The patriotic voice of Remain

One of the major difficulties for those the Remain side of the Brexit debate has been how to appeal to the patriotism of many Leave voters who instinctively feel that it is the Brexiters who stand up for Britain. In order to combat this perception, I have drafted the following pro-forma to send to MPs. In this I try to put an argument against Brexit in which patriotism is at the centre of the stage. 

If you like it, and your MP is not already committed to us remaining in the EU, please feel free to use or adapt it as you like.   


Dear Mr/Ms—–,

At long last, the country is waking up after the June 2016 Brexit referendum. It has a very sore head. Opinion polls now show a consistent shift in public opinion towards EU membership – especially among younger voters.  More and more people are angry at how a kind of English nationalist elite on the right of the Conservative party is determined to uproot this country from its foundations. This is aided and abetted by Jeremy Corbyn, who seems to want to leave the EU so that taxpayers’ money can shore up loss-making industries as though we were back in the 1970s.

The years since the referendum have shown there is nothing patriotic about Brexit. Is it coincidence that the only world leaders who welcome Brexit are Trump and Putin? Trump humiliated Theresa May by making her wait for his arrival at Blenheim Palace during his visit to the UK this summer. It was as though he were her liege-lord expecting homage. He will ruthlessly squeeze everything possible out of us in any bi-lateral trade deal. For his part, Putin flouts our sovereignty by attempting assassinations on British soil.  

In the twenty-first century, there will be three global rule makers in economic matters: the EU, the USA and China. Even leading Brexiters admit that the Prime Minister’s negotiated exit deal will change us from a proud nation sharing in the decision making processes of the EU into a “rule taker”, unable to stand up to the muscle of the political and economic giants. Yet the Prime Minister still asserts – against all rational  evidence – that we have “a brighter future” outside the EU. She even tolerates the presence of fantasists in her cabinet who believe in a “managed no deal”. 

Brexiters  claim a referendum on the Prime Minister’s deal would be a betrayal of democracy.  Not so. She has negotiated a withdrawal agreement in response to the referendum result. In doing this, the government has fulfilled its obligation to those who voted leave. The referendum was only ever “advisory”. Of those on the electoral register at the time only 37% voted to leave. 

We are a parliamentary democracy. MPs must vote for the good of their constituents and the country as a whole. They have already taken more than adequate account of the 2016 referendum. If they don’t think the Prime Minister’s deal is better for the country, they should campaign to remain in the EU. An “advisory” referendum does not tie the hands of MPs. Yet the die-hard Brexiters, as well as the Prime  Minister and Jeremy Corbyn, seek to convince us that it does. This must be challenged. 

Parliament could revoke Article 50 and repeal the EU Withdrawal Act without another referendum.  That would be a valid, constitutional way forward. Alternatively, MPs can campaign for a people’s vote. As an MP, future generations will judge you harshly if, one way or another,  you do not fight to keep us in the EU, where we are safer, more prosperous and actually enjoy greater sovereignty.    

* John McHugo is a member of the Lib Dem Foreign Affairs Advisory Group. He is a former chair of Lib Dem Friends of Palestine and is the author of A Concise History of Sunnis and Shi'is, Syria: A Recent History, and A Concise History of the Arabs.

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  • Peter Martin 28th Dec '18 - 1:52pm

    ‘The referendum was only ever “advisory” ‘

    This what the Government leaflet said.

    ‘On Thursday, 23rd June you will have the opportunity to decide if the United Kingdom remains in the European Union. It is a big decision.’

    No-one including the Lib Dems, before the referendum, made the point that the referendum was ‘only advisory’.

    In 2008 the Lib Dems used this wording on their own proposal for a referendum.

    “That’s why the Liberal Democrats want a real referendum on Europe. Only a real referendum on Europe will allow the people to decide our country’s future”

    But that was then and this is now, eh?

  • John Roffey 28th Dec '18 - 3:49pm

    Considering how divided the country is on this issue and the hostility this has generated – perhaps the real task of a responsible political party is to make every effort to underline the fact that whether in or out of the EU – life will go on in the UK – much in the same way that it has for years because businesses are extremely adaptable [although the May deal does seem the worst of all worlds].

    I think this can be reinforced by comparing what will happen if their is a massive crash in the global stock markets – which is still likely to occur. Even the most conservative commentators think that any crash will make 2008 seem minor with the more excitable believing that we are on the verge of something comparable to the Wall Street Crash!

    This article from the Telegraph describes a ‘sovereign/bank doom loop in the eurozone’ as being a possible cause for such a crash – although the concept of ‘Zombie companies’ those who are just able to survive while interest rates are very low – but not if these rates should rise to 3, 4, 5% [what once were considered normal rates] and of course such a rate rise would have a significant impact on mortgages. However, the dizzying levels of unsecured personal debt seems virtually impossible to resolve.

  • Rarely has “last refuge, etc.” sounded more apposite.

  • John Roffey 28th Dec '18 - 5:07pm


    Yes – but surely its life-span must be nearly at an end?

  • John Roffey 28th Dec '18 - 5:31pm

    Do Lib/Dems not subscribe to [allegedly] Einstein’s, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.”

  • nvelope2003 28th Dec '18 - 5:44pm

    As I understand it the Supreme Court ruled that only Parliament can make or amend laws so if legislation is required then Parliament must decide. In that sense the referendum was advisory and there is no other means of enforcing or enacting the result except where it is possible to do so under Royal Prerogative powers. This would not be possible if there are any financial or tax raising requirements as only the House of Commons can pass the necessary laws. That is a meaningful vote.
    Of course it could be argued that the Government which set up the referendum might have a moral obligation to abide by the result but Mr Cameron resigned shortly afterwards so that Government no longer exists.

  • John Roffey 28th Dec '18 - 5:57pm


    I don’t really want to become involved with the Brexit debate – the purpose of my earlier post was to point out that whatever the outcome [particularly if the May deal is rejected by the HofC as looks most likely] Brexit is not really the big deal that it has become – when compared to a very likely global stock market crash.

    My real concern is that the Party has become so embroiled in the matter that it is failing to take advantage of the gaping hole at the centre of British politics – one that desperately needs filling by a mature party that concerns itself with the wellbeing of the British people who are suffering greatly as a result of Osborne’s austerity measures.

  • @William Fowler – “This would need to be done before a second vote so that it would free up circa 200,000 social housing units for people who do meet the residence test (mostly locals)”

    So would you deport the current occupants, or just throw them out onto the street?

    Just curious, what with it being the season of goodwill and everything…….

  • It’s true the referendum was technically advisory and cabinet can decide that it can be dropped. However, parliament triggered Brexit by a wide margin and parliament would need be involved in the process again. It should also be noted that an incoming majority government can equally leave the EU without a referendum, just as we were joined to the Pan European movement by the Conservative Party without them.

  • Does lamenting the desire of some people to take my country away from me count as patriotism? There were some of us who believed that promising a referendum about the EU was wrong from the start but we failed miserably on that one. Tony Benn’s final point in his five questions to ask in a democracy was “how do we get rid of you?” If politicians or governments get things wrong big time they are accountable and we more or less know what to do about it. Because we can’t sack the electorate a referendum cannot replace the legislature.

  • What is patriotism? It is a love of your country and the willingness to act or sacrifice to support or defend it according to the OED. Both Remainers and Leavers are patriotic as long as they are acting out of this emotional bond. If we accept this, we might be able to move forward. The issue is that we have different views as to how best to do this.

  • Peter Hirst 29th Dec '18 - 3:26pm

    Some of us need values to base our actions on, Martin and one of those for me is loyalty. Loyalty to people, ideas and things. Loyalty to our country or patriotism is one of those. It is steeped in our history. Let’s just accept that and move on. I see it as a positive attribute though like most things it can be used excessively. Then it can become a malign force. You still use your head when deciding what is best for the thing you are being loyal to. Perhaps if your rational mind cannot decide, you then act emotionally and not with the best of results. Or use that loyalty for actions that otherwise would be not easy to justify.

  • Andrew Tampion 31st Dec '18 - 7:09am

    Or Leave without a deal

  • Whatever misleading information the leaflet or anyone said about the nature of a referendum under the British system, the fact remains that it can only ever be advisory. Since Parliament has to debate, scrutinise and pass the legislation and is the sovereign body. There can be only one.

    MP’s are not delegates of either the narrow electorate of the referendum in 2016; where 3m EU tax payers were not allowed to vote; or of their own constituents. But many MP’s and two of the 4 nations had a majority for Remain.

    The vote has created a constitutional mess and it will be necessary to go back to the people to despatch it.

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