There is a window of opportunity to influence the PM’s Brexit strategy

This extraordinary election result has given us plenty to discuss, but one urgent topic concerns the implications for Brexit, the biggest issue of the day.

The next few days are going to be critical. Negotiations with the EU are due to start in little more than a week, and the Prime Minister is likely to be re-evaluating her negotiating strategy as you read this.

It is easy to say why she should re-evaluate: she went into the election saying that she wanted a mandate to implement her approach to Brexit, and the public hasn’t given it to her.

In reality though, her next move is likely to be dictated less by this and more by the practical constraints on her, which are great.

Clearly she now needs DUP support to maintain a majority in Parliament. The DUP are anxious to avoid a hard border with Ireland, which would be easier if we remained in the customs union. But the DUP’s demands will probably fall short of requiring that we remain in the single market.

In any event, though, the Prime Minister almost certainly cannot offer the DUP continued membership of the single market even if she wanted to, as there are at least 60 right-wing Tory MPs for whom securing a hard Brexit provides their reason for taking breath. If she loses them she loses her majority – and won’t be able to get her final Brexit deal approved by Parliament without support from other parties.

Which brings us to the Lib Dems. There is an opportunity, should they be willing to do it, for Labour, the SNP and the Lib Dems to get together and say to Theresa May: “we will support you in Brexit negotiations and approve any final deal – so long as it is based on the UK remaining in the single market, but otherwise we won’t”.

That would allow Theresa May to be confident of getting a final ‘soft’ Brexit deal approved by Parliament even without the support of Tory right-wingers. It would dramatically reduce the economic risk of Brexit, calm the markets and make the negotiations quicker and smoother. And it would almost certainly be more in line with what most voters want.

A Brexit deal that leaves the UK inside the common market is consistent with the Labour party manifesto, and is probably as much as Nicola Sturgeon can realistically hope to achieve now that Scottish voters have killed the prospect of IndyRef2.

It would fall short, though, of the Lib Dem manifesto commitment to hold a second referendum, and would require Lib Dems to accept that Brexit will happen, albeit on ‘soft’ terms.

Personally I think this is worth doing, even though I would much prefer not to leave the EU at all. There seems little public appetite for a second referendum and it is far from clear that Remain would win second time around, especially given that most of the economic pain would still to be felt.

Of course, it might not be possible to secure Labour or SNP agreement to such an arrangement. But in my view we should try.

For me it is a case of a bird in the hand being worth two in the bush. And securing this bird is vital for our country’s future economic prosperity.

* Julian Gregory was the Liberal Democrat candidate for Islington North at the 2015 General Election

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54 Comments

  • Given the gang who expect to be doing the negotiating, leaving the European Union could still fail to happen or at least be hopelessly delayed. Never underestimate incompetence with Mrs May and her lieutenants as part of the mix. Trying to orchestrate inter-party deals could be a fruitless distraction from the core business of exposing the Government’s follies.

  • We should make clear we want the Government to negotiate a deal that leaves us in the single market and customs union and that we would support them as far as is possible in that aim.
    I addition we want them to remain closely allied to cross European structures on security and environmental issues
    However the final deal has to be confirmed by referendum, that’s what we said in the manifesto and during the campaign and doing a deal now breaks the trust of all those who voted for us on those terms.

  • The problem with this is that Labour cannot do that without losing a huge swath of their own support and have shown repeatedly they will not work with others. Even after a hung Parliament there was no offer from them to work with others, merely a promise to put forward their own plans in a minority Government. Without Labour it fails.

  • Richard Fairhurst 10th Jun '17 - 9:55am

    The second referendum hasn’t cut through as a policy. It’s easily caricatured as ‘illiberal and anti-democratic’, it’s overly complex (what would the questions be?), it’s a step in the dark (would we win it? Very possibly not), it prejudices Brexit negotiations (why would the EU offer a good deal with a referendum in the offing?). People are tired of elections by now. And as we’ve just seen, although it played well in Tory-held Remain seats, it doesn’t work as a defence against Labour. Voters knew we would be in no position to implement it before the Article 50 deadline – it’s just fantasy politics.

    So although we should retain our USP as the party of Europe, we need a better way to express it.

    That better way is EEA/EFTA membership (which inevitably leaves open the possibility of rejoining the EU at a future date). It’s simple. It’s understandable. It’s achievable – given that the EU already knows how to work with EFTA, it may indeed be the only deal that could be concluded within the Article 50 timescale. It could get through the House of Commons, in theory at least, with us, SNP/PC/Green, most of Labour, and a few of the Tories and DUP. And it would be a good outcome in itself.

    The second referendum was a well-intentioned policy, but it hasn’t worked. It’s time to come together around the achievable liberal outcome of EFTA membership.

  • Katharine Pindar 10th Jun '17 - 10:00am

    We have the chance to be influential in the Brexit negotiations, I agree with you, Julian, in this Parliament of Chaos that Theresa May has caused. I am sure our Leader and the rest of our successful MPs will be discussing with other like-minded parties how best to proceed, and I hope we will have a reconstituted campaign committee including the Election chair and Nick Clegg to drive this forward.

    As to our aims, they are surely to remain as closely aligned with the EU as possible, staying in the single market and customs union and co-operating on all the other fronts, such as managing migration and ensuring rights for citizens. We don’t ditch the promise to offer a final say on the final deal to our people, but the reality surely is that compromises will be made and there will be a rolling agreement on issues over time which will make the need for another referendum less likely. We can be consistent in continuing to work for what is best for the country, which Mrs May had abandoned and the Labour Party had not thought out or agreed upon.

  • Dave Hounslow 10th Jun '17 - 10:37am

    I agree the referendum on the deal policy should be dropped, I never liked it personally and it clearly didn’t cut through with the electorate; People are tired of elections and it won’t play any better next time which could be less than a year away, “you’re joking, Another One” as the sound bite exclaimed. Evidence that in Scotland people have not responded well to indfref2 is in line with this.
    I want us to be in the EU but that battle is lost, for now, we need to show we offer a middle way. I have long thought that EEA, EFTA membership is the compromise neither leavers or remainers want, but that both could ultimately live with. Offer support for that. The difficulty is that offering a bad deal to parliament then crashing out as the default option is what many extreme brexiters want.

  • I agree with the thrust of the article, it’s time to recognise that the 2nd referendum argument has been lost (those who didn’t like the 1st referendum don’t want to go through it again) and go all out for the single market

    However I don’t see how it happens. Although there would be a parliamentary majority for this with Tory leadership support and 60 fuming rebels, how would the Tory leadership win a vote of confidence? The rebels would call it and expect to win comfortably.

  • Sorry to use this thread to demonstrate my ignorance but is it likely that the Irish Assembly will ever be put together if DUP can join the Tories by running it from England.
    Education on this point required please

  • Richard Elliott 10th Jun '17 - 11:34am

    Agree that EEA/EFTA membership is the only practical option. Second ref policy is principled and democratic but most of the public didn’t get it. EEA advantages are – easier to get back in EU one day, doesn’t go against 1st ref verdict and will cause splits in the Tories

  • Some Liberal Democrats have got to break this habit of wanting to ditch manifesto commitments on how we will operate in a new parliament after the election.
    it’s not good enough to say we didn’t win the election so we aren’t going to stand by what we were arguing for, we won votes and seats based on wanting the final lock of a referendum on the final deal with EU, to go back on that within a week of people casting their votes will do nothing to repair the lack of trust people still have in us.
    Yes we can finesse our arguments by suggesting EEA membership would be a second best option for us but if that’s the final deal it still needs to be tested against a referendum. That was our manifesto commitment, that’s what we told people our MPs would argue and vote for.

  • This a very unstable government and highly unlikely to make it 2019. It will struggle to pass anything very much’
    The interesting thing is that they only got 2% more votes than Labour and in truth are massively over represented in the number of seats they hold.

    As a Leave voter I think the case for compromise with and listening to the Remain camp has been made very clear.

  • Can we be realistic of the situation as it occurs – The Tories have 317 seats (have not included the speakers seat). If you remove the 7 SF + The Speakers seat + 10 DUP who have all but intimated that under no circumstances would they support a Labour administration or even vote alongside them, that leaves the combined total of all the other seats at 315 so unless there are abstentions or rebels on the Tory side AND every other party has ALL members voting then the situation is dynamic.

    Regardless of the situation I think people are suffering from ‘Voter Fatigue’ and want the whole sorry mess sorted, and if parties start bickering even more will just become more ‘frustrated’ and will start apportioning blame to Politicians and will A) Not bother to engage; OR B) Punish parties when and if another election is called.

    I do not apologise for my somewhat negative or pessimistic view, but listening to friends talk many just feel that whatever party it is, seem to be disconnected from the effects it is having on them; be it inflation due to currency weakness; job security as firms hold off on spending/investment; or just plain frustration!

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 10th Jun '17 - 12:50pm

    Glenn, I’m not sure that the surge in support for Labour was necessarily caused by opposition to brexit, or to “hard brexit”. Labour had made it clear that brexit would go ahead if they won, and they had ruled out staying in the single market.

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 10th Jun '17 - 12:59pm

    Stuart is probably right in saying that the party cannot just suddenly drop the “referendum on the deal” policy immediately after the election. But there needs to be a change in emphasis. The “referendum on the deal” was being presented as the party’s main policy. It may have won us some votes, but it probably lost us many more. Even people who did not necessarily disagree with it, were not actually enthused or excited by it, in the way that many clearly were enthused and excited by Jeremy Corbyn’s policies.

  • Bill le Breton 10th Jun '17 - 1:15pm

    You are not wrong Julian – nor is Ben Chu here http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/election-brexit-economy-value-of-pound-economy-won-a7781196.html

    It is exactly what I told my children on Friday.

    Also interesting to note a Tweet today pointing out that Corbyn was the soft Brexit candidate in this election – look how he prospered.

    The great British Parliament is making Parliament work, preserving the Union and saving the economy from the Cliff Edge.

    Not a bad days work.

  • Julian Gregory 10th Jun '17 - 1:16pm

    On the ditching the manifesto pledge point, I think there is a difference between dropping a commitment after you have ended up in government and adapting your position in the face of electoral realities after having only won a handful of seats. Nonetheless, this is obviously a sensitive issue given the impact of tuition fees on how we are perceived by the public. From a narrow Lib Dem perspective, I suppose that we could continue to press for a second referendum but make it clear that if we were unable to achieve one we would vote for a Brexit deal that left us in the common market, i.e. rather than no deal. But in reality Labour is the key player . Even acting on their own they could give Theresa May comfort that she will get a soft Brexit deal through Parliament without her right wingers if she is willing to change course and ditch her hard Brexit strategy now. It is just that I have very little confidence that a Corbyn-led Labour party will reach out in this way, so I would like us to do what we can to encourage them. Labour can, of course, sit back, watch the disaster unfold and hope to take advantage in a second general election. But I think that would be highly irresponsible given what is at stake.

  • May rushed to have an election because a) she saw an opportunity and b) she wanted a mandate before the consequences of her actions started to wash up at her door. She didn’t get her majority and now she faces the cuts in the school budget, the NHS and other cuts becoming more apparent to the public. In addition to this we have the dead weight of Brexit pulling the economy down, a toxic brew for her and the Tories so the temptation to run as long as possible will be a driver for them going forward as they look for something to turn up.

    Just a personal tale of Brexit. My son works in a warehouse one step up from a zero hours in that he has steady if not well paid work. We got the job through a family member a couple of years ago (it is ever thus), but he needed a CV and two interviews. This week he asked my nephew working in a zero hour’s warehouse do you fancy a job? The nephew said I’ll need to get a CV to you, my son replied no CV required no job interview either just turn up we are desperate for staff. I asked him what was the turn around and it’s quite simple. The Poles are leaving, of back to Poland or in some cases Germany, the pays better as are the conditions. Now some Brexiteers will claim that is a success but ponder awhile my brave Brexiteers, someone was getting rent from the Poles and will no longer, and someone will need to replace my nephew in his job, best of luck with that. On an economy based on cheap, flexible labour and an influx of young people to fill those roles, the sudden cut off of the supply is likely to be a major challenge going forward. I expect industry to start screaming very soon along with a lot of low end buy to letters; not a total disaster then.

  • If I was a Tory I’d be reaching out to the Labour party and SNP to join the Brexit talks. We need to be united as a country I would say. We need Keir and Alex, join our merry band; not because I’d expect the talks to go well but when they go badly at least the blame could be shared.

  • paul barker 10th Jun '17 - 1:59pm

    I never liked the Referendum idea anyway & we should certainly drop it now that its been “rejected” by the Voters – our vote share did go down marginally. We should rebrand as Brexit skeptics, we want the softest version available & we arent going to help The tories with anything. We should keep opposing Brexit altogether, at every opportunity.

  • I agree with much of what has been said. The task for the Lib Dems now seems to me to make as positive a contribution to the Brexit negotiations as is possible. Pushing for the EEA/EFTA option would seem to be one obvious choice. Having a clear statement of what we are looking for will enable us to participate in the conversation and maybe influence events. We can still hold onto the second referendum promise, but having no policy on what to push for now will leave us watching from the sidelines until it is all over.

  • Keith Sharp 10th Jun '17 - 2:18pm

    I think it is a tenable position for the Liberal Democrats to say that while we still want in principle a referendum on the terms of leaving, we would accept membership of the single market instead. Tim F constantly referred to the single market during the election campaign after all. The real problem with this is Labour/Corbyn, who were explicit about leaving the single market and I can’t see how they would move away from that. The Customs Union may be a possibility: I was surprised and encouraged to hear at a local hustings that Labour favoured remaining in the Customs Union; and seeking sector by sector (staffing the NHS for example) free movement arrangements. I don’t know how deep this commitment is; nor how the sector by sector approach would work in practice (eg would it be reciprocal?) but that might work. The single market, I fear, would fall on deaf Labour ears.

  • “There is a window of opportunity to influence the PM’s Brexit strategy”.

    There might be a different PM with a different strategy by Monday night, and even if May does continue do we (or even she, herself) know what that strategy is ? ?

  • BOJO on manoeuvres.

    As per above re PM and Brexit, both May’s chief aides have resigned after pressure from Tory MP’s ……….leaving PM with very weakened authority if she couldn’t keep them ……………

    Today’s quote from Boris Johnson:” I’d love to be Prime Minister if the public called me to serve. He said, he “wouldn’t say no” to being Prime Minister if he were urged to help rescue the country like the Roman leader Cincinnatus.

    Daily Telegraph

  • PPS re. Bojo……………

    Interesting to note Cincinnatus was a conservative opponent of the rights of the plebeians who fell into penury. Seems highly appropriate for today’s Tory Party.

  • Paul Murray 10th Jun '17 - 2:54pm

    A colleague in Germany asked me on Friday what the election result meant. I replied (with the usual caveats) “Bye-bye, hard Brexit”. Mrs. May went to the country on the matter of getting a clear mandate for the hard Brexit course that she has deemed appropriate, and it has been firmly rejected. And what is worse, she is propped up by a blatantly sectarian party that will look for every opportunity to be the tail that wags the dog.

    Something has to give. Either Mrs. May will yield to the DUP’s demands in relation to the status of Northern Ireland – which will result in a soft Brexit. Or she will be dumped as leader and we will either have a new PM or fresh elections – which will result a soft Brexit.

    Either way, I don’t see a path that now leads to the hard Brexit that Mrs. May had planned out in the aftermath of her anticipated landslide endorsement.

  • Mark Goodrich 10th Jun '17 - 3:10pm

    Despite being a strong advocate of the referendum on the deal, I think there is merit in pushing for a single market solution without abandoning it (I agree with those who think that abandoning manifesto commitments is a not a great look). We also need to bear in mind that the most likely outcome from here is a chaotic or car crash Brexit with either a terrible deal or no deal. At that point in time, the electorate are likely to be more appreciative of a party which offered them a way out of the mess.

    From a purely practical point of view, the only way that Brexit can be achieved in the two year timetable without a horrendous mess is to take an option off the shelf – most likely Norway. This may or may not be a long term solution but it would allow both sides to come back after a decent interval and make the arguments again.

    A better solution still would be to withdraw the Article 50 notification. It is sobering to think that if the Tories had not made it prior to the election but asked for a mandate to do so, it would likely never be served.

    Unfortunately, the government (and May in particular) appears to have lost all grip on reality and so none of this is likely to come to pass. They seem consumed by the idea that the most important thing is restricting freedom of movement and are quite prepared to subordinate everything to that.

  • Peter Watson 10th Jun '17 - 3:13pm

    @Derek Wood “Sinn Fein are pro EU, could not their 7 members be persuaded to attend parliament…”
    Good luck with persuading them to take the oath of allegiance: “I, (Insert full name), do swear that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, her heirs and successors, according to law. So help me God.”
    Perhaps updating our political system to remove such anachronisms (and while at it, replacing our national anthem with one that celebrates our nation rather than asking God to look after the Queen instead) are things that Lib Dems could campaign for.

  • Mark Goodrich 10th Jun '17 - 3:36pm

    It’s a bit off-topic but I am sure we could easily fix the oath issue if SF actually wanted to attend. The fact is that they choose to stay away – a position which I think will come under more scrutiny in the following months given the Conservative – DUP pact.

  • Little Jackie Paper 10th Jun '17 - 4:32pm

    I have long thought that some sort of EEA IN/EU OUT approach would be sensible and would most likely dance through a referendum. I am yet to hear any compelling argument against something like a so-called Norway option. It should be sobering to this party that had it pursued such an option from 2015 then it could have had serious influence and, I suspect, 40+ seats now.

    My reading of this election result is NO to a so-called ‘hard leave’ and NO to reopening the referendum. If we end up with EEA IN/EU OUT then this election result may well be a (very well disguised) blessing. Neither Conservatives nor Labour at the 2017 election talked about reopening the referendum and the LDP got nowhere. It’s not on the table.

    EEA IN EU OUT removes the UK from the political construct of the EU and keeps the better bits. It is on UK political parties (ALL of them) to make it work. Starting with a far more thorough registration scheme for free movers and a hard look at what Norway does. It is interesting and telling that the best criticism of May has not been from remainers but from Christopher Booker who has been banging the Norway drum for decades – http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/09/17/if-you-think-brexit-will-bring-us-control-of-our-borders-you-are/.

    48% of the country was not belting out Ode to Joy on referendum day. Similarly 52% did not want to pull up the mythical drawbridge and it’s time now to realise that.

  • Little Jackie Paper 10th Jun '17 - 4:39pm

    Keith Sharp – The basic problem in this picture is free movement. Or at least the totally asymmetric free movement we’ve had for a decade. Supposedly we can’t have a single market without free movement of labour, which the ECJ has expanded into an open-ended right of establishment for just about anyone with even a vague link to an EU person. The pubic, quite understandably, balk at that. But there are things that can be done on free movement in the EEA option and the government can (and should) fully review other immigration routes and visas.

    Free movement is a symptom of a problem. The bigger problem is asymmetric migration of all types. There are things that can be done – http://europeanlawblog.eu/2016/08/18/could-it-all-have-been-avoided-brexit-and-treaty-permitted-restrictions-on-movement-of-workers/. It just needs a political party to have the bravery to do them and to stop treating migration as if it were sacrosanct.

  • Eddie Sammon 10th Jun '17 - 4:48pm

    Confidence and supply shouldn’t have been ruled out whenever it was ruled out. The DUP are going to be influencing the government instead of us.

    Confidence and supply allows us to stay away from the accusation of abandoning principles for ministerial cars, whilst providing the UK with stable government and influencing its program, especially brexit and public services.

  • Little Jackie Paper,

    People migrate to where the jobs and money are. I suspect as our economy stutters as does the pound you won’t have to worry about immigration, migration might however be an issue. The UK economy relied on young cheap labour, turn off that tap and we have issues. In the long run it might rebalance the UK economy but in the short term there will be pain. The only true case for Brexit was in the long term we may be better off, however in the short term that change will be painful and I do not detect a strong desire to go through the fire to reforge a new UK (or what is left of it).

  • eddie,

    Once bitten twice shy. You may want to be done over by the Tories again, i detect no desire by Lib Dems as a whole to follow that path.

  • Little Jackie Paper 10th Jun '17 - 6:04pm

    Frankie – ‘The UK economy relied on young cheap labour, turn off that tap and we have issues.’

    But that’s not a good thing. In fact that is a very bad thing. Running an economy on the basis of wage arbitrage from a (possibly non-recurrent) source of cheap labour is not a thing to cheer for anyone. Importing labour rather than putting out hands in our collective pocket to support our own fiscal consolidation hit young is not a good thing.

    Indeed, free movement as it is hasn’t done the sending countries too many favours either – https://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/sdn/2016/sdn1607.pdf.

    Frankie, with the greatest of respect, if 2+m young unemployed UK people could head to Latvia, Romania and Slovakia for wages/housing/welfare tomorrow then we’d have just had a 95%+ remain vote. What we’ve got is an arrangement lacking totally in reciprocity. And the downsides are not just hitting the static UK population but also other inward migrants – my wife included.

    Now, I realise, of course might think the current EU is A-OK. That’s your look-out. Only if you really can not see the problems with the situation that you yourself describe in your post, if you can not see why some people see the EU’s vision as not in their interests then please, take a step back.

    What you do about the present problems is another matter, what you change can and should be discussed. But please don’t tell me that a merry reliance on cheap imported labour is something to fight for and preserve – it plainly is not.

  • Bernard Aris 10th Jun '17 - 6:27pm

    @ Steve Way: I agree. Remember that in many “Leave” constituencies (and there’s a lot of those), half of the former UKIP voters RETURNED to their Labour familiy tradition.

    But I have a more general, broader point.
    Apart from the obvious EU/Brexit point, there is a worrying aspect to the Tory-DUP Alliance. Notice that both Mrs. May and her ministers, and the leader of the Scotish Tories (a strong contender for her succession: a fresh face like Macron instead of has-beens as Boris Johnson or the very charismatic Gove or Redwood) have started to call their party the “Conservative and Unionist party”.

    The Unionists in Ulster, who glorify the openly gay king William III (there is no dispute about that in Dutch historiography) and use the dynastic colour Orange in ways no Dutch stadholder or king has dared since the early 17th century, have an “immaterial” agenda of banning abortion (a Liberal success by David Steel), frowning on contraception, and resisting anything too blatantly gay like Gay Pride marches and gay marches, let alone gay adoption. and about LGTBI matters…
    If May cann’t fully satisfy the “soft border” and material demands of the DUP holding her hostage, she could be tempted to give something on immaterial points. And as long as we won’t have a second election like in 1974, the same goes for any succeeding Tory party leader, however liberal he/she is personally.
    Dutch TV news today showed people on Shankhill Road Belfast, hoping the DUP would recoup ground on these points…

  • Bernard Aris 10th Jun '17 - 6:29pm

    Read for the second “Gay marches”: gay marriage…

  • David Allen 10th Jun '17 - 6:33pm

    “The problem with this is that Labour cannot do that without losing a huge swath of their own support and have shown repeatedly they will not work with others. … Without Labour it fails.”

    Unduly pessimistic I think. 12 Lib Dems plus 35 SNP might be enough to outweigh the diehard Brexiteers within the Tory / DUP ranks. They won’t be enough at the outset, but as the talks go haywire, the costs mount and the economy tanks, things will change. The numbers of the Brexit suicide squad on the Tory benches will dwindle, while the numbers of potential anti-hard-Brexit rebels on the Torty and Labour benches will climb. Interesting times, and, we should be out in front campaigning for the EFTA compromise.

  • Bernard Aris 10th Jun '17 - 6:40pm

    @Derek Wood and Mark Goodrich

    BBC Newsnight had a SF Spokesman on yesterday, and they pressured him: this parliamentary makeup gives nationalists AND socialists like SF a unique opportunity. The answer? the SF guy would not look to the broader, UK picture but stuck to Ulster-bound demands and complaints, and saw no reason whatsoever of taking up even one Commons seat. He was proud they eliminated the SDLP from the Commons; their sitting there was pure Republican heresy, not to be tolerated, so good riddance.

    And they haven’t been very responsive to external criticism in the past, so you can safely bet that they’ll stick to their “non-participation in British rule” axioma.

  • Christopher Haigh 10th Jun '17 - 6:47pm

    I think free movement of people originally was a political rather than an economic thing. Designed to enable nationalities to mix rather than harbour hostilities to each other. With the Tory inspired eastward expansion of the EU free migration has got out of hand. We need sensible controls on migration but continued access to EU free market. I think Boris would be a much better leader to get cross party consensus on this than the I know what’s right for us attitude of Mrs May. Good informative article Julian.

  • Nick Collins 10th Jun '17 - 6:57pm

    Julian Gregory’s approach represents the most positive approach if the LibDems want to pursue a policy , now , which is both realistic and in the best interests of the UK.

    i don’t suppose that I was the only person who voted LibDem on Thursday because of your opposition to a “hard brexit” but in spite of, rather than because of, your “second referendum ” nonsense. And I certainly will not feel “betrayed” if you now quietly drop the latter idea.

    I am now approaching 75. I think I am in reasonably good health, but obviously I don’t know how much longer I have to live; but however long that is I sincerely hope that there will not be another UK-wide referendum while I am eligible to vote.

  • I tend to agree that we should push for membership of the EU and as many other institutions as possible. However we should state that our long term goal is to make the case for EU membership but that this may not be for another decade. We should then go relentlessly after the youth vote. In ten years time we can then reverse Brexit as the grey haired voters of today cease to exist.

  • Nick Collins 10th Jun '17 - 7:07pm

    Thanks, Christian!

    P.S Being grey haired, I don’t know how to add a smiley-face emoji (have i got the name right?), but if I could, I would.

  • Little Jackie,

    Good or bad is irrelevant it is the economy we have. You’re asking an addict to go cold turkey, the results could be interesting. Kill or cure will be an interesting experiment. Be aware that those addicted to the current economy (many of them Brexiteers) will scream blue murder as the withdrawal symptoms kick in. Not everyone gains from falling rents and more expensive labour. Personally I’d prefer we had a staged withdrawal from the economy we have, but I’m aware that is unlikely to happen.

  • Katharine Pindar 10th Jun '17 - 7:34pm

    Two points strike me at the moment: 1. keep all options open at present, both as bargaining chips and so as not to go against agreed party policy; 2. ensure that our statements and moves are signalled and recognised as definite Liberal Democrat contributions. Our policy on Brexit has been much more than continued access to the single market and a chance of a final referendum, so we have much to ask and to offer.

  • Referendum on the deal made sense looking towards an election in 2020, and gaining support as the dismal reality of Brexit became apparent through 2018 and 2019. It didn’t work in a snap election called just one year after the original referendum.

    There are scenarios where it may yet work. For example, imagine if May or Boris push ahead with hard Brexit regardless? That might infuriate the public enough that they do want another referendum. So there’s no simple case to drop it, which would be a dismal flip flop.

    It’s perfectly compatible with also pushing for a soft, single market Brexit, offering to participate in cross-party talks on Brexit, seeking compromise etc. If a soft Brexit were won, it might then be possible to drop referendum on the deal and live with the outcome.

    But it’s important also to think what policy would be best for another general election in the autumn. That’s a difficult problem.

  • Also, it’s far from clear that Brexit policy is the highest priority. Wouldn’t it be better for the Lib Dems to spend all their time talking about a strong economy? The public would like it, the folly of Brexit is there implicitly and there’s such an easy contrast to draw with the two main parties.

  • Norway option – worst of all worlds – freedom of movement (although I think that is fundamentally good), acceptance of ECJ jurisdiction, annual (significant membership fee), must accept all EU regulations on trade and the single market – BUT NO VOTE OR SEAT IN DECISION-MAKING! Hence, we are back to remaining in the EU as a full member!

  • Paul Murray 11th Jun '17 - 9:01am
  • Christopher Haigh 11th Jun '17 - 11:06am

    Good article by Sir Vince in the MoS. Great to have him back as a major public figure.

  • Christopher Haigh 11th Jun ’17 – 11:06am………….Good article by Sir Vince in the MoS. Great to have him back as a major public figure…………

    Really? I’m sure ONLY the Mail would publish such nonsense…History tells us about making deals to stay in power so his “there is no reason why the new Government should not survive for several years, and possibly a full term.” flies in the face of evidence…

    As for his, “One glimmer of hope is that the DUP, for all its sectarian history and obscurantist beliefs, is pragmatic about economic policy.”

    It makes me ashamed. Vince just talks about what the Tories can get out of the DUP not what the country will have to give…The DUP has links with the worst type of organisations, it stands for everything we should abhor…I’ll stop here…

  • Ian Gibbons 11th Jun '17 - 2:44pm

    One point which seems to be causing a lot of difficulty/heartsearching is the lack of appetite for a second referendum. Why exactly is this such a problem? We may well have to have another general election quite soon – why would that be in any sense more or less acceptable than a second referendum?

    Another way of LibDems handling the fact that our policy is to have a second referendum without reneging on this – is to say something like “The recent general election appears to show that a lot of people, including many who voted leave in the referendum, would be unhappy with the sort of hard Brexit which the right wing of the Tory party wants. It therefore remains our policy, as a precaution, to keep open the opportunity of holding a referendum on the final deal, if most people appear to want it.”

  • The problem with a second referendum is that the difference between it and the first referendum is too subtle: it is widely misunderstood to be a re-run of the first one in an attempt to get the ‘right’ answer. Indeed, it is frequently deliberately misrepresented as such by brexiteers and their press. Most ordinary people cannot be bothered to worry about the distinction between ‘departure’ and ‘destination’. If a second referendum does remain our policy, we would do well to stop going on about it unless and until there comes a time that there is very strong evidence that (a) the public would vote against the deal on offer, and (b) there is absolute clarity over what happens if the deal is rejected.

  • Katharine Pindar 11th Jun '17 - 6:20pm

    The once and future Vince Cable is here! His promotion of the idea of a consultative forum on the Brexit negotiations is most welcome, and my only plea is that, if it is inter-party as some liberal-minded Conservative and Labour people are also suggesting, that our important voice in it will be heard and acknowledged. Good too that Vince will refocus attention on the country’s economic needs and our ability to contribute on that front. Thanks to Paul Murray for providing this link.

    As to our policy of a second referendum, let it lie on the table to be taken up if and when it is needed.

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