0 🙂

  • Comment above quoting Adrian Chile’s isn’t what I heard from him on R5 recently.
    Rather, on going back to his Black Country roots he found many people (who were in 2016 very pro leave) now full of doubts and concerns about the future, the most common comment being “I didn’t think leaving would have that effect” in the negative sense on jobs, economy, etc.
    Certainly that was more common than a coming together.

  • John Marriott 14th Feb '19 - 6:48pm

    If your view and that of your sparing partner, ‘frankie ‘, provide the Leitmotiv for the opposing sides of the argument that could occur if we do have another referendum then we really are destined to get nowhere. Not all remainers have a starry eyed view of the EU and not all leavers consider it to be the reincarnation of the Anti Christ. Insult and sarcasm are no substitutes for honest and reasoned debate. Sadly, that might be in short supply if some people get their way.

  • Jayne Mansfield 14th Feb '19 - 9:46pm

    @ Peter Martin,

    I am puzzled to why you and others who, like myself consider themselves to be on any part of the left wing spectrum, can be so anti- EU that you are prepared to ignore the information that we are now gaining about the devastating consequences to those whose shoulders are least able to bear them. Now we are in this mess, the arguments as far as I am concerned, are finely balanced as to whether ignoring the result of the first referendum or allowing the financial consequences of Brexi, t are more likely to lead to growing political extremism.

    There is a left wing argument for remaining in the EU, put at a meeting named as ‘Love Socialism, Hate Brexit’. Members are not anti-Corbyn unlike some of the MPs who have been helping the Tories with their demonisation and divisiveness, and forever packing their bags.

    During the last referendum, Jeremy Corbyn’s comment that he was 7 out of 10 for the EU, this mirrored my own view, but we are now seeing the consequences of leaving.

    This group ask, with good reason, what on earth are people in the Labour Party doing supporting a Right Wing Tory mess, especially when one knows their plans for working class people after leaving the EU?

    You claim that the EU cannot and will not reform. I would argue that circumstances might make future reform impossible to avoid.

    @ John Marriott,
    In my opinion, you are absolutely correct.

    Nine Labour MPs from the left of the Labour party are calling for a final say on Brexit. ( they refuse to call it a people’s vote because of the baggage that term carries). But as with you, any support comes with a warning. A final vote is not an end in itself, although some seem to view it as such. Any campaign would be challenging, with no guarantee of victory for Remain.

    The rise of the extreme Right across Europe, makes me more, not less in favour of remaining in the EU and ensuring that we have a voice.

  • John Marriot
    I never said all remain voters share the same view. I said it is “inconceivable to some”. The word “some” does not translate to “all” or even “most”. I never characterise remain voters as being of one mind. I absolutely accept that most remain voters do not have a starry eyed view in the EU. I actually suspect that the real problem for committed supporters of the EU as a political project is that it isn’t a vote grabber. I was commenting on the faith some people put into the “the people’s vote” not the remain vote as a whole . I do not see opponents as the enemy or as an amorphous blob. I also don’t see that young chap as a sparring partner.

  • John Marriott 15th Feb '19 - 8:04am

    That’s nice to know. Here’s one Remain supporter who has a pragmatic view of the world and who doesn’t just think in black or white. I’ve lived long enough to take with a large pinch of salt whatever ‘claims’ are made and from whatever side. As Mr Speaker often says to ‘difficult’ members, there is occasionally a need to calm oneself down, preferably with something liquid and possibly in a darkened room. Have a nice day.

    PS How old IS ‘frankie’ and who is he for that matter? And who are you? That’s the trouble with noms de plume.

  • John
    Glenn is just my first name. It’s not a nom de plume.

  • John Marriott 15th Feb '19 - 11:36am

    So, Glenn who? Come on man, be brave!

    From John Marriott (that’s with two t’s), age 75 (but feeling older with all this Brexit stuff), retired teacher and Lib Dem councillor (1987-2017), father of two, grandfather of four, married for nearly 50 years and residing in North Hykeham, Lincoln. Is that enough information for you?

  • Peter Watson 15th Feb '19 - 1:45pm

    @John Marriott
    A surname when posting is no guarantee of authenticity (although I am what it says on the tin).
    But really, on a sunny and happy Friday afternoon this reminded me of Samuel L. Jackson’s line in The Long Kiss Goodnight: “I’m always frank and earnest with women. In New York I’m Frank and in Chicago I’m Earnest.”

  • John
    I don’t hand out details online for the same reason I don’t hand them out at the bus stop or railway station. I see it as like chatting or arguing with a stranger and no more than that.

  • Peter Hirst 15th Feb '19 - 6:39pm

    I think we should accept that parliament has delivered on the referendum result though we still think it was fatally flawed in process and content. We will now campaign for as close a relationship with Europe as possible along the lines you mention. If pressed we would repeat our commitment to a further referendum at some stage.

  • John Marriott 15th Feb '19 - 7:19pm

    @David Raw
    At least they all know who we are now. Why are so many people so shy?

    I bet Mr Shakespeare must we wondering what he started when he decided to submit his article. It never ceases to amaze me how many of us, myself included, manage to deviate from the topic. LDV editors must be a very understanding lot.

    Let me return to the topic. I still have faith that a majority of our MPs will put country before party, take control and come up with a compromise. However, I still can’t see it happening by the end of March.

    What I would really like to see, as someone who still has a soft spot for the Lib Dems, is that their MPs could try to see further than a People’s Vote and join in the efforts actually to find a deal which, admittedly, will make us poorer in economic terms but might just acknowledge, whether some of us like it or not, that there was a free vote of the people nearly three years ago and, however you crunch the numbers, a small but significant majority of those that voted were on the Leave side.

  • Arnold Kiel 16th Feb '19 - 8:59am

    Any “Brexit compromise” would still be Brexit, and therefore no compromise. This is binary: remain will only produce real (but, admittedly, not perceived) winners, leave mostly real losers. In the long run, reality trumps perception.

  • By running the clock down minds will concentrate, not perhaps the way the Sun would like. Is the P M secretly working towards a Referendum as the way out. The comments, alleged comments of Robbins, which have not been denied, suggesting a lengthy delay in the Article 50 process, could be that signal. We may be much closer to a Referendum than most people think. It could also be very challenging to Labour and enhance the chance of the breakaway, which we should encourage, endorse, support and maybe even join.

  • Peter Watson 16th Feb '19 - 10:17pm

    @theakes “It could also be very challenging to Labour and enhance the chance of the breakaway”
    My gut-feeling is that a breakaway is unlikely while the threat of a snap election hangs over Labour MPs’ heads, especially those in safe seats (and especially with recent polling suggesting a small Tory majority). Any rebels risk forming a very short-lived new party before losing their salaries, and if they stand against official Labour candidates the doors could be open for Lib Dems or Conservatives to pick up a few new seats.

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