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?

We must not forget that these are exactly the kind of voters that Liberal Democrat councillors stand up for up and down the country. If there’s a council that’s remote, that’s closing your library or simply fails to listen, we run strong Focus-led campaigns which state unequivocally: we’re on your side. We must do the same for Europe.

In my younger days I took pride in representing Lib Dems at European conferences on behalf of Liberal Youth. From my experience there, despite the wave of populists surging across Europe, I believe the EU is stronger than it looks with more potential than it knows. One former East Midlands MEP, Nick Clegg, once wrote in response to calls for ever closer union that ‘Europe is not a bicycle that must keep moving to keep from falling over’. The EU is not so fragile that it breaks if we fail to smother it with uncritical protection, and it does not benefit if we do not lovingly ask it to address its flaws.

The way to win over Brexit Britain is not bang on about backstops or even to point out the futility of Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg. We need to do what Liberal Democrats do best and campaign on issues that votes really care about.

Whether it is campaigning to save one of the hundreds of local EU projects (which you can view conveniently on an app), using the ALDE pledge for a “digital single market” to campaign for better training and proper rural broadband, criticising the Commission where reform is due, or pointing out that many Lib Dem/ALDE MEPs voted against zero-hour contracts by running a petition for the EU to ban them, there are countless ways in which we Lib Dems can show people how the EU can work for them by standing in their corner.

(And how many Liberal Democrats even know that as part of ALDE we are even putting together a Liberal Alliance, together with President Macron, to try to win the next European Parliament election and change the European Commission. Don’t like Jean-Claude Juncker? Then vote Liberal Democrat!)

As we move from campaigning for a People’s Vote to campaigning to win it, we must do a lot more than burying voters in statistics or warning them about the dangers of no deal: we need to show them how remaining can make things better. Let’s make sure that voters know we’re on their side!

* Chris Nelson is Vice Chair of East Midlands Liberal Democrats and was the Lib Dem parliamentary candidate for Wellingborough & Rushden constituency in the 2015 and 2017 General Elections. He writes in a personal capacity.

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  • Steve Trevethan 17th Jan '19 - 12:59pm

    Perhaps we need to develop, and make quickly understood, an economic policy/set of of policies which stop the transfer of money from the “real world economy”of the many to the financial empire of the few, by the deception known as “Austerity”?
    PS Is M. Macron having gas canisters dropped on the “filets jaunts” from helicopters? (Please see Craig Murray Comments.)

  • People may be interested in an academic paper by Warwick University academics at based on the big Survation poll in November

    This has two key points:
    1. It re-iterates findings that there was a “protest” vote of between 3.5%-9.5% at “austerity” among Leave voters at the referendum. That is these voters were not concerned so much on the pros and cons on the issue of EU membership but voicing their protest at austerity.
    2. BUT support for leave (using the Survation poll) has fallen MORE in areas that were affected by austerity.

    This suggests that there is a segment of the Leave vote that is now switching from protesting on “austerity”/economic hardship to whether or not they will be better off if we are in the EU and concluding that they will be worse off with Brexit..

    It suggests that campaigning themes should be highlighting the difficulties with Brexit that we are already seeing for industries such as car makers that are big employers especially in Brexit voting areas. And also that 9 out of 10 doctors say that the NHS would suffer under Brexit.

    To quote from the paper:
    “The evidence is consistent with the idea that, in the course of the more than two and a half years since the referendum, the UK public has become more informed about how integration with the EU benefits their local communities. While most of the EU referendum campaign was explicitly negative from both sides of the campaign, it suggests that they failed to inform the public about the intricacies of the economic cross-dependencies between the UK and the EU.
    The analysis further suggests that the single most important correlate capturing
    geographic variation in the swing away from Leave towards Remain across
    local authority areas, is the extent to which these areas were affected by austerity induced welfare reforms since 2010.”

  • P M to announce Referendum on Monday. You heard it here

  • Chris Bertram 17th Jan '19 - 1:36pm

    “… half-truths of the Leave campaign …” That’s a bit generous, isn’t it?

  • John Chandler 17th Jan '19 - 1:49pm

    There’s also the, not-insignificant, matter of the 12 million registered voters who did not vote in the referendum. Now, I believe there is some indication some of these voters are more motivated, and are almost exclusively moving towards Remain. However, I suspect an awful lot more are still not going to vote.

    I’m sure some will argue they’re not worth the effort, that they had their democratic right and didn’t use it, they’ve got themselves to blame etc. However, I’ve discovered quite a few in the last couple of years. Many of them were angry with the negativity of both campaigns, or felt the issue was too difficult to make a decision on, or simply that it wouldn’t change a thing anyway.

    Much as us Remainers feel like we’re ignored because, hey, we lost and should get over it, what about those of the undecided that just didn’t connect with either side of the debate? Who represents their views? Who wants to listen to their views now, having see what has happened since the referendum?

    I’m not ignoring the important issue of bringing Leave voters on board, especially those who have changed their minds or are open to a sensible debate on EU membership, but we often forget about a very disillusioned 12 million voters out there.

  • PM and Cabinet to offer Referendum on Monday? See Latest YouGov 56 -44 Remain over Leave. Was like that on Referendum Day in 2016 but of course the postal vote which was three quarters Leave had already swung it. Latest poll will include the postal vote?

  • John Marriott 17th Jan '19 - 2:40pm

    John Chandler is right. Don’t knock the 27% of eligible voters who didn’t exercise their right in 2016. My younger son was one of them and, having had a dad who has been ‘obsessed with politics’ (my wife’s opinion), does take things seriously. In his case, and I reckon that of many people, he just couldn’t make up his mind, given the kind of campaign that was fought.

    Michael 1, as usual, puts great faith in academic research and I am sure that his findings are correct, if less than illuminating for some. There are times however when sheer common sense needs to prevail and hiding behind statistics, as both sides of the 2016 campaign tended to do, wins few converts. (Don’t forget how the drunkard uses the lamp post.)

    Like Chris Nelson, I have the misfortune to live in a profoundly Brexit area which, like Trump’s core support, is likely to stay steadfast come hell or high water. Unlike him, I wouldn’t even try to ‘win over’ most Brexit voters (presumably to support Remain). What I would do is try to make them and Remainers for that matter understand that the only way forward is to compromise. Yet again I repeat, as I have done in other threads, 38% of eligible voters supported Brexit nearly three years ago, which is hardly a majority of the adult population. So why should they expect to get it all their own way?

    As for ‘winning’ another referendum, only the presentation of binary choice will surely give you that. SO if Mr Nelson does ‘win’ his campaign for a ‘People’s Vote’ (oh, how that word ‘campaign’ excites the true Lib Dems ) he needs to make sure that there are more than two options on the ballot paper, with voters invited to number them in order of preference. Hopefully then something might emerge that would enjoy over 50% support and which just might allow us to get on with tackling some of the many other problems that face us to which he refers in his article.

  • Sandra Hammett 17th Jan '19 - 2:49pm

    “we need to show them how remaining can make things better. Let’s make sure that voters know we’re on their side!”
    We need to be advancing the cause of Remain and Reform NOW, attracting those who voted to leave due to dissatisfaction with the political class and Jeremy Corbyn et al who will stay if it means changing the system for the benefit of the many.
    Remain and Reform.

  • Peter Martin 17th Jan '19 - 3:23pm

    @ Sandra,

    I don’t normally agree with Arnold Kiel. However, he recently explained why no reform was possible on LDV and asked Lib Dems to stop talking about it. I’ve forgotten which thread it was on now.

    I have to say he’s right to that extent.

    Any further comments, Arnold?

  • @John Marriott

    I think the 28% (a statistic?!!) who didn’t vote is a slight red herring. 75% is about as high as you will get in an election now. It is important on one level and that is I think most agree that there was a differential turnout that was greater among Leavers than among Remainers and the “youthquake” (which probably DID happen at least to a degree) in the 2017 General Election. And it is likely that the Remain turnout would improve in a second referendum. And it is ONE of the reasons why I put more faith than many that the Remain lead in the polls means that if it was tomorrow Remain would indeed win. But by and large “those” that didn’t turn out in 2017 won’t turnout in another referendum – not interested in politics full stop, age, registered twice, housing sector (renters turn out less than house owners etc.)

    I actually find academic research surprisingly not that helpful or for political activists BUT it is far too tempting for activists etc. to place too much reliance on anecdotes or the last person we have talked to on the doorstep – though it can be illuminating. As they say data is not the plural of anecdotes. And there is always a very real danger of fighting the last battle.

    I think it is relatively valid to categorise someone working in a Midlands town in manufacturing thinking as roughly follows:

    “In 2016: OMG I am worse off than in 2010, Labour, Tories, Lib Dems have all lead to this and let me down, the “system” works against me and my family, my jobs are under pressure from Eastern European, we have been in the EU, at the very least things can’t be worse if I vote to leave.”

    “In 2018: OMG, car manufacturers are shedding jobs, actually we need to be part of the EU for them to manufacturer effectively, if we leave they will relocate to Eastern Europe. 9 out of 10 doctors say the NHS will suffer – I trust them if not the politicians. Things seem to have turned a corner economically and my wages are rising a bit. A bit of immigration is OK and it is better than if the car plant has closed and moved to Slovakia. I will definitely be out of a job then.”

  • Peter, here is the post by Arnold Kiel you are talking about – However, he doesn’t say no reform is possible.

    I have two reforms which might be possible:

    Economic – Increase contributions to the EU from the wealthiest five countries in the Euro Zone to be spent encouraging businesses to set up in the five countries in the Euro Zone with the worse GDP. (The first five I think are: Luxembourg, Ireland, the Netherlands, Germany, Austria; the second I think are: Latvia, Greece, Estonia, Lithuania, and Portugal.) Also increase contributions from all EU countries with a GDP of over $40,000 to be spent encouraging businesses to set up in Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia, Latvia, Greece, Hungary and Poland.

    Control – Make is so that Ministers in the Council of the European Union can only vote as mandated by their national Parliaments (which must hold votes on the proposals).

  • @Michael BG
    Why do we always link contributions to GDP. Are we trying to make all EU countries the same size? I would have thought a contribution linked to current account surplus within the EU would be more balancing in the redistribution of economic activity.

  • @Michael BG – “Also increase contributions from all EU countries with a GDP of over $40,000 to be spent encouraging businesses to set up in Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia, Latvia, Greece, Hungary and Poland”

    There is a myth constantly circulating on social media that the EU gives companies grants to close factories in the UK and move them to Eastern Europe, so lets NOT use that as a campaign message……

  • Chris Nelson 17th Jan '19 - 5:13pm

    @John Marriott, I actually agree with you that a three option referendum is the best option, to give people to choose between the only two forms of Brexit that are currently available and the option of Remain.

    You argue that Leave voters need to be encouraged to make a compromise. I don’t disagree… But the compromise I would offer them is, through us as Liberal Democrats, an EU that is more responsive, better run and more attentive to the needs of ordinary people.

    A key point of why I wrote the article is that it is not just enough to point out why Brexit is bad. You also need to work out how you would actually govern if Brexit were stopped, and how the EU could do much better at looking after the needs of ordinary people.

  • Peter Martin 17th Jan '19 - 6:20pm

    @ Michael BG,

    Thanks for the link.

    @ Martin,

    I was speaking from memory. I’ll let Arnold himself comment further on the difficulty, if not the impossibility, achieving meaningful reform in the EU. Especially as its being pushed by “the 4th UK party in 2019”.

    Your problem is in thinking that any opposition to the EU has to be right wing in origin. There is, and always has been, a coherent left wing case against what the EU is setting out to try to achieve. Having said that some very powerful arguments against are simply economic and apolitical.

    For example, I can give you a list of economists across the range of the political spectrum who argue against expecting a multitude of EU countries, 19 signed up so far, to be able to successfully share a single currency.

  • Totally agree with the original post that a Remain campaign needs to reach out to those who voted Leave. Possible messages could be:
    1. You were lied to. They used you. Aren’t you mad about that?
    2. You made your point in 2016. We get it. Back Remain now and we will fight to reform the EU and start addressing the wealth and opportunity gaps in your area.
    3. If Brexit goes ahead it will make all of us – but especially poorer areas – worse off.
    4. Aren’t you tired of all this, dominating our politics? Well if Brexit goes ahead, that won’t be the end of it. We’ll be talking about the details of withdrawal for years/decades. Whereas stopping Brexit now will allow us to draw a line and move on to other issues: NHS, schools etc. Wouldn’t that be good??
    5. [to older people] Whatever you personally feel about the EU, look at how the young people feel. 80% of them want us to remain. And they’ll have to deal with the consequences of this decision for their whole lives.
    I’ve found all of these arguments useful when talking to Leave voters. The thing is not to tell them they were wrong, but that they were lied to.
    However, I feel the need to point out… WE HAVENT GOT THE REFERENDUM YET! I’m all for thinking ahead, but please let’s not be complacent. I hope we are all contacting any Labour people we know – from MPs to local CLP people – urging them to contact their leaders and tell them they demand a PV. Tories too actually – but mainly Labour.

  • Paul Barker 17th Jan '19 - 7:00pm

    I have a lot of sympathy with this article but its only looking at a small part of the problem. A lot of Leave Voters are well off & live in The Home Counties, neither the article nor most of the comments address their concerns.
    All the Polling evidence suggests that the big drivers for the Leave Vote were cultural rather than Economic, essentially a dislike of otherness in any form. For example there was a very strong correlation between voting Leave & disliking Gay Marriage.
    Any approach to Leavers has to begin with an honest acknowledgement about all the many things we disagree with them about.

  • John Marriott 17th Jan '19 - 7:12pm

    @Michael 1
    I don’t consider that the number of those who did not vote is “a slight red herring”. What it tells me is that whenever I hear that “the majority of the country voted to leave the EU” that statement is strictly speaking incorrect. As someone, who is not a great fan of a putative Federal Europe, a deal, if agreed by the majority of MPs is one I could live with. I shall certainly not be manning the barricades for an EU that, in the immortal words of the former MP for Sheffield Hallam (now incidentally safe in the bosom of Silicon Valley), will be “more or less the same” in ten years time. While I would still vote to remain I would, if pushed to, rather have the opportunity to return my ballot paper showing my order of preference as 1. Remain 2. Brexit with a Deal and 3. Brexit with no Deal.

    I am fully aware that any ‘deal’ will probably make me poorer; but that might be the price we all need to pay to get some kind of closure. The ‘Remain’ side might have a clear lead in the polls; but so it did before the 2016 Referendum campaign kicked off. If a binary choice is the only offer if we have another, what is to stop the same forces re-emerging?

    Before we get overheated about another ‘campaign’, other pieces of the jigsaw need to be in place, Article 50 needs to be extended, Parliament needs to take control and Corbyn needs to stop playing silly b*****s.

  • Today 500 people in Suffolk found out they no longer had a future with Phillip’s. One of the major reasons for this was Brexit. Today the nuclear power plant in Ynys Môn was effectively bin bagged, one of the reasons given by Guto ap Owain Bebb is the lack of government bandwidth because of Brexit. The Brexit bonus continues to roll in and it will get worse. Now brave Brexiteers will wail “tis not the fault of Brexit” but the bad news will continue to roll in and as the cost rises supplying pensions and the cost of health care will become harder to cover. It matters not what you wail my brave Brexiteers by voting to be poorer you placed your pensions and health care at risk, tis always the old and economically inactive who are worse effected, a lesson you are about to learn. Tis sad but true, that even if you get through the school of experience you are unlikely to enjoy the classes.

  • Understood from BBC news that the Hitachi announcement was purely because the financial case didn’t add up. No mention of Brexit.

  • David Becket 17th Jan '19 - 10:19pm

    Do not get too excited about the Peoples Vote.
    May announced she wanted to meet party leaders to discuss a way forward, do not believe her She has said she will stick to her red lines, no Peoples Vote, no Customs Union. This terrible woman has cut off talks by removing the two options that could resolve this crisis of her own making. Instead she will continue kicking the can down the road until we crash out on March 29th. If we had a decent leader of the opposition we could find a way forward, but as it is the minor parties are unlikely to be able to resolve the issue.
    Never has this country been so ill served by its leaders. The worse PM ever and the worse leader of the opposition in living memory.

  • Chris Bertram 17th Jan '19 - 10:39pm

    @theakes re referendum announcement – I hope you are right, but I wouldn’t put more than 50p on it.

  • Unstable environment’

    The unwelcome news comes as May is still reeling from a historic defeat over her Brexit deal but Hitachi CEO Toshiaki Higashihara told reporters that Britain’s EU exit had had “no bearing” on the decision.

    Nevertheless, one analyst said Brexit would make it harder to attract long-term investments such as in nuclear plants.

    Speaking to AFP ahead of the announcement, John Drzik, president of global risk and digital at US professional services giant Marsh, said that “cross-border investors in infrastructure are looking for stability in the legal, regulatory and political climate.”

    “If you have more confidence in that, you’re more willing to invest. You have less confidence in that, you’re going to pull back. It’s going to be harder to attract foreign investors into an environment which is considered unstable,” Drzik told AFP.

    Read more at:

    BBC might tell you it has nothing to do with Brexit Sean but that isn’t the way it is portrayed in the rest of the world.

  • Maybe true frankie but I’ll take the CEOs word as face value for now.

  • @ P.J.

    I think a single market with free movement of people would work better if the economics of each country had a similar GDP per capita. I am not bothered by their trade balances.

    @ Nick Baird

    I think ‘set up’ implies ‘new’ not moving from one country to another. In the same way in the past the UK gave assistance to companies to set up in the poorer regions of the UK, not to move from a rich region to a poorer region.

  • Joseph Bourke 18th Jan '19 - 2:06am

    Patrick Cockburn has a good (if rather dismal) piece in the Independent in which he argues that while Brexit dominates political circles, outside Westminster many are tuning out He concludes:

    “At this stage, the crisis in Britain is primarily at the level of the political class. It is bizarre that senior officials in the government say in private, as a matter of fact, that Britain is inevitably going to be weaker and poorer if the government achieves its aim of leaving the EU. They are aghast at seeing old alliances being thoughtlessly thrown away and the “Irish Question”, which convulsed British politics for centuries, being fecklessly reopened.

    The educated classes are deeply worried and demoralised, but don’t know what to do to avert the inevitable shipwreck. As for the millions who voted for Brexit in order to change the status quo, their hopes and expectations are likely to end in frustration because so much of what they were promised will prove to be snake oil pledges that can never be delivered.

    It is only when this becomes clear that we will begin to learn if the proponents of Leave are going to respond to disappointment with apathy or with rage.”

  • The problem is that most Leave voters are 1) closed off to the world – be it right wing Empire Loyalism, Trump style economic nationalism or protectionist Lexit, 2) voting with gut instinct or cultural values and 3) and as elitist as this may sound – do not think of the wider picture and simply look at their own situation (see also voting for UKIP / Corbyn / SNP).

    And let it be said, that many Leave voters are extremely contradictory in their approach. We hear of all the great trade deals they want to make, and yet many were railing against the TTIP, investor protection, free movement, opening up public services to privatisation and global markets, foreign ownership of business and job offshoring. Essentially they want global trade as long as British interests come first. A complete oxymoron.

  • Arnold Kiel 18th Jan '19 - 5:53am

    If we get the 2nd referendum, I am not worried about losing it. We just need a 2% swing; demographics and the news-flow all point towards remain.

    As the initial leave-vote had in substance almost nothing to do with EU membership, promises of a better EU will not reach committed leavers. Such arguments are too complex for this group, and can be easily discredited.

    More important than addressing the hard-core leaver is to re-mobilise all 2016 remainers, and activate those that did not vote then. They have a basis for deciding now and learned the cost of their complacency. All possible leave-remain conversions are already won by now. We must make it as pain-free as possible for them to cast their changed vote by showing understanding and appreciation. Firm leavers must be demobilised by avoiding direct attacks which would support the leave-campaign.

    I would focus on destroying prominent leave-leaders, job-losses, and the folly of intercontinental independent trade deals, especially after Trump and in a much more severe geopolitical and economic climate.

    The enemy will no longer be an opaque cost-free but promising independent global UK role, but the concrete alternative of being an unloved 52nd US state, rather like Puerto Rico, as compared with being equal partners with 27 other European nations.

    We will win easily.

  • John Marriott 18th Jan '19 - 8:37am

    @Arnold Kiel
    Oh dear, with an attitude like that we would all be losers. Words like “the enemy” smack of the 1930s. Like the poor, even in a possible ‘defeat for Brexit, the Leavers will still be with us. I’m starting to hear strains of “Die Fahne hoch….”. An easy win. Who are you kidding?

  • @John Marriott

    Thanks for your further comment. I appreciate your view expressed over many comments that you think that “closure” on Europe is a good idea to avoid the divisiveness that it is causing. Firstly I think that it is unfortunately a forlorn hope that whatever happens – deal or no deal, referendum or no referendum that the EU will not remain a divisive issue for many years to come (at least 50!). Secondly we express in these comments our concern for the poorer in society and good public services. Both these are in my view and yours will suffer if we leave Europe so it is an issue of some import and cannot IMHO be relegated. While you or I may not be manning the barricades for EU, I will be for better NHS cancer care for my fellow citizens which in my view relies on us being a member of the EU.

    I appreciate the point on turnout – I am not sure though how it gets us much further forward. In fact I would go further than you and say in my view if everyone (compulsorily?) had voted then I believe that Remain would have won narrowly – that is though untested and of course only those that vote count.

    On a “federal” Europe by which I assume you mean centralisation I don’t think that we will get much greater centralisation. Personally I can’t get very excited by as I think Ken Clarke put it on Sky News yesterday common standards on the energy consumption of vacuum cleaners. Any new treaty means a referendum in this country and I think it fair to say that it wouldn’t pass. And there is a fair degree of euro-scepticism on the continent. And clearly Lib Dems will fight for and have a vision of “devolution” and subsidiarity for Europe and at the right time we need to articulate that clearly. But we also realise that issues such as environment do not stop at the border. And while we can fight global warming as a nation state, it helps to be part of supranational bodies such as the EU. And stopping global catastrophe is worth fighting for!

  • The reality is the vast majority of the Remain vote had little to do with support for the EU. The EU is not a beloved institution in UK’ Its ideologues basically have two arguments A)the sky will fall and b)it’s too difficult to leave. After two years of virtually unrelenting campaigning the best they can do is hope that enough leave voters have died to tip the balance and find comfort in polling results that suggest a slight statistical advantage (well within the margin of error) produced by various Better In groups for the Guardian. What they can’t inspire is any kind of belief into their utopian pan-European would be-federal state. If there is another referendum the whole thing will simply kick off again and they will lose again, except more so.

  • John Marriott 18th Jan '19 - 10:21am

    Sorry if my use of German annoys you. The @ I used indicated, at least I though, that my remarks were addressed specifically to Mr Kiel, who , I have gathered from previous threads, may have Germanic origins. If that is not the case I apologise to him and to yourself. If he does understand German, he may be aware that the line I quoted is part of the first line of the so called ‘Horst Wessel Lied’, the unofficial anthem of the NSPAD (Nazi Party). Of course I am in no way accusing him of sympathy with this cause but what I am saying is that the attitude he appears to be taking might well lead us into the kind of confrontation that could see the emergence in this country of the political movements that are now appearing across continental Europe. The new Batten/Robinson UKIP could be given the oxygen it needs if a strident ‘don’t you know what’s good for you?’ becomes the leitmotif (sorry, main message) of any Remain campaign.

    @Michael 1
    As usual, a very thorough courteous response. As a pragmatic remainer I have never bought into the Federal idea. Having spent a few years of my life studying and working both in Europe and Canada I can see why we need to stay close, very close, to the EU in economic terms, which is why I could live with a deal, which, if put to a ‘People’s Vote’ might command a more than 50% majority. I also have a hunch that, after the next EU Parliamentary Elections, this kind of thinking might become more influential in Brussels and Strasbourg as well.

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

    That sounds like the title of a 1940’s ‘Dig for Victory’ newsreel.

  • a tough ask! People voted to leave for as many different reasons as choosing your coffee or egg. The best we can expect is a resigned agreement that at this time, remaining is the best and only option with the discretion to try again at a later date. We must give the leavers something to cover their dignity.

  • John Marriott 18th Jan '19 - 12:59pm

    My thanks again to David Raw for springing to my defence and apologies to all those who spotted my less than deliberate mistake. The initials ‘NSPAD’ should have of course read NSDAP – dyslexia rules, KO.

    My main concern is that if we do get another referendum, which might be the pretext we shall need to get a postponement of Article 50, without which everything else has no point, the Remain campaign has really got to change its script and has got to appeal to those whose minds just might be open to persuasion. I would even go so far as to say from the outset that the EU is far from perfect and, if a deal is cobbled together by Parliament and becomes one of several options, that they place it #1 rather than go for a No deal Brexit if they can’t support Remain. Complicated yes; but, as John Cleese famously implied, if you can’t count beyond 1 you might struggle.

  • Peter Martin 18th Jan '19 - 1:25pm

    @ Arnold Kiel,

    “we will win easily”

    You think so? Another saying from history was:

    “We have only to kick in the door and the whole rotten structure will come crashing down.”

    That didn’t quite work out as planned, did it? It’s always a good idea to learn from past mistakes.

    Look, it could go either way. The campaign hasn’t started yet. My guess is that the Leave side will play the patriotic card. There’ll be calls for “no surrender to the EU” etc.

    Another saying from history is:

    “The people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.”

    Just substitute ‘Remainers’ for ‘pacifists’ and you’ll get the idea.

    It’s not a tactic that I would endorse but this is the way I see it going. A second referendum will be much more vicious than the first.

  • Peter
    The thing about the ideologues of Remain is they have to keep claiming that Leave voters voted on anything other than the subject of the EU and that the Remain vote is more united. . When, really, virtually all leave voters think the EU is a bad thing, whilst Remain voters are not united in the belief that the EU is a good thing at all. Hence the pro camp constantly also have to pretend the EU can be reformed or that they want to reform it , steer clear of talking about the single currency and emphasise the alleged difficulties of leaving the project. In short, they can’t really produce a positive message for ever closer Union because it would almost certainly lose them more votes than it would gain them votes.

  • @ Michael 1 (2nd comment): Here’s anther paper that concludes the rise of UKIP and hence the referendum vote was down to austerity (caveat: I’ve only speed read it so far).

    So, the consequence of the austerity in response to the banking crisis is Brexit which is projected to cause a second depression that will cost even more than the original banking one.

  • David Evans 18th Jan '19 - 5:35pm

    While Glenn makes some good points in his post, he also includes one moderate fib – “really, virtually all leave voters think the EU is a bad thing,” implying as it does (but not considering) whether they think that UKConGov is somehow better, but then crowns it all with one great, big whopper “emphasise the alleged difficulties of leaving the project”!!!

    The two things that the last three years has proved is that UKConGov is utterly incompetent, but even more than that, it has proved beyond any possibility of contradiction that the difficulties of leaving the EU (especially when you have an arrogant, incompetent party in power) are massive, and that is before you even begin to negotiate a single trade agreement, which UK hasn’t done for over 40 years.

    All of which proves, if nothing more, that the one area where we will desperately need freedom of movement is in the area of trade negotiators, where everyone who ever did it for the UK is long retired!!!

  • @ Sandra Hammett (17th @ 2:49PM)

    “Remain and Reform”

    Absolutely! It’s a complete mystery to me that the party – that used to think of itself as ‘reformist’ and perhaps still does on occasion – should have any difficulty with that view but apparently it does. That amazes me because the idea of appropriate powers for each level of government is supposed to be in liberal DNA though you would never think so from the approach to the EU.

    The assorted and unlovely parties of the European right have absolutely no problem with the idea of reshaping the EU to suit their purposes and, despite their very different roots, some are trying to put together a new bloc to make a big impact in the upcoming EU elections. My guess it that they will succeed and be the BIG winners – not to the extent of winning a majority but of seizing the initiative.

    What the right wingers GET that Lib Dems don’t is that politics has changed which is why we see both Tories and Labour so hopelessly split. Decades of neoliberalism has impoverished ordinary people – economically, spiritually and culturally and now they’ve had enough. It’s no longer about facts, it’s about how they feel and that’s downtrodden trodden and patronised. In Britain that has erupted as Brexit, in France as the gilet jaunes and in the US as Trump.

  • Arnold Kiel 18th Jan '19 - 6:11pm

    John Marriott,

    if a campaign attacks the economic existence and wellbeing of industrial workers, consumers, the sick, welfare recipients, the financial sector, northern Irish, and almost any other group of British society and quite a few non-British ones, I find it just and proper to call them an enemy (a term introduced by the other side for judges and MPs doing their jobs diligently and without any malicious intent). It would never come to my mind to reference this back 80 years in history; that is an entirely British obsession.

  • Arnold
    But this stuff was actually accelerated by Pro EU leaders like Cameron , Blair and Major. Deindustrialisation and attacks on organised labour have also been a feature of UK governments from Heath ( the PM who introduced internment in Northern Ireland) onwards.

  • Arnold Kiel 18th Jan '19 - 9:46pm


    prior Governments naturally failed to prop up uncompetitive industries. In the end, they inevitably always do. The only question is: how much money and human perspectives do they waste until they give up. The other question is how to find the right balance of power between capital and labour. Initially it was excessively skewed towards the latter, now the former. But the acting politicians tried to do the right thing in their view. Brexit is different: politicians are consciously destroying competitive industries for no benefit whatsoever.

  • Arnold
    I also get a bit fed up to references to WWII. I think it occurs because British history within living memory is very different from that of the Continent. There was no occupation, Jewish people were not being put on trains, there was no imposed USSR government or Berlin Wall, So there is simply not the same shared historic experience. Plus it’s a set of Islands.
    To me the attempt to make Britain more like Europe is like the attempt to Americanise it. There’s a fundamental mismatch. That’s not say Britain is superior. There’s a grim history of class conflicts and a glossing over of the expansionist displacement of the native peoples of Australia and America. It’s an odd one. The local tensions are just different.

  • @Gordon

    I think Lib Dems do ‘GET’ it actually. The difference is that we understood it earlier AND in response are offering long-term, well thought out and sometimes slightly uncomfortable-feeling changes. Change is often uncomfortable at first, even if it’s something you welcome. This is not what a lot of people seem to want. They seem to me to want quick fixes that will yes, solve their personal difficulties, but then cause other problems elsewhere and for other people.

  • @ Chrissie B

    Many individual Lib Dems do ‘GET IT’ but I don’t see any evidence that the party as a whole does.

    Nor do I see any evidence that people only want quick fixes – welcome as they might be in the short term. It’s now common cause that income and wealth inequality have exploded in recent years as also evidenced by, for example, the growing demand on food banks which, in a theoretically rich country, is a national disgrace. That should tell us that the POWER inequalities that allow that are also extreme and a democracy can’t function properly/isn’t sustainable on that basis. That’s what we are seeing breaking down in Parliament.

    And the Lib Dem response? Well, under Clegg’s leadership it was to prop up the establishment by joining in the Coalition – hence the heavy electoral price. And it’s not really changed much since.

    The only real challenge to the establishment has tragically been from the snake oil wing of politics, namely UKIP, so many of those who have been ‘left behind’ or who sympathise with them or simply reject the scandalous status quo have naturally seized the opportunity of the referendum and aren’t going to let go easily.

    All this is horribly reminiscent of Germany in the early 1930s. Conservatives imposed austerity in response to the Great Depression and were supported in that by the left-wing establishment. Some of the left worked out they needed to follow a Keynesian policy (but before Keynes!) but were overruled. The only party that had the mental flexibility and openness to advocate deficit spending on a large scale was the Nazis. They won enough votes in the next election that the rest is history.

  • Peter Watson 19th Jan '19 - 9:10am

    @David Evans “the last three years has proved … that the difficulties of leaving the EU … are massive”
    This is a potential and important chink in the armour of the Remain campaign if there is another referendum. We have not seen how bad life outside the EU is, just how difficult our membership of the EU makes it to get there. Many of the Remain campaign’s arguments could still be depicted as unproven scare stories; a failure to Brexit could be blamed upon Theresa May and EU politicians and used to portray the EU is a bad thing. I don’t think that winning another referendum is a foregone conclusion and it would need to be approached with humility, not triumphalism, and a fresh strategy is necessary.

  • I must be that rare best a lib dem eurosceptic. I live in the neighbouring seat of Kettering to the author who again is controlled by the tories and not a good one at that. I have never seen the EU in the same way that other do on this site. I reluctantly voted remain but the arguments that reform on the inside is better than sitting on the outside is rather thin. It is clear that the only way the EU can end up. Is as a federation of states, but this is not a federation driven by the will of the people with a united vision and ideology. It is driven by a political will that has over time over ridden the bases instincts of the population. The default answer when the political will has hit the reality of its citizens is to deny, Fudge, demean and then carry on as before. Brexit was the reality coming home to roost. The rise of other political populist parties is the fact we have pushed people to these because we scorn and laugh at their concerns and fears. We are the problem, us the remainders because we laughed and pushed this idea without addressing the concerns and fears..

  • @Gordon
    Thank you for your response. I am reflecting on the points you have made.

    I think we are in agreement that wealth inequality is scandal and for me, personally, so is the state of the public sector and the way that the Conservative government speaks about it, hounds it and rues to starve it out of existence.
    I think we probably also agree that neoliberal economics is the cause of a great deal of the suffering that people are experiencing.

    However, I think what I am asking, although I appreciate that I may not have phrased it very well, is, will leaving the EU/voting for extreme parties get rid of the fundamentals of neoliberal economics? Will it/can it rid the world of (or at least protect the UK from) globalisation and its effects? In my mind, these are the problem, as well as the downright greed of many of these international corporations.

  • @Glenn @Dan

    Clearly those countries geographically on the periphery of Europe probably feel more “separate” from Europe than those in the centre of the continent. But I think it is wrong to say that there is a common culture across Europe – the Iberian peninsula is different from Italy which is different from the Nordic countries or the Baltic ones or France or Germany….

    Big countries gain as part of a big block where they have a big say. For us, it means in the EU that 75% of the other countries have to be in favour of something for it to pass if we are against it and there are significant areas where there are individual country vetoes. For smaller countries it is about keeping their nationhood but being part of a bigger economic block which is necessary in a modern world.

    Indeed Europe for me is about strengthening country/regional identities. Wales, Scotland, the Basque country, the sixteen states of Germany, the small Baltic countries, the counties that have come out of Czechoslovakia. Slovenia and probably in the future the countries that have come out of Yugoslavia etc.

    I think WWII is significant in that politicians across Europe had first hand experience of the need to co-operate through the tragedies and massive loss of life in WWI and WWII – including in this country Churchill, Edward Heath and Roy Jenkins.

    Also at that time it looked as if we were going to be “squeezed” between two big superpowers of America and Russia. The EU may not be about defence as such. But population and market size is important – perhaps more so today when the battle is economic and we have the emerging economies of India and China both with huge populations.

    Europe can take on the likes of Google where it is difficult for an individual country to do so.

    Britain is in so many groupings – the Commonwealth, permanent member of the UN security council, speaking the pre-eminent “global” language, special relationship with the US, G7, G20, NATO, the Council of Europe and currently the EU which means we punch far above our weight on the world stage as a not-that-big country. It is sad (and indeed short sighted) to remove one significant part of that.

  • @ Chrissie B

    “…will leaving the EU/voting for extreme parties get rid of the fundamentals of neoliberal economics?” Will it/can it rid the world of (or at least protect the UK from) globalisation and its effects?

    Now those questions hit the nail on the head!

    Many see the EU as the neoliberal Heart of Darkness and that, I strongly suspect, was directly or indirectly a major reason for the no vote. I say ‘indirectly’ because one of the defining features of neoliberalism is it disempowers ordinary people in multiple ways which is why the “Take Back Control” slogan achieved such a huge resonance.

    The EU has caught a moderately bad case of neoliberalism, but it was never the source of it. The epicenter of the outbreak – patient zero if you like – was the UK thanks to Thatcher, closely followed by the US with Reagan.

    There is a certain irony that Brexit has been driven in large part by the ageing ordinary members of the Conservative Party, mostly very decent folk, who are appalled by the world neoliberalism has wrought without understanding that it was their younger selves that were its early foot soldiers. Instead they blame it all on the EU. What they are noticing is not causation but coincidence of timing – both EU and neoliberalism have grown up over a similar timeframe (from a UK POV).

    And from the above it follows that leaving won’t help. It will weaken us and make us exposed in new ways to the predatory practices of more powerful countries/blocs. The US does NOT negotiate Free Trade deals with smaller countries – it gives dictation. Hence Trump’s unilateral tearing up and rewriting of NAFTA (FTA with Canada & Mexico). Hence also with China (which, BTW, certainly doesn’t engage in Free Trade).

    Of course, the EU, being large and complex, is much more difficult to change than, say, your parish council at the other end of the size scale but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible; it’s just not been tried. In fact, I think the neoliberal world order is now extremely fragile because its multiple failures and fake crony capitalism are plain for all to see.

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