Three Freedoms: the campaigning priorities for Brexit

The upcoming Brexit negotiations will be difficult for Liberal Democrats to watch. The vast majority of us campaigned to remain, and even those who voted to leave will, I imagine, be nervous at the prospect of an authoritarian Tory leader, probably without a specific mandate from the electorate for her party to run these negotiations, having so much power over what Britain’s negotiating position is to be.

As a parliamentary party, our lack of numbers will make it hard for us to get our message across when we’re needed the most. This is a time we as members and supporters are perhaps needed more than usual; to directly protest, write letters, persuade our fellow citizens, and hold the government to account from outside Westminster in support of our representatives inside.
Creating unambiguous messages to send to government on such a complex problem with such diverse viewpoints is difficult, and much ink has been and, I’m sure, will continue to be spilt on the subject. Today I just want to outline an idea of one specific strategy we could take, which I’m dubbing the “three freedoms” principle, as an attempt to boil down the terrifying complexity of the EU negotiations to something rather punchier.

Essentially, my view is that in the negotiations (setting aside the upcoming struggles on eg working rights and environmental protection which are likely to devolve to Westminster) there are three key things to secure.

One is the British economy and free trade, especially the rights of SMEs to export freely and also the ability of our service sector to operate with minimal interference across the continent. “Free trade” means more in the 21st century than “tariff-free trade” and we need to recognise that, with financial passporting and contract bidding rights among other things at stake.

A second is that we must stand up for free movement. Too many families, too many of our rights, are at stake to let this principle slip. I was born with the right to live and work and love across Europe; it is not something I am prepared to let go without a fight, especially when it is unlikely that destroying it will make any meaningful difference to the opportunities or livelihoods of people in the UK. We must hold the line on this; people left behind by globalisation deserve honest discussion and solutions rather than lies, and we and our European friends and neighbours deserve our rights to stay and to move across the continent.

Thirdly and finally, we should stand up for research and access to European academic projects. Britain and the world have gained alike from the high-powered scientific advances we have made as Europe’s leading academic nation. Our prowess as a knowledge economy is something we should do everything possible to defend; good research benefits everyone in, and many people beyond, Britain, and it’s something we should be proud to support.

So there you have it. Three freedoms – research, trade, and movement – that we can push for to build an internationalist future for the UK. An idea that encompasses our challenges to government, and neatly fits in a hashtag. I’ve launched a parliamentary petition you can support here (with a further explanatory blogpost & video here to start pushing this strategy; I hope others will agree with me that it has the potential to be an eye-catching but effective way forward.

* James Baillie is a member and activist from Breckland and a former chair of the Lib Dems' Radical Association. He is currently a doctoral student at the University of Vienna, where he works on digital studies of medieval Georgia. He blogs about politics at

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  • James, you say we are : “nervous at the prospect of an authoritarian Tory leader”…….”probably without a specific mandate from the electorate ”

    1. Having lived under what today will become 14 different Prime Ministers, I don’t regard Mrs May as being particularly authoritarian. Mrs Thatcher she is not. Indeed her hints about workers on the Board, tackling the abuses of big business and parking Osborne’s austerity have the potential to be liberal. They are issues the Liberal Democrats should have made more of – especially in the five years of Coalition.

    2. As a historian, it’s surprising you make much of the lack of an election. There is no real historical precedent for one – indeed the only new PM in the last one hundred plus years to call an early election was one of the weakest : Anthony Eden.

    I always enjoy watching Nye Bevan’s speech in Trafalgar Square attacking Eden in the Suez Crisis (worth a search on youtube), Nye cocked his head on one side and said slowly “Of course, Sir Anthony Eden may be sincere… pause… he may be…. pause…. but if he is……. pause….. he’s too stupid to be Prime Minister”.

  • Sounds good to liberals, I’d vote for this straight away, but then I voted to stay in the EU. I fear this is doomed with where the country is at the moment.

    I believe if we’re serious about influencing negotiations protecting free movement we need to concede where it applies to (and commented as much last week.) Public consent for free movement across the whole EU has been lost – but if we stop seeing Europe as a single block, attitudes towards Western Europe & Scandinavia are very different from those towards the former Yugoslavia states and most notably Romania and Bulgaria.

    If you look at where British people are resident across Europe (3rd column of Annex A here: ) it is skewed in favour of western Europe.

    If we can’t get our preferred position of continued membership, I could see us getting real traction with a position of free movement where there’s a roughly equivalent relationship (I’ve suggested at least half of the UK’s GDP per capita – which would exclude Portugal but otherwise gives the western/eastern split) and tighter restrictions elsewhere. Would allow us to protect the research and trade links with western Europe, and I’m surprised the debate has been such a binary yes/no on freedom of movement so far.

  • James Baillie 13th Jul '16 - 11:13am

    David: I think the argument is not the simplistic “unelected PM” one that the Tories made against Brown, but one about a specific and major constitutional change. Parliament, which is sovereign, was by a clear majority opposed to Brexit before we voted for it, and of course as we know the Brexit vote contained no idea what a Brexit deal should look like. As such, May is not merely taking over as Prime Minister; she is seeking to impose her own specific vision of a major constitutional change which is clearly alien to the issues upon which parliament was elected in 2015. That’s why the Conservative party needs a fresh mandate.

    Whilst of course like you I cautiously welcome her more economically moderate stances, classifying her as anything other than authoritarian given her record in the Home Office seems bizarre to me, sorry. This is someone with a brutal, arbitrary, and ineffective record on trying to cut migration (remember the “go home” vans?), the driving force behind the authoritarian disaster that was the psychoactive substances bill, and a backer of the snoopers’ charter who has discussed seriously withdrawing from the ECHR. One can be – and she is – both economically a little more moderate than her predecessor whilst posing an extremely grave threat to liberty in this country.

    tpfkar: I don’t think there’s any possibility of the EU agreeing to such a preferential deal on our part, and I don’t think it satisfies the important criterion (for me at least) of not throwing the eastern European and Portuguese communities in the UK under the proverbial bus. Of course some sort of meet in the middle deal may end up happening, but as liberal citizen campaigners this is an area we’re more likely to be met in the middle if we pull from the edge. I’m not sure you’re right that public consent for free movement has been lost – given 48% voted remain, very few of the 52% need to consent to free movement to tip that balance, and presented with a clear trade-off between saving the economy and shutting up shop I suspect that there would be majority consent for its continuation.

  • Matt (Bristol) 13th Jul '16 - 11:27am

    signed it!

  • James Baillie 13th Jul '16 - 11:57am

    Thanks Matt – any help with signing/sharing much appreciated! 🙂

  • @James Baillie – I hope you are right, but I fear not. Of course if we didn’t go for a one size fits all deal, it would be crucial to get the relationship right with the eastern nations, and I imagine we’d push for a liberal and forward-looking approach.

  • I’m sorry James, but I don’t regard the the Psychoactive Substances Act as an authoritarian disaster that infringes upon my personal liberty.

    I am old enough to have been brought up to believe that Liberalism was about developing the abilities, faculties and talents of individuals . As an historian, you must surely know the importance that the non-conformist conscience, the temperance movement, the Working Men’s Institutes and the Self Improvement Movement played in the Liberal Party. Libertarian self-indulgence is not the same as freedom and is often dangerous to the self and others.

    As to the Act, I agree with Leo Barasi a former Head of Communications at the UK Drug Policy Commission when he said :

    “But, most importantly for those of us who think the UK’s drug laws should be better at reducing the damage drugs cause, the government, for the first time, has decided that a class of recreational drugs are too dangerous to be sold but that it shouldn’t be a crime to possess them. The pressure on the government to act on legal highs has been relieved, without ordinary users being criminalised. For all the problems with the new law, it’s a step in the right direction”.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 13th Jul '16 - 1:56pm

    James, you can still love across Europe , go on holiday , meet someone , fall in love and marry !

    And to some extent , with understanding of the contrary , I agree with David on the drugs comment. I am for individual liberty and as keen as all in our party . But the harm principle of Mill, the very essence of much of it , means victimless activity , is fine , but who can say the horrible effects of certain drugs are that ,for they are not , they are in actual effect the ruination of the very obvious victim , and never say we who want to do something to help alleviate it can only do nothing !

  • the government, for the first time, has decided that a class of recreational drugs are too dangerous to be sold but that it shouldn’t be a crime to possess them

    But that’s completely illogical doublethink. How can it be okay to possess a substance but not okay to sell it?

    How do they think the possessor got hold of it?

    Does it magically transform from ‘bad’ to ‘good’ the moment it’s been sold?

    This is like making it illegal to burgle but legal to possess stolen goods.

  • Theresa is saying all the right things. But it is Day One. Not sure I believe any of it

  • Jane Ann Liston 14th Jul '16 - 9:10am

    She spoiled it when she mentioned the concern about getting children into a ‘good’ school; rather, ensure that all schools are good, surely?

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