The ‘Stay In Offer’: the big Liberal Democrat Brexit initiative

As the doomed ‘Chequers’ fantasy proposal bites the dust and the Labour Party moves towards a ‘vote on the deal’, mainstream public opinion is moving away from a hard Brexit and very slowly away from Brexit itself.

But there is something missing. A gap. A chasm. A canyon.

The rabid Brexiters have already started their defence against anyone suggesting Brexit might cancelled, as if we have already left and as if reversing the Article 50 process or nixing the ‘transition’ period would already be both cumbersome and painful. Their new Mendacity Mark 2 vehicle has its engine running even now.

The main propaganda platform for social media and the Brexit Tabloids is that if we rejoin we will have to; join the Euro, have to pay larger payments to the EU Commission, lose our rebate, join Schengen, move City finance to Frankfurt, be forced to accept millions of refugees, accept a French-run European army… dissolving NATO and our own armed forces… and give up our permanent seat on the UN Security Council and hand it over to Germany or the EU as a whole.

None of these things would come true. That is not the point however.

In each case an argument can be made. An impolitic comment in a bar at the European Parliament by a maverick Swabian politician, a marginalised Dalmatian anarchist or a nostalgic Besssarabian nationalist, can easily be expanded as ‘the tip of the iceberg’. Offhand comments by fringe figures can easily be presented as ‘clues to the hidden EU plan’ for the subjugation of an humiliated United Kingdom.

Are we really ready for a ‘No White Flag’ campaign in the UK, with its millions funded from the Brexit backers in Russia and the US ? You can picture the Daily Express front page picture of white flag burning on the white cliffs of Dover, with Brexiter faces on the bodies of blue birds.

How do we counter this ? Cut it off at the pass.

There is a necessary (but not sufficient) condition for success. The ‘Stay In Offer’.

The UK needs an offer from the EU to the citizens of this country to stay in. Legally enforceable. What might it say ?

First the approach should be political rather than exclusively technocratic; pre-empting the future fibbers-in-chief.

A bigger role for London in financial regulation would be useful. A new EU reform institution would ensure the UK is seen to be a leader of EU change. Space programme guarantees would be welcomed.

However the headline items might be more ‘victorious’ and tabloid-friendly. Preservation of the current system of EU payments would be a start. The current arrangements for refugees could be updated but not ‘open-ended’. New controls on freedom-of-movement could be offered; which would in practice simply be the application of rules which already have been permitted by the EU up to now but, strangely, were never implemented by the Home Office.

This could be initiated by the European Parliament, especially since the Brexit spokesperson in the parliament is the leader of the liberal grouping to which we belong, and who is very close to the UK Liberal Democrats.

We should consider this diligently. A ‘stay in offer’ is not just about winning a people’s vote on the deal. It is primarily about getting that vote in the first place. It is now urgent and we have work to do with our partners to fill the gap.

* Paul Reynolds works with multilateral organisations as an independent adviser on international relations, economics, and senior governance.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • William Fowler 24th Sep '18 - 3:08pm

    Freedom of movement clashes with our extremely generous tax credit/tax allowance system so both should only be available after a five to ten year minimum period of residence…. this would make billions for the treasury and discourage low skill workers from coming here, thus making EU membership much easier to swallow for millions of leavers. This is not a hard sell to the EU as they suggested a residence test back when Cameron was running around in circles. Even better if the money saved is then used towards lowering employee NI so in effect staying in the EU would result in a pay boost for existing residents.

  • Jack Graham 24th Sep '18 - 3:25pm

    Is this the tone of voice you use in your capacity as an ‘international advisor@, if so I am amazed you have any clients.

  • Katharine Pindar 24th Sep '18 - 3:29pm

    This is helpful thinking, I believe, Paul (thank you) – that the UK needs an offer from the EU to the citizens of this country to stay in. From the viewpoint of the ordinary citizens, I would say that what is needed is for some flexibility to be offered on freedom of movement. The groundwork is already there, in the provisions which as you say our Home Office has not implemented, and in the mounting public evidence that most EU immigration is useful to this country. It surely needs behind-the-scenes planning now between the sherpas of both sides, so that an accommodation can be announced that will ease the largely unreasonable but still current fears in this country that EU immigration is harmful.

  • We haven’t left yet!

    If we rescind Article 50, it seems overwhelmingly likely that the UK will continue in the EU on exactly the same basis. We might be able to sort out some “face saving” announcements to enable a climb down by Theresa May. Anything more, though, strikes me as just the sort of English (and it is English as opposed to British or UK) exceptionalism that has besmirched these negotiations.

    If the UK were to rejoin after leaving that would be English exceptionalism on stilts.

    It is not deliverable. Why should the 27 change their union to suit a non-member? Were, say, Norway to be sitting there saying “we want a special deal to privilege Norwegian salmon farms over Scottish salmon farms or we won’t join” wouldn’t the UK be saying “don’t join then”.

    It is not desirable. I do not want to be a subject of ickle-special England with its ickle-special side deals, opt out and special treatment. I want to be a full citizen of the European union and cannot accept that being an EU citizen on the same basis as the Austrians, Belgians, Bulgarians, Croats, Cypriots, Czechs, Estonians, Finns, French, Germans, Greeks, Irish, Italians, Latvians, Lithuanians, Luxemburgish, Maltese, Dutch, Poles, Portuguese, Romanians, Slovaks, Slovenes, Spanish and Swedish is any kind of “imposition”.

  • I read the above article with some enjoyment. It is upbeat, positive and has a grain of logic at its base. Unfortunately, it did not deliver on the offer, which remains much as before. That was very disappointing because I over optimistically hoped that there might just be something positive about the EU.

    There isn’t, and the post, by its failure, reminded me that membership of the EU is a massive cost, loss of freedoms, bad leadership, loss of democracy, huge bureaucracy, reduced sovereignty, bad foreign policy, bad defence policy, inward looking protectionist trade policy and so much more negative and unwanted nonsense.

  • Peter

    massive cost, no, we gain in trade profit far more than we pay

    loss of freedoms, – how exactly? We share in all the power the EU has. We are considerably more free due to things like the European Arrest Warrant which ensure that criminals get caught and punished more often than otherwise

    bad leadership, – well, that judgement is in the ey of the beholder, but I cannot see any bad leadership coming from the EU. Compared to who? Us? With Cameron and Miliband, and then May and Corbyn in charge, you must be joking.

    loss of democracy, – where exactly. EU laws are passed by the Council of Ministers – elected by each country, and the EP – elected on proportional representation by the voters in each country. The Commission is chosen by the elected leaders in each country. Compare that to our broken democracy where parties get to govern on the basis of just over a third of the vote.

    huge bureaucracy, – absolutely not the case. 46000 civil servants for the whole of the EU’s 28 countries; compared to 332000 in the Uk alone.

    reduced sovereignty, – how? We share our sovereignty with the other members of the Eu and we get a share of theirs. Absolutey no loss, and more likely a gain, because together we can do things better.

    bad foreign policy, – I’m not sure what you’re referring to. But our involvement the Iraq War, in Afghanistan, our support for the criminal regime in Saudi Arabia – these are all our doing, not the EU’s. And it has helped keep peace in the continent of Europe for sixty years.

    bad defence policy, ??

    inward looking protectionist trade policy – it could be better, I’m sure. But what will we get outside it – chlorinated chicken and the NHS in foreign profit making hands.

    No, I’ll stick with the EU, and try and make it better, thank you.

  • Peter Martin 25th Sep '18 - 7:38am

    Tony Lloyd expresses a perfectly rational view when he says:

    “I want to be a full citizen of the European union ……..on the same basis as the Austrians, Belgians, etc”

    and he does not want

    ” ickle-special side deals, opt outs and special treatment”

    That means having the euro, adopting Schengen and being a fully paid up member to the same extent as Germany and France. That’s the way we’ll truly be a part of the EU and be in a position to shape it’s future. Otherwise we won’t!

    Most Remainers are nowhere near so positive. The usual argument is that the EU is fine providing we don’t have to have too much EU. They might want to make their minds up and, if they do choose the EU, show a bit more enthusiasm for what the EU is trying to become.

  • Peter,
    I’ve never really been convinced by the stay in and reform argument. This is mainly because most of the people who make it usually seem to want to reform the UK rather than the EU. A lot of the time it comes across as an attempt to keep reluctant remainers hooked on the fantasy that Britain can or even should be able dictate a major shift on something as fundamental to the EU as citizenship.

  • To remain we just need to agree to abide by the “four freedoms” (as in the original Treaty of Rome). The free movement of goods, services, capital and persons within the EU. institutions (like Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU)) are essential for the freedoms to work in practice.
    We keep hearing, from ‘Leavers’ how, “We only joined a Common Market” but, sadly, the UK has never been happy from day one. Barely a year after joining, a third of those who voted wanted ‘OUT’ and have never stopped trying, by fair means and foul, to get their way.
    I hope we find a way to remain but, after almost half a century of ‘moaning, groaning and trying to frustrate the EU’ many Europeans could well be excused for thinking, “Just Go!”

  • What’s this new big idea? eu citizens to have the same immigration prospects as those from elsewhere. It doesn’t need a degree in politics to realise that is the logical result from leaving. Now we hear that trade deals will include favoured immigration status for countries. Is that against the spirit of the referendum? It is just an excuse to execute any policies you agree with. The Conservatives deserve to be kicked out of government.

    Our campaign must reemphasise the importance of having remain on the ballot paper. Nothing less is acceptable.

  • Mick Taylor 25th Sep '18 - 4:39pm

    Jack Graham
    That’s the spirit. Attack the messenger not the message. and try to impugn his integrity. Easy to see why you’re not with us.

  • Frankie’
    The problem a lot post-cold war end of history centrists thinking is that like Marxism it’s based on the idea of the inevitability and unstoppable nature of it’s vision. But history shows that no political vision is inevitable and that notions of what constitutes going forward in a societal sense is subjective rather than objective.

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