The UK–EU relationship: the Liberal Democrat position

Anyone who was at the last two Liberal Democrat conferences should remember the two debates that were held on the party’s position on the future relationship between the UK and the EU. In a passionately argued debate last September, conference resolved that the party should support a longer-term objective of UK membership of the EU, but we rejected a proposal for an immediate campaign to reverse Brexit, which, it was argued, was more likely to alienate voters sick of the recent history of Brexit-inspired division and bitterness. Conference also called for the closest possible alignment between the UK and the EU on trade, security, environmental, social, judicial, educational and scientific issues.

The government’s disastrous Trade and Cooperation Agreement was finalised at the end of 2020, so the motion we adopted at spring conference this year was able to add further detail.

We condemned the agreement wholeheartedly (‘the only “free” trade deal in history to put up new barriers to trade instead of pulling them down’). Conference instructed the Federal Policy Committee to: ‘carry out a programme of work, including consulting widely within the party, to determine the best possible future framework for the UK–EU relationship across all policy areas, with the aims of: (a) demonstrating the benefits to UK citizens and businesses of a much closer relationship compared to the government’s inadequate measures; (b) recommending roadmaps for the UK to rejoin the Customs Union, Single Market and other EU agencies and programmes as appropriate; and (c) maximising public support for eventual UK membership of the EU.’

The basic thrust of the party’s position is therefore clear: to demonstrate how the version of Brexit that the government has chosen is disastrous for the UK in every respect, and to call for a different relationship in the immediate term – for example, membership of the Single Market – that would be much better. In this way, we aim to construct a ‘roadmap to rejoin’ that ultimately convinces the electorate – including a sizeable number of those who voted Leave in 2016 – that membership of the EU is in the UK’s best interests.

The FPC has appointed a small group, chaired by Duncan Brack and including representatives of the parliamentary party, the Federal International Relations Committee and the Liberal Democrat European Group, to implement the conference instruction. Our remit covers such a wide range of topics – UK membership of the Customs Union and the Single Market, rejoining or associating with EU agencies and programmes such as Europol, Erasmus Plus, the EU emissions trading system or the EU Aviation Safety Agency, and closer cooperation over health, climate change, environment, crime and policing, education, scientific research, and foreign, security and defence policy – that we’ve decided to approach our task through a series of conference motions and papers rather than one big one.

So, as a start, we’ve submitted a motion on ‘Rebuilding our Cultural, Artistic and Educational ties with Europe’ to this autumn’s conference, and it’ll be debated on the Monday afternoon. The FPC’s motion on carbon pricing also deals extensively with linking the UK’s and EU’s efforts to combat climate change, and a number of other motions touch on EU issues.

For next year’s spring conference, we’re planning a motion on Single Market and Customs Union membership; this is such a complex area, covering, among other things, freedom of movement, social, health and environmental standards and the Northern Ireland Protocol, that we’ll be accompanying it with a short paper, to be published in January. There is no doubt about the party’s commitment to rejoining the Single Market and Customs Union – that was made clear at this year’s spring conference – but there are many issues to consider about the practicalities, the phasing and the impacts.

Of course, we don’t want to restrict what the party is saying on these topics just to conference debates, so Layla Moran will be coordinating our parliamentary spokespeople and encouraging them to put forward proposals for closer and stronger relationships with the EU in all their spokespersonship areas.

We hope many of those who read this will want to speak in the debates coming up at conference. We’re keen to hear from as many of you as possible, though, so we are also organising a consultative session on the Friday afternoon of conference, so you can tell us how you think the future UK–EU relationship should develop, across any of the policy areas you think are most important; and, perhaps even more importantly, how the party should present our proposals to appeal to both Remain and Leave voters.

And since we only have limited time at conference, we’re working with the Lib Dem European Group to help them organise a one-day conference on 30 October, preceded by a series of regional events, which should allow for much wider participation. Look out for more news from LDEG as these events are finalised.

The future of the relationship between the UK and EU in the next few years will be one of the most crucial issues this country will face; it is hard to think of any policy area it does not affect, or any individual, community or business it will not have an impact on. Making sure the Liberal Democrats develop a principled and practical set of proposals to deal with this, with the ultimate aim of persuading the electorate to support the UK rejoining the EU, is one of the most critical tasks in front of the party, and we hope you will help us fulfil it.

* Duncan Brack is the Editor of the Journal of Liberal History and former Vice Chair of the Federal Policy Committee.

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104 Comments

  • neil James sandison 4th Aug '21 - 3:34pm

    I hope the party recognises that just as in life it is in politics that you can never go back but we do need to move forward . Building a new positive relationship with Europe is the stepping stone we and the country needs, by all means emphasis the failures of the Johnson government to secure sensible terms of departure that have in turn led to economic chaos and a mountain of red tape for business additional surcharges on goods purchased for consumers but we will have to win hearts and minds first for a new European policy.

  • Brad Barrows 4th Aug '21 - 3:54pm

    I note that the word ‘referendum’ was never used in the article. As a democratic party, I assume the Liberal Democrats intend that any rejoining of the Single Market, EFTA or the EU itself would require the specific endorsement of the people via a referendum as the decision to leave the Single Market and EU was made by the people in a referendum and then enacted by parliament.

  • Geoff Walker 4th Aug '21 - 4:05pm

    I was living in Jersey at the time of the Referendum. The Channel Islands did not have a vote. There was a flurry of activity between the UK Government and the Channel Islands after the Referendum examining the options of remaining in the Customs Union and Single Market like the Channel Islands. It looked for a while like a pragmatic compromise was the likely outcome but the supporters of a hard Brexit put an end to that and we have ended with the Frost/Johnson deal with the UK given Third World Status. The Brexiteers welcomed that back in December but now appear like everyone else not to want it!

  • Richard Whelan 4th Aug '21 - 4:24pm

    Brad, we don’t need a Referendum. Referendums divide. If that is the only lesson we learn from the 2016 EU Referendum let this be it.

    To answer your question directly, we put these proposals into our next General Election manifesto and seek their endorsement in a General Election.

    If elected to government we would then have a mandate to implement these proposals.

    That is how Parliamentary democracies should work. It is why we want to make it more representative through a system of PR to elect future parliaments from which more broad based governments, containing different shades of political opinion, emerge.

    It is also why we want to create a more federal system of governance throughout the United Kingdom. It is so concentration of powers that are currently held by central government are dispersed.

    Taking all these factors into consideration, there would be no need for more Referendums because such a system would ensure greater political accountability to the people we are meant to serve.

  • I note that the BBC interviewed importers one of whom complained the cost of a shipping container had risen from £4000 to £15000 over the last 3 years whilst another spoke of weeks, even months, delays from placing an order to the goods even being loaded onto ships…

    Still, why worry, we now have ‘Globalo Britain’

  • Brad Barrows 4th Aug '21 - 5:34pm

    @Richard Whelan
    In theory, if the Liberal Democrats were to win a majority at the next election, they could claim to have a mandate and attempt to push to through parliament. However, we all realise that the Liberal Democ rats are not going to win a majority next election – the target is merely to end up with more MPs than now and, optimistically, regain 3rd largest party status in the House of Commons. On that basis, having a commitment to rejoin the Single Market, EFTA or the EU without a referendum will be presented as anti-democratic and used to undermine the party.

  • Brad Barrows 4th Aug '21 - 5:37pm

    Apologies again for the ‘Democ rats’ in my last post – I write it like this to prevent unnecessary apostrophe, but sometimes forget to close the space before posting.

  • @Brad – “as the decision to leave the Single Market and EU was made by the people in a referendum and then enacted by parliament.”

    Interestingly, I’ve to notice anyone calling for a referendum over this Government’s decision to apply to rejoin the Lugano convention (effectively a single legal jurisdiction). The only dissent I’ve seen is from the pro-Brexit press using words to the effect that the EU was punishing the UK by not letting it rejoin and thus lose £5bn pa of legal services trade with the EU/EEA.

  • Richard Church 4th Aug '21 - 6:38pm

    Brad Barrows, you are wrong. People did not vote to leave the single market, they voted to leave the EU. Many Eurosceptics, including Nigel Farage of all people, have argued at various times for the ‘Norway option’ which included membership of the single market.

  • This article writes of the irony of the new UK-EU trade relationship https://www.bruegel.org/2021/01/the-double-irony-of-the-new-uk-eu-trade-relationship/
    “The first irony is that this decision is indirectly related to the single market programme and the fourth enlargement, two EU policies spearheaded by successive UK governments. The single market birthed the single currency in which the UK refused to participate and which left it frustrated at being excluded from important decisions, especially during the euro area sovereign debt crisis, as Ivan Rogers, a former UK ambassador to the EU has vividly explained. Moreover, the single market in conjunction with the eastern enlargement brought large inflows of foreign workers to the UK who were initially welcomed but eventually generated a backlash because of perceived pressure on certain public services.

    The second irony is that the decision runs completely counter to the UK’s efforts during the past 60 years to avoid being economically disadvantaged in Europe, starting with its decision to create EFTA in 1960. Today, the UK finds itself outside the EU and with less favourable access to its market than any other European country. All its former EFTA companions have either joined the EU, or remain outside the EU but inside the European single market. True, by staying outside the EU, the UK will be free to set its own rules, but it will have to continue to adhere to EU rules in order to retain access to the EU market, which combines size and geographical proximity like no other market in the world. The future will tell whether this fifth chapter in the UK-EU trade relationship is temporary or lasting, and what the short-, medium- and long-term consequences will be.”

  • Brad Barrows 4th Aug ’21 – 3:54pm:
    …as the decision to leave the Single Market and EU was made by the people in a referendum and then enacted by parliament.

    Indeed. The UK’s decision was to leave the EU in its entirety as specified at the time and accepted by both campaigns.

    The proposition for Leave was clearly encapsulated in three words: “Take Back Control”. It’s not possible to take back control of our money, borders, laws, and trade while being in the ‘single market’ – the EEA. We’d have to pay (Norway paid more per head than we did), we’d have uncontrolled ‘free movement’ from the EU, we’d have to obey three-quarters of all EU law with no say, and we wouldn’t be able to operate an independent trade policy – ludicrous for the World’s fifth largest market.

    Not everyone paid much attention to what was said during the Referendum campaign – many already knew which way they would be voting. After our decision to leave some remainer activists have tried to rewrite history by pretending that a Leave vote only meant leaving the political part of the EU.

    Here’s what happened…

    1. The government sent a leaflet to every household which mentioned the “single market” 20 times and exhorted us to vote to remain within it. It was the central economic issue of the campaign.

    ‘Why the government believes that voting to remain in the EU is the best decision for the UK’:
    https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/why-the-government-believes-that-voting-to-remain-in-the-european-union-is-the-best-decision-for-the-uk/why-the-government-believes-that-voting-to-remain-in-the-european-union-is-the-best-decision-for-the-uk

    If we move outside the single market we would have to negotiate a new relationship with the EU. Even the best Free Trade Agreement (FTA) will come with higher administrative costs and red tape in order to export into the single market.

    Continued…

  • …Continued from above.

    2. The Prime Minister, David Cameron, stated in parliament what each vote meant…

    Prime Minister’s Questions: 15 June 2016: Answer to Nigel Adams:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=2170&v=9BjtP00IRPA

    ’In’ means we remain in a reformed EU; ‘Out’ means we come out. As the leave campaigners and others have said, ‘Out’ means out of the European Union, out of the European single market, out of the Council of Ministers — out of all those things…

    3. The remain campaign saw leaving the ‘single market’ as the “key issue”…

    ‘Brexit vote was about single market, says Cameron adviser’ [November 2016]:
    http://www.politico.eu/article/brexit-vote-was-about-single-market-says-cameron-adviser/

    “Leaving the European single market was “the instruction from the referendum,” according to one of David Cameron’s closest advisers.

    Ameet Gill, who served as the former prime minister’s director of strategy until earlier this year and campaigned for a Remain vote, said the Brexiteers’ commitment to leaving the free-trade bloc was the key issue of the campaign… […]

    Gill is particularly damning about the attempt to rewrite the history of the campaign by those who, like him, supported a vote to Remain.

  • LibCync 4th Aug ’21 – 6:11pm:
    Staying in the Single Market was a valid brexit and would have respected the referendum result…

    We didn’t vote for “brexit” (to be retrospectively redefined by rejoiners); we voted to Leave the EU in its entirety as specified at the time and accepted by both campaigns.

    …and was indeed pushed by many Leave campaigners in the campaign – Farage never shut up about being like Norway!

    Not during the Referendum campaign. A few people had cited Norway in previous years, most notably while promoting Dr. Richard North’s Flexcit plan which advocated using the EEA as a stepping stone to smooth the path to leaving. That proposal was dropped well before the Referendum campaign.

    How could we possibly “Take Back Control” of our money, borders, laws, and trade while still being subject to three-quarters of all EU law? This is why the Norway / EEA idea was dropped.

    ‘We pay, but have no say: that’s the reality of Norway’s relationship with the EU’:
    https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/oct/27/norway-eu-reality-uk-voters-seduced-by-norwegian-model

    As an EEA member, we do not participate in decision-making in Brussels, but we loyally abide by Brussels’ decisions. We have incorporated approximately three-quarters of all EU legislative acts into Norwegian legislation – and counting.

  • Brad Barrows 4th Aug '21 - 8:46pm

    @Martin
    I think ‘obtuse’ is unfair. I remember that the who thrust of the debate was about ‘taking back control’, with particular mention of the UK being able to end free movement of EU citizens to the UK if we left the EU. As you will be aware, free movement is one of the cornerstones of the Single Market so most people understood that voting to Leave was also voting to leave the Single Market. I campaigned for a Remain vote but even some of my close relatives told me they were voting Leave to end the free movement of EU citizens into the UK. They fully expected the UK to be leaving the Single Market if their side won.

  • Peter Martin 4th Aug '21 - 9:02pm

    “…the ultimate aim of persuading the electorate to support the UK rejoining the EU…”

    You’d be trying to persuade them to rejoin on much worse terms than they left. It would be like applying for your old job back on less money than you were earning before you quit for something else. Then, you’d be assuming your boss would actually want you back!

    If you think this is going to happen you’re dreaming. We really need to make the best of what we’ve done.

  • Peter Martin 4th Aug '21 - 9:14pm

    @ Geoff Walker,

    “I was living in Jersey at the time of the Referendum. The Channel Islands did not have a vote. ”

    I think you’ll find that’s ‘cos they were neither part of the UK nor part of the EU.

  • Duncan, this is a very thorough and well-argued policy position, which I would expect from you. The trouble is that it doesn’t fit very well in a Focus leaflet article or a TV interview. What we need to do is distil all of what you say there into a brief summary which we can all use when asked (and that includes the leader).
    I would suggest: “The Liberal Democrats believe that the UK should rejoin the EU, but we recognise that this cannot happen overnight and in the meantime we aim to construct the closest possible relationship with our European neighbours.” The first 11 words of this statement are important, and need to come first. I hope our leader understands that this is the kind of response he should give when asked if we are a rejoin party.

  • Richard Church 4th Aug ’21 – 6:38pm:
    People did not vote to leave the single market, they voted to leave the EU.

    The correct name for the ‘single market’ is the EU Internal Market. It means EEA membership. As the Norwegian’s have found this requires being subject to around three-quarters of all EU law…

    ‘The Storting and the EEA Agreement’ [July 2019]:
    https://www.stortinget.no/globalassets/pdf/eu_open/the_storting_and_the_eea_agreement_factsheet_aug2019.pdf

    “Five a day” is the term that has been used to describe how extensive the EEA Agreement is. The expression refers to the fact that on average five new legal acts have been integrated into the EEA Agreement for each day there has been a sitting in the Storting. […]

    The Official Norwegian Report “Outside and Inside – Norway’s agreements with the European Union” (NOU 2012:2) examined Norway’s overall relations with the EU. It concluded that Norway has “incorporated approximately three-quarters of all EU legal acts compared with the EU states that have incorporated everything, and has implemented them more effectively than many of the EU states.” […]

    Half of the matters dealt with by local authorities at a municipal and county level are directly affected by the EEA Agreement. This is the conclusion in a 2018 report from the Norwegian Institute for Urban and Regional Research.

    Many Eurosceptics, including Nigel Farage of all people, have argued at various times for the ‘Norway option’ which included membership of the single market.

    Not “many”; a few and not usually as the final destination. The “various times” were before the official Referendum campaign. Farage once shared a Strasbourg office with Dr. Richard North and promoted his Flexcit (Flexible Continuous Exit) plan which advocated using EEA membership as a “holding position” while negotiating a free trade deal.

  • Roland 4th Aug ’21 – 6:35pm:
    Interestingly, I’ve to notice anyone calling for a referendum over this Government’s decision to apply to rejoin the Lugano convention…

    Apply the four tests: do we retain control of our money, borders, laws, and trade?

    The Lugano Convention attempts to clarify which national courts have jurisdiction for civil and commercial contracts (where not specified). Lugano is in Switzerland, which is outside the EEA.

  • Andrew Tampion 5th Aug '21 - 6:59am

    Those claiming that Leave supporters advocated the Norway option and remaining in the Single Market might want to view this clip from the Sunday Politics:

  • Duncan Brack 5th Aug '21 - 8:51am

    TonyH, thanks very much – an excellent summary! The article was written for internal consumption, primarily, but of course you’re right, we’ll need to get the external messaging right too. That’s one of the topics we will be covering in the consultation session, and probably in the LDEG events.

  • john oundle 5th Aug '21 - 10:59am

    After all the divisions of the past five years due to Brexit, the party is going to stoke up the issue again & attempt to renege on the 2016 result !
    And to add petrol to the flames there won’t be another referendum.

    Anyone that had observed polling in the years leading up to the 2016 referendum would know that immigration was the no 1 or 2 issue for voters, so leaving the EU automatically ruled out single market membership.
    David Cameron & numerous others have stated that immigration was the key issue that resulted in a ‘leave’ vote.

    In any case I doubt the EU would want a divided country back, let alone the draconian terms that would be offered to the UK, single currency, Schengen.
    People complained at a net EU budget contribution of £ 11 billion, if we had stayed with the latest budget & recovery plan the figure would be around £23 billion with previous rebates. So with no rebates £30 – £35 billion?

    Yes, some closer relationships with the EU where feasible,but rejoin the EU & or the single market is just magical thinking.

  • I just love how ‘leavers’ keep telling us how everyone knew what Brexit meant..

    In the aftermath of the ‘leave’ vote some of those tasked with implementing Brexit stated..

    International Trade Secretary Liam Fox……..”No Brexit deal ‘would be bad’ for UK”…………
    Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson….”Leaving the EU without a deal on Brexit would be ‘perfectly OK’…
    Brexit secretary David Davis…”MPs must choose between May’s deal and crashing out of EU”….
    PM Theresa May…”Brexit means Brexit means the best possible deal”….

    If, after the Brexit vote, these (and otrhers) had no cohesive idea what it meant, what chance for ‘Joe Public’ pre-Brexit? The previous 20+ posts on this thread just confirm the confusion..Except, of course, for the 20/20 hindsight vision of some…

  • Alex Macfie 5th Aug '21 - 11:47am

    john oundle: “attempt to renege on the 2016 result” so that’s the new term for seeking a mandate to replace a previous one is it? OK, well at the next General Election, all opposition parties will be attempting to “renege” on the 2019 GE result.

  • Barry Lofty 5th Aug '21 - 12:02pm

    What an absolute waste not to have an amicable working relationship with the EU, Brexit has proved that we have lost more than we have gained by leaving, particularly when looking at the present government the country has put in charge of so many aspects of our lives. No matter what the counter arguments will be I feel a great sadness about leaving the EU, for many reasons, not just business.

  • john oundle 5th Aug '21 - 12:30pm

    Alex Macfie

    ‘john oundle: “attempt to renege on the 2016 result” so that’s the new term for seeking a mandate to replace a previous one is it? OK, well at the next General Election, all opposition parties will be attempting to “renege” on the 2019 GE result.’

    You seem unwilling or unable to differentiate between a referendum on a specific one-off issue & the usual mass of policies within an election manifesto.
    Or perhaps you already realize that another referendum would be a lost cause.

    So much for the very public statement on TV by Paddy Ashdown on the night of the referendum result, that ‘whatever’ the result it should be fully respected.

  • As usua, Duncan makes a good argument, but sadly it’s within English confines and has a missing flaw. There is no mention of the fact that Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU and unfortunately he makes no attempt to deal with this.

    I’m afraid the Scottish Lib Dems, no matter how assertive or challenging Alex Cole-Hamilton may be (and putting words mouthed at a female Scottish Minister on one side), face a Morton’s Fork if the adhere to an Anglo-centric Unionism hostile to the EU epitomised by an opportunist Anglo-centric Prime Minister. Until Scottish Lib Dems can resolve this matter they will continue to face a bleak future.

    BBC News today, “Conservative donors are not ‘immoral’ and have no influence on government policy, Minister Grant Shapps has insisted, amid cash-for-access claims. Last week, the Financial Times reported those who donated £250,000 could get access to the PM and the Chancellor. Grant Shapps ? Takes one to know one.

  • The problem is that Covid has a much greater effect on the economy than Brexit, so blaming Brexit for things does not work at the moment and by the time we get past Covid it will be too distant from Brexit.

    By the time the country is ready to think about joining the EU, it is likely that the EU will be even more integrated with mandatory usage of the Euro and perhaps even coming up with a single language (some hybrid of German, French, Italian and Spanish?), the latter the one big missing factor in integration. We would be better off integrating with the USA where we can more of less understand the natives and would benefit from their harder nosed capitalism.

  • On 4 June 2021, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway (the EEA EFTA States) and the United Kingdom (UK) concluded in substance the negotiations on a comprehensive free trade agreement https://www.efta.int/Free-Trade/news/EEA-EFTA-States-conclude-free-trade-agreement-UK-524121
    This article argues that the UK should join the EFTA https://exponentsmag.org/2021/03/05/the-uk-should-join-the-efta/
    “The EFTA states enjoy a level of frictionless trade with the EU that UK businesses currently struggling with new red tape would envy. For goods trade it is the same as being in the EU, with seamless borders and mutual recognition of all regulations and authorizations. For those that are also party to the EEA agreement, this extends to services, including financial services – the UK’s most important industry – and professional qualifications. Joining the EFTA would not make the UK party to the EU Customs Union, but would leave it free to pursue other trade deals.

    The EFTA states are not part of what ordinary Brexit voters in the UK truly feared: namely, the EU’s move towards deeper supranational political union. Without the UK there pulling the brake, this movement has accelerated into common debt issuance. A model of the four freedoms without political union is one that most UK voters would support.
    There are, of course, non-economic issues to consider when selecting the right post-Brexit model for the UK. But the economic case is clear: for free trade in Europe, Upgrade to EFTA!”
    The reference above to “without the UK there pulling the brake, this movement has accelerated into common debt issuance” relates to the €800 billion joint bond issue to be undertaken by the European commission on behalf of members states https://ec.europa.eu/info/strategy/eu-budget/eu-borrower-investor-relations_en

  • expats 5th Aug ’21 – 11:07am:
    I just love how ‘leavers’ keep telling us how everyone knew what Brexit meant..

    We didn’t vote for “Brexit”, we voted to Leave the EU in its entirety as clearly stated at the time. Both leave and remain campaigns agreed that in the event of a decision to leave we would be leaving the ‘single market’ – for the remain campaign that was their “key issue” (as evidenced in my first post).

    It’s obvious that we can’t ‘Take Back Control’ of our money, borders, laws, and trade while still being in the EU Internal Market. It’s not possible to do that. It was also not possible to specify in advance the details of our future arrangement with the EU because that depended on what the EU would agree to. However, the government said, not least in the leaflet sent to every household, that some form of free trade arrangement would be negotiated and that was the expected outcome we voted on.

    ‘Why the government believes that voting to remain in the EU is the best decision for the UK’:
    https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/why-the-government-believes-that-voting-to-remain-in-the-european-union-is-the-best-decision-for-the-uk/why-the-government-believes-that-voting-to-remain-in-the-european-union-is-the-best-decision-for-the-uk

    What happens if we leave?

    Voting to leave the EU would create years of uncertainty and potential economic disruption. This would reduce investment and cost jobs.

    The government judges it could result in 10 years or more of uncertainty as the UK unpicks our relationship with the EU and renegotiates new arrangements with the EU and over 50 other countries around the world.

    In the event, we were able to negotiate a full zero-quota, zero-tariff trade agreement with the EU in less than half that time and roll-over those 50 (actually 67) trade deals in little more than 18 months.

  • Alex Macfie 5th Aug ’21 – 11:47am:
    john oundle: “attempt to renege on the 2016 result” so that’s the new term for seeking a mandate to replace a previous one is it?

    The Referendum was specified to be “A once in a generation decision”. It’s not possible to hop in and out of EU membership like say membership of the World Health Organisation. The time scales involved for negotiations and subsequent changes transcend the parliamentary time scale – that’s why a Referendum is required to ensure that such changes endure (as also for electoral reform).

  • Nonconformistradical 5th Aug '21 - 3:37pm

    @Frank West
    Assuming your post was serious and I’m not sure about that…

    “…perhaps even coming up with a single language (some hybrid of German, French, Italian and Spanish?), the latter the one big missing factor in integration.”
    Not sure the Poles, Hungarians, Greeks etc. would take too kindly to that…you left them out of the mix.

    Is it possible you have no knowledge of any European language apart from English (or Welsh or Gaelic)?

    “We would be better off integrating with the USA where we can more of less understand the natives and would benefit from their harder nosed capitalism.”
    Personally I find the’devil take the hindmost’ attitude which seems to prevail in the USA an utterly alien concept.

    Is it possible that you might lack any sense of community? Do you feel you have no responsibility towards other human beings?

  • Paul Barker 5th Aug '21 - 4:21pm

    On the Referendum question – I think we should be honest & admit that we were wrong about both the 2014 & 2016 Referenda – we should have opposed both on principle & campaigned for a Boycott of the Vote if/when they happened. Our commitments to Parliamentary Democracy, Federalism & Consensus should have led us to oppose them.

    We should be pointing out the damage done by both Referenda & make it plain that we will not back repeats of either. If we need something extra to Parliamentary Democracy, the Liberal solution would be some sort of Peoples Convention – like the process that led up to the creation of The Scottish Parliament.

  • Thanks for highlighting the difficult self-induced conundrum that faces Scottish Lib Dems on the EU, Martin. I would add there is also the issue of democratic legitimacy and authority.

    The Scottish Parliament (and local government) are elected on forms of proportional representation (with votes at 16). This is not the case with the Westminster Commons, and the Lords have no credible democratic authority whatsoever. Thus, Ms Sturgeon (love her or loath her) has more democratic legitimacy in Scotland than Johnson has throughout the UK. Liberal Democrats ignore this at their peril.

    Cheap jibes at the SNP Government (whether from West Dorset or from West Edinburgh) are not an alternative or credible policy……. nor are they based on any authentic liberal philosophy. This is sad when one reflects on the historic role the Liberal Party played in the political life of Scotland when Liberals regularly elected 60 out of 72 Scottish MP’s. It is striking that in those days they mostly campaigned for the equivalent of Devo Max. Others joined the Liberal Unionists and merged with the Tories in 1912.

    The antics of Johnson this weekend….. refusing to meet the First Minister to discuss covid when less than a mile away… illustrates the almost colonial hegemonic attitude of this awful Unionist Anglo-centric Tory Government. It is not something Scottish Lib Dems should be a Little Sir Echo to.

    Interesting to note the Scottish Greens are about to consult their membership on the question of cooperating on a green agenda with the Scottish Government tomorrow.

  • Frank West 5th Aug ’21 – 1:44pm:
    …it is likely that the EU will be even more integrated with mandatory usage of the Euro…

    That’s already the case for new applicants.

    …and perhaps even coming up with a single language (some hybrid of German, French, Italian and Spanish?), the latter the one big missing factor in integration.

    Esperanto perhaps. You highlight an important fact about the so-called ‘single market’: it’s not a single market at all. Hardly any goods in a UK supermarket could be sold in France or Finland without relabelling and repackaging as they don’t speak the same language. There are 24 official languages and each of those countries has different advertising, marketing, and merchandising cultures and conventions. You can’t sell the same goods throughout the ‘single market’ unlike in North America.

    We would be better off integrating with the USA where we can more of less understand the natives and would benefit from their harder nosed capitalism.

    We don’t need to integrate. Good quality mutually beneficial free trade agreements are all we need. We could usefully rejuvenate the Commonwealth and deepen our trading relationships with many of those countries with which we share much in common, not least our Common Law mindset.

  • Alex Macfie 5th Aug '21 - 5:30pm

    john oundle: The referendum was advisory, and would probably have been annulled had it been binding due to electoral malpractice. As it was advisory, it didn’t have any direct effect so there was nothing to overturn.
    But not only that, referendum or election the principle is the same: in a democracy, any mandate can be superseded by a fresh mandate, which may be to do the exact opposite of the earlier mandate. And in a democracy, people are also allowed to seek such a fresh mandate.
    Ironically the advisory nature of the Brexit referendum not only made the result untouchable in the courts, it has also given the referendum result a sanctity that no other vote in this country, such that people talk of seeking a mandate that would replace it as “reneging” on the result, as if it was something handed down on tablets of stone and questioning it is to be forbidden. This is not democracy,

  • Nonconformistradical 5th Aug '21 - 6:40pm

    @Jeff
    “We could usefully rejuvenate the Commonwealth and deepen our trading relationships with many of those countries with which we share much in common, not least our Common Law mindset.”
    Mightn’t that deprive us of opportunities to learn from other countries which don’t share what you refer to as our Common Law mindset? Opportunities to learn from other countries what they might conceivably be doing better than we do?

  • John Littler 5th Aug '21 - 7:00pm

    The likes of Mogg and Redwood call themselves patriotic but go silent when they are reminded that there is nothing remotely patriotic about their businesses whose main purpose is sending the money of wealthy people overseas to avoid UK taxes. Others at the top of the Tory Party are making 10% commission by legitimising Russian funds.

    The real reason the UK dropped everything, throwing industries, jobs, rights and livelihoods to the wall to leave the EU on 1st Jan ’21 was to completely avoid the EU Savings Directive and EU Transparency Directive ( hot money ) which applied from that date and would have hit many top Tories and their supporters.

    Nationalism sewn by the foreign billionaire owned right wing press was just the lubrication to make the tax evasion and hot money handling continue.

  • The problem with arguing to re-join any individual EU institutions is that that will be widely seen by much of the public as an attempt to (partially) rejoin the EU by the back door, and thereby reverse (ignore) the referendum result. Whatever the niceties of the ‘but we can be in this institution and not be in the EU‘ arguments, right now there’s almost no way to avoid that coming across as undemocratic, sleazy, and disrespectful to the electorate.

    The second problem is that the UK is currently undergoing some economic pain in part because businesses and the economy are transitioning from an EU environment to an outside-the-EU environment, and it takes time to make those changes. Fast forward a couple of years and that transition will be behind us. At that point, any attempt to re-join the single market and customs union will just unleash a new round of economic pain as businesses that are now set up for trading outside the EU suddenly have to re-adjust.

    I voted Remain and I was very sad when we left the EU. But I would say the LibDems need to stop fighting yesterday’s battles. We’re outside the EU now. Start working out instead how to be a progressive, internationalist, nation from that perspective.

  • John Littler 5th Aug '21 - 7:31pm

    Simon, as a small exporter, re-joining the Single Market and Customs Union would be great and would require no real adjustment.

    As to artists touring or working overseas, the transport industry, farming/fishing, animal and plant related business, or any kind of hire service, trade show or conferencing services, an enormous burden would be lifted. Finance too would gain huge revenues and jobs. Chemicals could save a billion on a new regulatory system.

    The sim should be top be inside the economic institutions, not the political ones.

  • Nonconformistradical 5th Aug ’21 – 6:40pm:
    Mightn’t that deprive us of opportunities to learn from other countries which don’t share what you refer to as our Common Law mindset?

    Not at all. The UK is an historic open trading nation with a global presence so we have expats all over the world and immigrant communities from an exceptionally diverse range of countries. We’ve learnt new ideas and adopted practices from around the world and will continue to do so as we expand our horizons. We do the majority of our trade both exports (57%) and now imports with the world beyond the EU. By contrast, the average EU country only sends a third (34%) of its exports outside the EU.

  • Alex Macfie 5th Aug '21 - 7:40pm

    Simon R: The longer the time that has elapsed since the 2016 Brexit referendum, the less the result will matter to the electorate. People join the electoral roll who did not have the opportunity to vote in it. Some people who voted in it have died or will die. Every election reverses the result of the previous one; there is nothing “sleazy” about seeking a mandate to reverse whatever people voted for last time around. Indeed it is exactly how democracy is supposed to work. If we accept the idea that any particular vote is somehow so sacrosanct that to seek a democratic mandate to reverse it is immoral, then we go down a very dangerous and undemocratic path.
    Besides, even if we consider the Brexit referendum to have bestowed a “mandate” to leave the EU, that mandate has now been discharged — we’ve left. This makes it irrelevant to any future discussion about the UK’s future relationship with the EU.

  • @Jeff –
    > “We do the majority of our trade both exports (57%) and now imports with the world beyond the EU. “
    Not interested in percentages, real numbers – its harder to hide/misrepresent the truth.

    “By contrast, the average EU country only sends a third (34%) of its exports outside the EU.”
    So what? The UK wasn’t an average EU country.

  • Roland 5th Aug ’21 – 7:56pm:
    Not interested in percentages, real numbers – its harder to hide/misrepresent the truth.
    Roland 5th Aug ’21 – 7:56pm:
    Not interested in percentages, real numbers – its harder to hide/misrepresent the truth.

    Here’s a concise report of the most recent ONS numbers…

    ‘Exports to the European Union bounce back to highest level since October 2019 following slump in trade after Brexit’ [10th. July 2021]:
    https://www.dailymail.co.uk/money/markets/article-9774363/Exports-European-Union-bounce-following-Brexit-slump.html

    Britain sold £14.2billion of goods to the bloc in May, a rise of £1.1billion or 8.8 per cent since April, according to figures from the Office for National Statistics. […]

    Exports of goods to the rest of the world were also up 5.5 per cent to £15.2billion, the highest level since January 2020. […]

    However, imports from the EU to Britain totalled £18.5billion. While that was the most this year, it was still well below pre-pandemic and pre-Brexit levels and less than the £19.4billion of goods shipped in from the rest of the world.

    So our huge trade deficit with the EU has contracted…

    ‘Trade in Goods (T): EU: Balance: BOP: CP: SA’:
    https://www.ons.gov.uk/economy/nationalaccounts/balanceofpayments/timeseries/l87q/mret

    So what? The UK wasn’t an average EU country.

    Cultural practices and human connections tend to follow trade – drinking tea being a good example in the UK. So this is an indication that the UK is more internationalist. As you rightly say the UK wasn’t an average EU country – which may be at the root of why we left; that and our Common Law mindset.

  • Peter Martin 5th Aug '21 - 8:55pm

    Somewhat ironically the Covid crisis has considerably reduced, albeit temporarily, the strains which have always threatened to tear the EU apart. We don’t hear about Italy or Greece being fined for breaking the terms of the supposed Stability and Growth Pact and/or the European Fiscal Compact. The Excessive Deficit Mechanism has been put on hold.

    The European Commission will be wanting to resume its EDM process in 2022 even at the cost of causing massive additional damage to already damaged economies. Italy was looking shaky even before Covid struck and had little or no prospects to secure any kind of economic recovery. There will be no chance for them to stick within the rules now.

    However, the EU commission will pressure them to try with yet another program of economic austerity which won’t work any better than previous failed programs of economic austerity. The only chance for the EU is to write off the accumulated debts of the peripheral countries. They won’t be repaid, because they can’t be, so they may as well. In addition the SGP, EFC and EDM have to be permanently scrapped, or at least substantially rewritten, and not just temporarily mothballed as we’ve seen during the Covid crisis.

    We’ve all seen that the EU works better without them so why not just let them go?

  • @Martin “Start working out instead how to be a progressive, internationalist, nation – obviously the answer to that is in cooperation with the EU” It’s not obvious at all to me. There’s a whole World out there of 168 countries that are not in the EU. How does joining EU organisations help our co-operation with those countries? To me it looks like, making the mistake of equating ‘internationalism’ with ‘only the 27 countries of the EU’

    @Alex Macfie “there is nothing “sleazy” about seeking a mandate to reverse whatever people voted for last time around.” That’s true if you’re seeking to reverse a previous general election result. It’s a bit different if you’re seeking to partially reverse the outcome of a referendum – particularly if you’re trying to do it by burying the reversal inside policy details that the electorate won’t really get a direct say in (because in an election people have to vote on the aggregate of a manifesto that contains hundreds of other commitments): That’s the thing that’s going to look sleazy to lots of voters.

  • John Littler 5th Aug ’21 – 7:31pm:
    …as a small exporter, re-joining the Single Market and Customs Union would be great and would require no real adjustment.

    99.3% of all UK businesses don’t trade with the EU; 97.2% of UK employers don’t trade with the EU. Yet, as a member of the EU’s ‘single market’ all 5,000,000 plus UK businesses would be subject to EU regulations, not just the 39,000 who export goods to the EU *. The EU Commission represents the interests of EU businesses – our competitors. Outsourcing our business rules and regulations to the EU would be like Sainsbury’s outsourcing its buying and pricing policies to Tesco.

    EU laws and regulations are typically overly prescriptive and often serve no purpose other than protectionism. They make us all poorer. We need to eliminate those we sensibly can and replace many others with streamlined rules based on Common Law and common sense. An example of such expensive EU regulation is the VI-1 forms required for imported wine — now being abolished…

    ‘Wine-lovers to save £130m as Brexit frees imports from red tape’ [July 2021]:
    https://www.telegraph.co.uk/business/2021/07/25/wine-lovers-save-130m-brexit-frees-imports-red-tape/

    Each bottle could become 13p cheaper, according to the industry, thanks to the abolition of the VI-1 forms – a bureaucratic exercise which includes lab tests to verify the acidity of the wine, something which is not done for other drinks such as beer or spirits. […]

    Officials estimate the saving for consumers at £130m, while the industry believes it will save £100m on non-EU wines and avoid imposing costs of £70m on those from the continent. […]

    It has long argued that the paperwork is simply a barrier to protect EU winemakers from foreign competitors.

    * Source: HMRC and Government BEIS Department 2019 data via Facts4EU.org

  • Peter Martin,

    sovereign debt gets repaid by refinancing older debt with new issues. This is the case for the Eurozone countries as well as the UK.
    As this economist blog on debt dynamics points out https://www.economist.com/graphic-detail/2011/11/09/the-maths-behind-the-madness
    getting debt/GDP down is not about running surpluses (as demonstrated by the UK’s post-war experience) but is governed by a combination of interest rates, inflation, GDP growth and the primary budget balance (i.e. before interest rates).
    In the UK’s case, post-war debt/GDP was reduced from circa 220% to circa 50% from the late 1940s to the mid 1970s with the aid of ‘financial repression’ https://www.imf.org/external/np/seminars/eng/2011/res2/pdf/crbs.pdf. Both the interest rate on government debt and the level of inflation are crucial to understanding the path of the debt/GDP ratio, by ensuring interest rates are below inflation and pushing domestic financial institutions into holding government debt, government’s can reduce the debt/GDP ratio.The paper linked to above notes that:
    “For the advanced economies in our sample, real interest rates were negative roughly ½ of the time during 1945-1980. For the United States and the United Kingdom our estimates of the annual liquidation of debt via negative real interest rates amounted on average from 3 to 4 percent of GDP a year.”
    According to the FT https://www.ft.com/content/80072d10-5176-11ea-90ad-25e377c0ee1f
    “Italian and Greek bonds “are trading like Bunds [German bonds] on steroids: safe bonds but with a bit more yield,” said Antoine Bouvet, a senior rates strategist at Netherlands-based bank ING.” Such is the world of finance and capital markets.

  • Alex Macfie 5th Aug '21 - 9:54pm

    Simon R: So what exactly is it about a referendum that makes its outcome so sacrosanct that no-one should be allowed to even question the policy that follows form it? Why should the normal rules about mandates being reversible and replaceable not apply to referendums? This confused thinking that referendums are somehow special, the results never to be questioned, is why dictators are so fond of them.
    Whether we’re talking about elections or referendums, democracy is about continuous challenge — it’s a process, not an end result. So ANY outcome can be challenged AT ANY TIME, and if facts, circumstances or public opinion change then that is exactly what is supposed to happen in a democracy. The democratic debate on UK’s possible EU membership did not end on 23 June 2016.

  • @Alex Macfie I wouldn’t say no-one should ever question the policy that forms from a referendum – that’s obviously silly. But a referendum does have some authority beyond a mere policy in an election manifesto – because people have directly voted for whatever the referendum question was, and in a democracy people tend to expect that that decision will be respected for a good number of years. The ‘once-in-a-generation’ description that was used for the Scottish independence referendum seems appropriate here. If a new and major reason subsequently turns up for re-visiting a referendum decision (which I don’t think has yet happened in the case of Brexit), then most people would expect the appropriate means to do that would be another referendum, not slipping things in through the backdoor by burying them in policy details that the public never directly get to vote on.

    In this context I think the real problem is that it’s very clear that the article we’re discussing is motivated by a desire to reverse Brexit – the article even directly says, “conference resolved that the party should support a longer-term objective of UK membership of the EU”, and then lists lots of policies that are clearly designed to work towards that, but without any kind of popular vote. Whether it’s intended or not, that does rather give the impression of, wanting to ignore the referendum.

  • Joe Bourke 5th Aug ’21 – 2:06pm:
    This article argues that the UK should join the EFTA.

    It argues for EEA membership. Like many pro-EU articles it is poorly informed and full of errors. As we have already concluded Free Trade Agreements with all four EFTA members there’s little to be gained and much to lose by joining EFTA even if we were to stay out of the EEA like Switzerland.

    For goods trade it is the same as being in the EU, with seamless borders and mutual recognition of all regulations and authorizations.

    Two howlers in one sentence. EEA countries do not have “seamless borders” with the EU as they are not in the EU Customs Union. Checks and inspections of goods are required (as seen on the Norway — Sweden border). There is no “mutual recognition” of “all regulations and authorizations”. Rather the EU imposes the same rules on all EU and EEA members by Directives and Regulations. This is in contrast to Free Trade Agreements which generally use mutual recognition of each other’s rules and regulations and the concept of equivalence.

    For those that are also party to the EEA agreement, this extends to services, including financial services – the UK’s most important industry…

    Which is precisely why the UK doesn’t want the EU regulating it. The EU Commission represents the City’s competitors. It would be like Barclays outsourcing it’s entire compliance department to HSBC. 87% of the world market is outside the EU, our financial services should be regulated by the UK.

    A model of the four freedoms without political union is one that most UK voters would support.

    It’s what a majority of UK voters already rejected in the Referendum. It’s not possible to Take Back Control of our money, borders, laws, and trade while being in the ‘single market’ – the EEA.

  • john oundle 6th Aug '21 - 12:00am

    Alex Macfie

    ‘Simon R: The longer the time that has elapsed since the 2016 Brexit referendum, the less the result will matter to the electorate.’

    I would suggest that ignoring a democratic decision by voters on a specific issue, will go down as badly in 2024 as it did in 2019, when the party manifesto was elect us & will reverse Brexit without even a second referendum.

    The clear message being the plebs vote doesn’t matter we know best..
    Not a good look.

  • Jeff,

    the linked article is titled “The UK should join the EFTA” and concludes “There are, of course, non-economic issues to consider when selecting the right post-Brexit model for the UK. But the economic case is clear: for free trade in Europe, Upgrade to EFTA!”
    As regards the EEA this article discusses the EEA https://encompass-europe.com/comment/why-the-uk-will-not-become-an-eea-member-after-brexit but concludes “Given this analysis, one cannot but confirm preceding opinions according to which an EEA option would legally be possible in theory, but not politically realistic in the case of the UK after Brexit.”
    EFTA currently has four Member States: Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. The EFTA Convention governs intra-EFTA trade. The EFTA States also enter EFTA Free Trade Agreements with third countries.
    As regards trade between EFTA and the EU, this was originally provided for in a Free Trade Agreement but has not been developed in some time, given that all of the EFTA members have pursued further integration with the EU through separate agreements. The EFTA–EU Free Trade Agreement only covers tariff-free trade in relation to some products (such as agriculture and fish), but does not cover services or “non-tariff barriers” (eg divergences in regulatory standards).
    Three of the four EFTA Member States (all but Switzerland, which instead has a series of bilateral agreements with the EU) are also members of the EEA (the European Economic Area). The EEA Agreement, which came into being in 1994, is a treaty between the EU on the one hand and Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway on the other. It effectively allows those EFTA states to participate in the EU’s Internal Market, whilst in turn contributing to the EU.
    Under the EEA Agreement, EU law relevant to the EFTA policy areas applies in the EEA. This includes the four freedoms (the free movement of goods, services, persons and capital), as well as competition and state aid rules. It also includes so-called “horizontal policies”, such as consumer protection, company law, environment, gender equality, health and safety and labour law.
    The EEA Agreement does not cover common agriculture and fisheries policies (although it does contain provisions on trade in agricultural and fish products), customs union, common trade policy, common foreign and security policy, justice and home affairs, direct and indirect taxation and monetary union.
    To join the EEA it is necessary first to join EFTA. However, the reverse is not true. The UK could, like Switzerland, be a member of EFTA without being a member of the EEA. If the UK did that (but did not negotiate a bilateral agreement with the EU as Switzerland has done) it would only be bound by the Free Trade Agreement between the EU and EFTA, which has a limited remit.

  • @Martin “They are frothing because being in the Single Market would make it easier to rejoin the EU” The objection isn’t that it would make it easier to rejoin the EU: Rather, it’s that rejoining the single market appears to be being proposed specifically in order to facilitate rejoining the EU, in apparent defiance of the referendum. You’re also glossing over that rejoining the single market after the next election would impose a lot of disruption as businesses and supply chains etc. that will have already adapted for trading outside the EU are forced to adapt once again to a different trading environment and different rules etc.

    If some policy was being proposed for good rational reasons that had nothing to do with Brexit, but which happened as a side-effect to bring us closer to the EU, then in principle I would have no objection – there’s nothing wrong per se with being close to the EU. But something that’s being devised specifically with the aim of facilitating a reversal of Brexit is a totally different matter. And more to the point – it would widely be seen by voters as undemocratic.

  • Peter Martin 6th Aug '21 - 7:18am

    @ Joe,

    “sovereign debt gets repaid by refinancing older debt with new issues.”

    I’m not sure how this comment follows on from my previous comment. But yes, of course it does. Except that many would question if debt is actually being repaid when older debt issue is merely replaced by newer debt issue.

    “This is the case for the Eurozone countries as well as the UK.”

    Except that the European countries need to have the backing of the ECB which really calls the shots in the eurozone. If Italians and Greeks, plus others, are toeing the line, the ECB will support them with purchases of govt bonds. Other buyers will notice the ECB is doing this and will be more willing to buy them too. But if they step out of line……

    @All,

    The left generally are up the proverbial s… creek without a paddle at the moment. The problem is one of culture wars generally but Brexit in particular. Those who are generally in favour of more leftish economic policies are often more socially conservative, especially on the nationality question, than the politicians who have gained control of their former parties. So the choice on election day is not so straightforward as it used to be. They consider themselves British rather than European.

    We only need to look at the history of Northern Ireland to see how the issue of Nationality always trumps social class.

    Labour did well in 2017 by promising to respect the Brexit vote. Not so well when they had a revoke, in all but name, policy in 2019. Wanting to have a referendum on the terms of a negotiated leave settlement with the EU which they would then oppose was ludicrous in the extreme. The voters knew it. The voters will also see through all this chatter about wanting to be a part of the Single market etc.

    Can’t you find something else to focus on?

  • Alex Macfie is quite right, as the UK is a parliamentary democracy, a general election is always a clean slate and no government can be bound by anything it’s predecessors have done. There is no reason why a new government would have to implement the outcome of a non-binding referendum that they wouldn’t have held if they were in power.

    In countries that do make regular use of referendums such as Switzerland, it is rare for an issue to be settled by one vote and 2nd and 3rd referendums are commonplace. It is the nature of the beast that referendums raise as many questions as they answer.

    That said I thought the revoke policy was bad tactics and would have stuck to the 2nd ref on the deal policy, not because I thought it was undemocratic just tactically flawed.

  • Alex Macfie 6th Aug '21 - 8:48am

    john oundle, Simon R (& Jeff): “Once in a generation” is supposed to be an expectation or intent, not a prescriptive rule that opponents of the decision have to put up & shut up for ~20 years. If the real-world consequences of the decision prove undesirable earlier, then why should we keep quiet about it just because it’s supposedly too early to seek to “reverse” the decision? And any decisive shift in public mood against Brexit is most likely to come about as a result of political campaigning by its opponents — political change doesn’t happen in a vacuum.
    An election is a “once in 5 years” opportunity to decide the government. Does this mean that the opposition has to stay silent and get behind the government of the day until the next election campaign starts in 5 years’ time? Of course not, and if it did, then it is highly unlikely that any opposition message would cut through to the public, and the sitting government would win easily. However long it takes, opposition to Brexit had to start immediately, and has to continue, otherwise there’ll be no chance of reversing it, whether via a referendum or anything else. The opponents of the (then) EEC wasted no time in preparing their campaigns after the 1975 referendum. We have to take the same approach.

    The policy position is that UK membership of the EU is an aspiration. This is something we are quite open about, not something “buried in the small print”. Anyone who is going to get into a lather about “reneging” on an old referendum result (and it will be old by the time anyone can seriously get to think about it) is unlikely to consider voting for us anyway. Our stance on Brexit is well-known enough nowadays. It doesn’t seem to have hurt us electorally, as we won the Chesham & Amersham by-election against all expectations.

    Whether or not to have a referendum before rejoining the EU is a question of process, and it makes no sense to go into detail about the process. When would the referendum happen (before application or as part of the final ratification, or both?)? What would the threshold be? Would it be binding (I think if we must have a referendum then the decision absolutely must be made binding, e.g. via Statutory Instrument automatically triggered by a Yes to Rejoin vote). But at this stage, we might as well go into detail about how and when the UK would apply to rejoin. We have to cross those bridges when (if) we come to them.

  • John Marriott 6th Aug '21 - 12:33pm

    As of noon today:
    Article on he future use of hydrogen: 18 posts
    Article on drugs policy: 14 posts
    Article on vaccine passports: 3
    ARTICLE ON EU/U.K. : 62 POSTS (make that 63 if this one gets published) and counting!

    Says it all, doesn’t it? What more can you folks write about Brexit and its ramifications? Is this really the only important issue affecting our nation?

  • Jeff 5th Aug ’21 – 3:22pm…………expats, We didn’t vote for “Brexit”, we voted to Leave the EU in its entirety as clearly stated at the time…….

    Stop playing semantics. As ‘Brexit’ is defined as “The withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union”, that is exactly what we voted for..

    The fact that, after the vote, those tasked with implementing that withdrawal were/are still arguing over the form that withdrawal should take says it all..

  • Barry Lofty 6th Aug '21 - 2:23pm

    John Marriott @ Yes there are many things wrong with our country at the present time which goes to show how desperately we need a government to unite our divided nation and bring some much needed harmony to our lives.

  • john oundle 6th Aug '21 - 3:03pm

    Barry Lofty

    ‘John Marriott @ Yes there are many things wrong with our country at the present time which goes to show how desperately we need a government to unite our divided nation and bring some much needed harmony to our lives.’

    And the way to do that is to stoke up again the most divisive issue for a generation & ignore the result of one of the largest turnout of voters for years?

  • Barry Lofty 6th Aug '21 - 3:12pm

    John [email protected] just my point, no way can the result of the referendum be called decisive but it would take a government with just a smidgen of democracy to recognise that!!

  • Alex Macfie 6th Aug '21 - 3:13pm

    john oundle: The issue is nicely burning anyway; no-one needs to “stoke it up”. It’s part of the national debate, whether you or I like it or not, and so of course we’re going to put forward our position on it. And once again, all mandates are replaceable; the mandate for leaving the EU is discharged so it’s irrelevant going forward. What’s the size of turnout got to do with it? If an election has a particularly large turnout, does that mean that we shouldn’t be allowed to question or reverse the resulting government’s policies? Why are you and others treating the result of one particular vote as sacrosanct? To treat any particular vote as sacrosanct is fundamentally anti-democratic, since in a democracy anything and everything is open to debate and challenge.

  • @Alex Macfie

    “Does this mean that the opposition has to stay silent and get behind the government of the day until the next election campaign starts in 5 years’ time?” – Actually, yes – to the extent you accept the Government was elected and has a right to rule. The opposition gives their opinion and campaigns to change people’s minds for the next election – but what they do NOT generally do is try to overthrow the Government or ignore the results of the last election, no matter how much they dislike those results.

    “opponents of the decision have to put up & shut up for ~20 years” – Don’t confuse disagreeing with you with trying to shut you up. Of course, for an individual or a campaign group, saying that you think Brexit is mistaken and having an aspiration to revisit the decision when the time is right is a perfectly honest, honourable, belief. You want to campaign to change people’s minds… go ahead! But it’s not a sensible basis for a manifesto for a potential Government that is charged with solving issues today.

    What most concerns me here is the way the LibDems are allowing this supposed aspiration to subvert other policies. To take one example, the article cites joining “the EU emissions trading system”. That’s not looking for the best policy to combat climate change – that’s looking for a way to partially revert Brexit, and then trying to shoehorn the climate change policy into whatever has been found for Brexit. It’s the same thing with all the other policy areas the article mentions. I don’t think that’s a good way to make policy for Government.

  • Alex Macfie 6th Aug '21 - 5:00pm

    Simon R: I must have missed that incident when, shortly after the 2019GE, hordes of Remain supporters invaded Parliament, declared Jo Swinson Prime Minister and decreed the election result and Brexit illegitimate and that Article 50 would be revoked forthwith.
    Sarcasm aside, campaigning to rejoin the EU is NOT equivalent to trying to “overthrow the Government”. What Lib Dems are doing in our Brexit policy is the exact same thing as the opposition “giving its opinion and campaigning to change people’s minds for the next election”. Our opinion happens to be that Brexit is a bad idea, and if we win the next election we would aim for a closer relationship with the EU, with the long-term aim of rejoining. We have NOT tried to overthrow the government — there has been no Trump-style armed insurrection to try to reverse Brexit. If anyone was advocating such tactics, it was the Brexiters, who were making vague threats of “civil unrest” and “rioting on our streets” if Brexit didn’t happen.

  • Can I make a polite request which is that if you must review every comment I make (not sure why as you accept 99% of my comments) can you please put it as the most recent comment as otherwise if it takes hours to review the comment, once it appears the discussion has moved on so it is ignored. Thank you.

  • Simon R 6th Aug ’21 – 4:20pm“………………. – but what they do NOT generally do is try to overthrow the Government or ignore the results of the last election, no matter how much they dislike those results…………………..

    Really? I must have missed the July 1978 Liberal Party declaration that they supported a general election as soon as possible and would therefore support any no confidence motions.
    Thanks for Thatcher folks

  • Alex Macfie 7th Aug '21 - 9:30am

    “the Government was elected and has a right to rule” actually no it wasn’t and it doesn’t. We have a Parliamentary democracy. We elect Parliament, not the Government. The Government has the privilege of governing so long as it has the confidence of Parliament. If the Government loses the confidence of Parliament, then it falls (as happened in 1979). I wouldn’t say it’s “overthrown”, as that word has connotations of revolution, of storming the gates of the Palace; whereas a government falling because it loses a vote in Parliament is a constitutional event.

    As for “ignoring” the 2016 referendum, I suggest you read the comment by Marco 6th Aug ’21 – 7:41am. Why should Lib Dems defer to an advisory referendum enacted by a previous Parliament (not even the present one) during which we were in opposition?

  • Duncan Brack 7th Aug '21 - 11:23am

    Just to pick up on Simon R’s comment from yesterday – ‘To take one example, the article cites joining “the EU emissions trading system”. That’s not looking for the best policy to combat climate change – that’s looking for a way to partially revert Brexit, and then trying to shoehorn the climate change policy into whatever has been found for Brexit.’

    No, you’re completely wrong, Simon, and you’ve misread the article – or we haven’t written it very well, for which, apologies. The point Layla and I were making was that for every element in the UK-EU relationship the government has a choice of options, and in almost every case (so far, at least) they have chosen to pursue a strategy that is worse for the UK than most of the various alternatives. On emissions trading, the UK now has its own emissions trading system separate from the EU ETS. The government could choose to associate it with the EU ETS in the same was as Switzerland has done, and that would be better for combating climate change and better for UK businesses, as there is a wider market in which to trade emissions. (The carbon pricing policy paper coming to conference next month goes into this in more depth.)

    So on emissions trading, just as on so many other issues, a closer relationship with the EU is beneficial for the UK. By demonstrating this across every policy area, we aim to build the case for the UK ultimately rejoining the EU – but even if we don’t convince people of that, there is still a strong argument for building much closer relationships with the EU than this government has any intention of doing.

  • Peter Hirst 7th Aug '21 - 1:59pm

    We should start devising a range of priorities, conditions and arrangements for our eventual rejoining. We have an opportunity to decide what we want from the relationship. The EU seems very procedural and such a framework would help us politically as well as clarifying our future negotiations. We could help frame the eu in the future as part of our campaign to rejoin. We can do all this without mentioning reapplying.

  • John Marriott 7th Aug '21 - 2:23pm

    Have you folks ever considered the possibility that, by the time you manage to convince the majority who voted to leave the EU back in 2016 that they made a mistake and go knocking at the door, will there actually be an EU there to rejoin?

  • @Duncan Brack: If I’ve misunderstood the article concerning the EU emissions trading system and other policies, then – apologies.

    I guess what I’m thinking is that I would expect climate change policy to be formulated first and foremost on the basis of, assessing what action the Government can take to best deal with climate change. If, by asking that question and studying the options, it turns out that the most effective way to deal with climate change happens to include joining the EU emissions trading system, or some other formal co-operation with the EU, then that’s fair enough.

    What I wouldn’t want to see is the LibDems starting from the basis that we want to integrate better with the EU (for example, in order to eventually rejoin), and then deliberately seeking out a climate change policy that’s constrained to fit in with that agenda.

    Ditto for crime, policing, education and basically every other non-EU policy area.

    I realise I’m simplifying a bit here – in reality, all policy areas are inevitably linked to some extent, but the point is that your policy on – say – climate change should be developed first and foremost with the aim of tackling climate change. Your policy on crime should be developed first and foremost with the aim of tackling crime. And so on.

    To my mind, statements in the article like ‘carry out a programme of work, including consulting widely within the party, to determine the best possible future framework for the UK–EU relationship across all policy areas…’ then followed by references to lots of policy areas that are not to do with Brexit seems to suggest that those policy areas are being constrained to fit in with opposition to Brexit rather than being developed in their own right. Like I say, apologies if I’ve misunderstood. But perhaps you could clarify?

  • Leekliberal 7th Aug '21 - 7:30pm

    The balance of comments here suggest a writing in campaign by largely non–member Brexiters, whose sentiments in no represent those of our strongly pro-EU party. I for one am disappointed that my party has so little on it’s agenda for conference to enthuse the large number of former remainers looking for a political party that wishes to move to a closer arrangement with the EU. Can a party on ten percent in the polls afford the luxury of ignoring them?

  • Peter Martin 8th Aug '21 - 4:09am

    “The issue is nicely burning anyway; no-one needs to “stoke it up”. It’s part of the national debate, whether you or I like it or not”

    Really? I find this hard to believe. In my experience, it’s a topic of conversation to be avoided. I wouldn’t feel at all confident about introducing Brexit into any conversation. When LIb Dems are serious about trying to win elections they have the good sense to talk about something else too.

    For example, can you remember any mention of the EU/Brexit in Sarah Green’s
    recent successful by-election campaign ?

  • Simon R 7th Aug ’21 – 2:32pm:
    What I wouldn’t want to see is the LibDems starting from the basis that we want to integrate better with the EU (for example, in order to eventually rejoin), and then deliberately seeking out a climate change policy that’s constrained to fit in with that agenda.

    One of the reasons the UK left the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS) and set up the UK ETS is so we could be more ambitious in reducing our CO2 emissions…

    ‘Introducing the UK Emissions Trading System’ [January 2021]:
    https://cherwell.org/2021/01/23/introducing-the-uk-emissions-trading-system/

    …the UK government has stated in the Energy White Paper that they are “committed to exploring expanding the UK ETS to the two thirds of uncovered emissions”. This policy is now possible with the UK having its own ETS. […]

    […] A tighter annual cap is proposed, which is around 5% lower than the UK’s notional share of the EU cap it held before. In addition, the fines that are imposed for emissions that exceed allowances will be increased from EUR 100 per tonne to GBP 100 per tonne. Compensation to energy-intensive industries will also be lower under the UK ETS. This is all in the hope that the UK ETS will be the “world’s first net-zero emissions trading scheme”.

    ‘The road to net zero: The UK Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS)’ [October 2020]:
    https://www.addleshawgoddard.com/en/insights/insights-briefings/2020/energy/the-road-to-net-zero-the-uk-emissions-trading-scheme-ets/

    The cap on emissions will initially be set at a level which is 5% below the UK’s notional share of the EU ETS cap. This cap will reduce on an annual basis so that it remains 5% below what the UK’s share would have been under the EU ETS.

    If the objective is to reduce CO2 emissions then rejoining the EU ETS would clearly be a backwards step. Adopting such a proposal would mean that the Liberal Democrat’s policy on CO2 emissions would be less ambitious than the current government’s.

  • Peter Martin 8th Aug '21 - 12:38pm

    @ John Marriott,

    “….will there actually be an EU there to rejoin?”

    Possibly, but it could be a much smaller EU if certain countries do leave. ie Italy, Greece, Cyprus etc There will inevitably be a big row about who pays the Covid bill. It has to be Germany and the Netherlands because they are the ones with the euros. However, they won’t see it that way.

    The UK could encourage the process by letting it be known that there will be a generous trade deal on offer if they do. In this way the UK will be able to counter suggestions that we’re somehow “anti-European” when we are only anti the EU’s interpretation of its meaning.

    A new “European Commonwealth”, or whatever everyone wants to call it, will have close to a single market when it comes to trade but none of the other nonsenses associated with the EU. No single currency. No European Parliament. No having laws imposed on anyone without the democratic consent of the constituent nations. No living in each other’s pocket.

    This is not to say there will be no rules. The first and foremost would have to be that each country reaches a certain standard of democratically accountability. This is not to say it has to be perfect. Even the UK with our House of Lords and FPTP system will qualify!

  • “….will there actually be an EU there to rejoin?”
    Gideon Rachman considers the issue in the FT https://www.ft.com/content/4e5cf2d3-9978-400a-b62f-2266dc86ce41 “The EU’s stability will again confound its critics. Despite Covid, the European Union is in better shape politically than the US or UK.”
    ” In fact, if you are looking for political unions that are in “deep trouble”, or threatened by break up, the US and the UK are currently more plausible candidates than the EU. America has just seen Congress stormed by an angry mob and one of its two major political parties has gone sour on democracy. The UK is struggling to cope with the revival of violence in Northern Ireland and to fend off a second independence referendum in Scotland, which could easily see the country lose a third of its territory. Compared with this, the EU’s problems seem relatively mild.”
    ” None of this means that the EU can be complacent about its future, any more than China, the US or the UK can assume that their political stability is guaranteed. The mistake is to believe that the EU’s unique and often baffling political structures make it particularly vulnerable to collapse. In reality, the EU is a careful and evolving balance between national and supranational power, and between technocracy and democracy. That is a source of stability and strength, not of weakness or frailty.”

  • Duncan Brack 8th Aug '21 - 10:31pm

    Simon R – thanks, I didn’t mean to imply that we were subordinating every policy area to the aim of rejoining the EU. But we start from the belief that in all of the areas I mentioned – all of which involve, to a greater or lesser extent, the relationship between the UK and the EU, so they are all very much affected by Brexit – a closer relationship with the EU than the one the government is pursuing will be beneficial in its own right, as well as helping to move the country back towards rejoining, if possible. Of course we have to demonstrate this instead of just assert it, which is the purpose of the process Layla and I have written about.

    Jeff – you haven’t noticed what the European Commission proposed on 14 July, which is to tighten the cap on the EU ETS and extend it to more sectors, exactly what the UK government claimed it wanted – though you might also have missed the fact that at least for its first year the UK government has not reduced the cap at all; in fact it’s set it above the likely total of emissions. So associating with the EU ETS would in no way inhibit our ambitions to reduce greenhouse gases. In fact, it would strengthen it, because the larger the market the more effective emissions trading will be.

  • John Marriott 8th Aug '21 - 10:34pm

    Instead of what people like Mr Rachman think about the EU’s future, it might be more informative if we knew what Mr Bourke himself thought on the matter. Does he share Mr Rachman’s view? Perhaps he has actually got an opinion of his own for a change.

  • Peter Martin 9th Aug '21 - 10:11am

    “In fact, if you are looking for political unions that are in “deep trouble”, or threatened by break up, the US and the UK are currently more plausible candidates than the EU. ”

    Mr Rachman obviously has a point in that it is quite possible that Scotland and Northern Ireland could decide to leave the UK. But the US? There is no chance of any of the individual states leaving the USA. Are there openly secessionist parties with significant electoral support in the USA in the same way as there are in the EU? Have I missed something? If so, which state will likely leave?

    And what about Brexit itself? The loss of the UK to the EU is at least the equivalent of the US losing a couple of the larger states. That’s a break-up which has already occurred. Macron is on record as saying that he wouldn’t allow a referendum in France because of the ‘danger’ the French would also vote to leave. When the “who pays the Covid bill” wars start in the EU, as they inevitably will, we could see Italian and German sentiment swing against the EU too.

  • Nigel Jones 9th Aug '21 - 1:21pm

    I agree with Simon R that we should start with what we want to achieve in Climate Change, Crime, Education, Security, fair taxes, standards of goods and services etc. and always looking out for where this would be enabled or enhanced more easily if we were to do it jointly with the appropriate European organisation. That is the way to convince people who would otherwise ignore what we say because they assume it is all about joining the EU again.

  • Peter Martin,

    when Mr Rachman writes “if you are looking for political unions that are in “deep trouble”, or threatened by break up”, I think he is referring to the deep polarisation in US politics in the former case and the Scottish independence movement in the latter reference.
    I would agree there is no chance of any of the individual states leaving the USA. There are smaller secessionist movements like the Hawaiian Sovereignty movement https://www.denverpost.com/2008/06/19/native-hawaiians-seek-to-restore-monarchy/
    but it is unlikely to persuade many any time soon.
    As a single market of 27 countries, the EU is a major world trading power with a GDP of circa $6 trillion or 20% of the global economy. It is the second largest economy in the world after the United States. Together with China and the US, the EU is one of the 3 largest global trading powerhouses. With Germany, France, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands in the Union it is likely to continue to be so.
    The European Commission has already begun the disbursement of its COVID-19 recovery funds. EU debt and deficit rules have been suspended and will remain so throughout 2022 with all EU countries currently able to access capital markets at favourable rates.
    Funding in the capital markets is facilitated by International banks and financial institutions lending to each other. German banks intermediate German household savings to Italian banks and institutions against the security of collateral held by Italian banks, like sovereign bonds or US Treasuries. That is how the International monetary system disburses US dollars and Euros to where there is collateral backed demand for lnternational lending – the so called eurodollar market.

  • Peter Martin 9th Aug '21 - 3:56pm

    “Funding in the capital markets is facilitated by International banks and financial institutions lending to each other.”

    OK. But one of them has to be the ECB. Who else would lend to Greece and Italy in euros if they didn’t have the tick of approval from the ECB, which effectively underwrites their loans?

    I wouldn’t question your figure comparing the EU to the USA but you’re treating the EU as if it were a single country. But it isn’t. That’s the problem. German taxpayers don’t want what they consider to be their hard earned euros to be spent in Italy and Greece. The euros still have to be spent but they are classed as loans which are unrepayable and the taxpayers know they are too.

    These will eventually generate the resentments that fuels the demise of the euro and very likely, but not necessarily, the EU too. For the EU to work effectively it cannot matter how much Greece owes Germany any more than it matters how much Mississippi owes Maryland.

  • Peter Martin,

    the ECB in common with other central banks (as the Lenders of last resort) provides currency liquidity to the banking system when it is required during periods of stress in the money markets.
    Italian government bonds have benefited from the EU’s joint €750bn response to the coronavirus crisis, helping the country’s debt to narrow the gap with its German benchmark https://www.ft.com/content/e399fe6f-1c64-4237-8ba6-d73562688612
    ” A large portion of Italian sovereign bonds are held by domestic banks and retail investors, which makes the fortunes of the country’s economy and banks more correlated than those of its neighbours.” 
    The ECB does buy Italian bonds but so investors around the world like Japanese pension funds https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-09-08/japan-funds-buy-record-amount-of-italian-debt-after-eu-stimulus.
    The state of Mississippi has no need to lend to Maryland. They both issue Municipal bonds that are taken up by pensioners and investment funds seeking fixed income returns.

  • Paul Fisher 9th Aug '21 - 9:55pm

    Pandora’s Box for the LibDems, methinks.

  • Peter Martin 9th Aug '21 - 10:13pm

    @ Joe,

    Sure, €750bn sounds a lot. However if we do a little arithmetic on the basis that the EU’s GDP is €14 trillion and that the ‘fund’ is going to be spread over between 3 and 5 years and we can calculate that this is going to be something between 1.1% and 1.8% of GDP which is clearly going to be insufficient when the Covid induced drop in GP is several times larger.

    In addition, the EU are still talking about loans rather than grants. You’re missing the point about Maryland and Mississippi. Maryland is one of the richer states and Mississippi one of the poorest. So there will be a net fiscal transfer from the richer parts of the USA to the poorer parts which is via the US Federal Govt. Whereas everyone knows how much in debt Greece is and how much in credit Germany is, no- even cares about the imbalances in the USA. We don’t find Californian taxpayers railing against their Federal taxes being spent in Louisiana in anywhere near the same derisive tones as we hear from German taxpayers and their taxes ending up being spent in Greece.

    This is because there is insufficient sense of national unity in the EU/eurozone to make a common currency work.

    Yes, sure the Japanese are buying Italian bonds. So what? They wouldn’t be doing that if the ECB weren’t in the market propping up their price.

    Many economists predicted these kinds of problems right at the start of the euro fiasco. We had MIlton Friedman on the right saying it wouldn’t work and here is Randall Wray saying the same thing from a left perspective in 2003.

    https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1010165

  • Peter Martin 9th Aug ’21 – 10:13pm:
    …the EU are still talking about loans rather than grants.

    Most of those ‘loans’ will become ‘grants’. They just haven’t realsed it yet.

    So there will be a net fiscal transfer from the richer parts of the USA to the poorer parts which is via the US Federal Govt.

    Indeed. The US Federal Budget rose from 35.7% of GDP in 2019 to 44% in 2020…

    ‘United States Government Spending To GDP’:
    https://tradingeconomics.com/united-states/government-spending-to-gdp

    Many economists predicted these kinds of problems right at the start of the euro fiasco.

    And more recently, the euro’s prime architect, Otmar Issing…

    ‘Otmar Issing on why the euro ‘house of cards’ is set to collapse’ [October 2016]:
    https://www.centralbanking.com/central-banks/economics/2473842/otmar-issing-on-why-the-euro-house-of-cards-is-set-to-collapse

    Realistically, it will be a case of muddling through, struggling from one crisis to the next one. It is difficult to forecast how long this will continue for, but it cannot go on endlessly. Governments will pile up more debt – and then one day, the house of cards will collapse.

    ‘Now He Tells Us, Architect Of The Euro Says It Will Never Work – So Milton Friedman Was Right’ [October 2016]:
    https://www.forbes.com/sites/timworstall/2016/10/23/now-he-tells-us-architect-of-the-euro-says-it-will-never-work-so-milton-friedman-was-right/

    To make the euro work it is quite literally necessary (no, not desirable, or nice, but necessary) that German taxes pay Greek pensions. This is not something that is going to happen–therefore the euro isn’t going to work.

  • Peter Martin,

    the joint bond issue is in addition to the EU’s long-term budget which combined amounts to a €2 trillion stimulus to support individual programs undertaken by EU states https://ec.europa.eu/info/strategy/recovery-plan-europe_en
    Over half of the NextGenerationEU fund is grants not loans.
    This Wikipedia entry https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Federal_taxation_and_spending_by_state lists US Federal per capita spending by state. Maryland recorded $15,684 per capita while Mississippi was recorded at $11,469.
    As Gideon Raqchman concluded in his piece ” In reality, the EU is a careful and evolving balance between national and supranational power, and between technocracy and democracy. That is a source of stability and strength, not of weakness or frailty.” I think that is a reasonable conclusion based on the record of how the EU has dealt with its financing issues since the 2008 financial crisis.

  • Peter Martin 10th Aug '21 - 5:44am

    @ Joe,

    As the link in Jeff’s comment correctly puts it:

    “The essential problem is that we’ve got to have some method of economic management. If we can’t use interest rates and exchange rates to deal with asymmetric shocks then we’ve got to use fiscal policy instead.”

    But the rules of the Stability and Growth Pact don’t allow EU governments to run expansionary fiscal policies beyond a 3% of GDP limit. This might suit Germany and the Netherlands but not most others. This is reduced still further by the European Fiscal Compact if National debts are considered to be too high. So many countries are condemned to a program of contractionary economic austerity when they need just the opposite.

    “It needs something like the US Federal Government, collecting and disbursing some 20% of GDP, to give us that room for fiscal policy. But the eurozone doesn’t have that.”

    Firstly, no-one is saying the US Federal Govt gets it quite right. It’s that the EU is so much worse when it comes to fiscal equalisation in its currency zone. The fiscal equalisation is done on the basis of net Federal spending (ie spending minus taxation receipts) not on the gross spending you’ve mentioned for the two States in question.

    The EU is in a betwixt and between State. ie It is neither a single country nor a collection of independent States. Either will work reasonably well as we can see in the R.O.W. It is simply wishful thinking that the EU has better model. Even most UK Remainers implicitly acknowledged that the adoption of a single currency was a bad move by not wishing to be a part of it.
    The UK, including the Lib Dems, should wait to see how what happens in the EU after there is a return to something like normality after the Covid crisis. We can guess what ‘normality’ will be from past form! But let’s give the EU another chance to get it right before deciding whether we want to get back into bed with them.

  • Peter Martin,

    the Stability and growth pact was established to coordinate economic policy across the Eurozone and safeguard the stability of the economic and monetary union. Fiscal policy remains within the sole control of national governments. The rules were suspended in 2020 and will remain suspended to take into account the strength of the recovery, the degree of economic uncertainty and fiscal sustainability considerations https://finance.yahoo.com/news/eu-keep-borrowing-limits-suspended-110139040.html
    The problems of the Eurozone are not unique to the EU. They are a global issue of low growth, low inflation and high levels of corporate and sovereign debt coupled with excess household savings/deleveraging – a situation that Japan has found itself trapped in for three decades.
    Ottmar Issing in his interview comments:
    “An ageing country and shrinking economy like Germany should have a current account surplus – no doubt about it. There is a need to build up external assets that later can contribute to pensions requirements. The other issue is current account imbalances within the euro area versus global imbalances. Both Mervyn and I believe Europe and Germany can help to reduce imbalances by doing structural reforms, liberalising the labour market and fostering growth. Many American economists argue that Germany should run a fiscal deficit. There is no theory that would support that a country with a positive output gap, more or less full employment, extremely expansionary monetary policy – much more so than the country needs – and, from a national perspective, a weak exchange rate should also pursue a fiscal deficit. There is a need for additional infrastructure investment in Germany, but this should come from restructuring expenditure from consumption to investment, not by running a fiscal deficit.”
    Keynesian stimulus mitigates the amplitude of the business cycle. Countercyclical fiscal policies include both automatic stabilisers and short-term increases in deficits during recessions to restore employment levels. Nether fiscal or monetary policy of itself is a long-term substitute for an economy’s output of goods and services is the form of consumption, investment, regular and continuing government purchases, and net exports. They are shorter-term stimulus measures to reboot activity in the real economy including bank lending ad aggregate demand.

  • Peter Martin,

    “[we] should wait to see how what happens in the EU after there is a return to something like normality after the Covid crisis.”

    This is the whole crux of the matter. What does “something like normality” mean. If it is the new normal as in Japan then the economic challenges Japan faces are likely to be faced by other advanced economies
    https://www.piie.com/blogs/realtime-economic-issues-watch/japans-economic-challenges-mirror-those-other-advanced
    “In sum, the most likely scenario in advanced economies after the COVID-19 pandemic is prolonged Japanification: low growth, low inflation, low interest rate, and excess savings in the private sector. In this scenario, small reductions in debt levels are less persuasive. Economic stimulus should not be withdrawn preemptively. As for high inflation risks, the ability to cope with them is important. The risks should be dealt with through contingency planning rather than preemptive fiscal consolidation. After the COVID-19 crisis fades, nominal growth rates should exceed interest rates thanks to the economic recovery, and debts as share of GDP should stabilize.”

  • Peter Martin 10th Aug '21 - 11:11pm

    @ Joe,

    Yes I know what the EU claim the so-called Growth and Stability Pact is supposed to do. Its to, er, ‘promote growth and stabilty’. But, the problem is it doesn’t do that.

    First you say “Fiscal policy remains within the sole control of national governments.” Then you say ” The rules were suspended in 2020″. You can’t have it both ways. Either the national governments have fiscal control with no externally applied rules, or they don’t, and they are constrained by the rules of the SGP. It’s the latter of course. At least under conditions of ‘something like normality’.

    Japan is ageing demographically. So they are naturally accumulating savings. If someone holds an asset someone else has to assume the debt. This is largely the Japanase Govt. It’s only a problem if Japanese neoliberals think it’s a problem and therefore need to do something about it by reducing the debt and reducing the savings level too. It’s the doing something about it, ie applying contractionary fiscal policies which causes the low growth you are complaining about.

    The Germans have the same demographic problem but ideologically they don’t like the idea of their own Govt holding the debt. So they accumulate assets in other countries which puts someone else in debt. Obviously, not everyone can ‘solve’ their ‘problem’ in this way. But, again, it is only a problem because someone, in Germany, thinks it’s a problem.

  • John Marriott 11th Aug '21 - 9:32am

    They used to say that soccer games between England and Germany always ended in a draw with the Germans winning on penalties.

    Well, EU discussions on LDV appear to end, as usual, with a penalty ‘shoutout’ between Messrs Martin and Bourke, with new kid on the block, ‘Jeff’ (he of the bold type) joining in occasionally. Where is ‘Frankie’ when you need him, bless? Welcome to the madhouse, folks.

    After 98 (sorry 99) posts, I humbly ask whether we are any the wiser?

  • Peter Martin 11th Aug '21 - 11:22am

    OK for John Marriott’s benefit let us take a look at something we can all understand. The effect of the wlldfires in Greece.

    This is from Prof Bill Mitchell’s blog:

    Pretty scary and it comes in the week that Greece is undergoing shocking fire tragedies, which now appears to be a regular occurrence as the Northern summers get hotter and the rainfall abates.

    A recent Reuters Report (August 10, 2021) – Angry Greeks criticise government response after wildfire devastation – informs us that in the face of devastating fires, the “emergency services failed to respond to … calls for help”.

    The Greek population is asking why the services are incapable of responding to a predictable disaster that climate change has been threatening to make worse for some time now……

    https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/angry-greeks-criticise-government-response-after-wildfire-devastation-2021-08-09/

    …….The report tells us that the “head of Greece’s firefighters federation … said 5,000 firefighters needed to be hired immediately.”

    It also appears that the firefighting equipement is “ageing” as a result of a lack of government spending.

    A government official claimed that they had increased firefighter numbers to 14,736 (an increase of 16 per cent) in the last three years.

    The same issue came up during the catastrophic 2018 fires in Greece and at that stage there was a lot of speculation that the austerity program inflicted on Greece by the Troika (European Commission, ECB and IMF) had undermined the firefighting capacity of the Greek government. ”

    In other words, the Greeks have plenty of spare labour capacity to run an effective fire prevention and fighting service but they have been forced to not use it because of imposed austerity by the EU.

  • Alison Willott 11th Aug '21 - 11:33am

    Amazing that in such a lengthy discussion no-one mentions Ireland. Which is probably one of the biggest problems in the Brexit fall-out.

  • Peter Martin 12th Aug '21 - 8:02am

    @ Alison,

    Ireland has been mentioned a few times. For example Joe wrote:

    “The UK is struggling to cope with the revival of violence in Northern Ireland”

    This is true enough. I’d add the EU should be struggling a little more too. If it all does kick off again in Northern Ireland it will be fuelled by Unionist anger at what they will consider to be a sell out to the EU. The fall-out won’t be limited to the Northern Irish borders or even the British mainland. It will spread to the whole of the Ireland and maybe even to Europe too.

    The only way this can be prevented is for some greater flexibility in the operation of the protocol. Ultimately the EU has to price any possible leakage of UK cooked meats and sausages etc into its sacred single market in terms of human lives lost in any future conflict.

  • Peter Martin 8th Aug ’21 – 12:38pm:
    The UK could encourage the process [of a country leaving the EU] by letting it be known that there will be a generous trade deal on offer if they do.

    Leaving the EU or not is for the citizens of each member country to decide in accordance with their constitutional arrangements. It’s none of our business and sticking our bibs in is likely to be counter-productive anyway. It’s the sort of playground politics that the EU engages in. Given that the UK has signed Free Trade Agreements with almost every independent country in Europe and with the EU itself it goes without saying that any country leaving the EU would be able to obtain a similar deal.

    In this way the UK will be able to counter suggestions that we’re somehow “anti-European” when we are only anti the EU’s interpretation of its meaning.

    The EU covers only 40% of Europe by area and doesn’t include the continent’s four largest cities (Istanbul, Moscow, London, and Saint Petersburg).

    A new “European Commonwealth”, or whatever everyone wants to call it, will have close to a single market when it comes to trade but none of the other nonsenses associated with the EU.

    It can never be a true single market because each country speaks a different language. What can be sold in the UK has to be relabelled and repacked before it can be sold in other European countries. Each country has its own unique advertising, marketing, and merchandising culture and conventions.

  • Peter Martin 15th Aug '21 - 7:51am

    @ Jeff,

    I largely agree with you. Not sure about Istanbul being in Europe but its an interesting comment re the other cities.

    I’d settle for being able to send something through the post to which is worth just a few pounds to EU countries and knowing that it will get through in a reasonable period of time without interminable delays. We (the business I run) had a package returned from France recently because the Customs dec wasn’t written in Block Capitals. My wife sent a child’s dress , which she had made herself, to our granddaughter in Spain and that just disappeared.

    We don’t have these problems when we send to Russia even! USA, Canada, Australia etc is straightforward too. So I know it sounds “Daily Express-ish” but we do seem to be in a sort of cold war situation with our former friends in the EU. It makes sense to look elsewhere for new ones.

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