Tim Farron reminds us how the Lib Dems have led the fight against Brexit from the start

Yesterday, Tim Farron sent round an email to party members the other night saying this:

Mine was a lonely voice two years ago.

The UK had narrowly voted to leave the EU. The next day, I committed the Liberal Democrats to fight back.

I said the British people must have the final say on any Brexit deal – with the option to Remain in the EU.

Back then, even our friends weren’t with us. Not the remain media or remain MPs from other parties. Not even the big remain organisations.

But together, we’ve changed all that.

Polls this week show a clear majority now back our position.

A national newspaper has backed our call. Many pressure groups are now calling for a vote on the deal.

This wasn’t supposed to happen. This wasn’t in Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson or Jacob Rees-Mogg’s script.

And it hasn’t happened by accident. It’s thanks to you.

Together, over the last two years, we have:

  • Grown our party to nearly 200,000 registered members and supporters – and spoken with over 2.4 million voters in the last 12 months
  • Reached around 24 million voters online each year
  • Achieved our best local election results in 15 years

At last, there’s real hope. We can change this – but timing is crucial. We must step up the pressure for change.

So please – TAKE ACTION today, share our campaign with your friends and family – and help us reach 150,000 supporters:

All of this is absolutely fine, but he didn’t actually call for another referendum immediately. That came later in the Summer and Conference enshrined that position in a motion passed in Brighton in September. 

This is one for the nit pickers among us and for slight amusement rather than criticism. After all, it is absolutely nothing compared to say, forcing the country in a position where we have to stockpile what basic food and medicines we can to mitigate against a disastrous and extreme interpretation of a narrow vote to leave the EU which was driven by a Leave campaign that lied and cheated its way through and therefore can’t be legitimate. 

It’s nothing compared to proceeding on said reckless course when it is becoming clear that a majority of people don’t agree with you as the Sky Data poll showed the other day. 

This is the email he sent to members the day after the result was known. All he really committed us to was to campaigning to get back in at the next election which, at that point, wasn’t going to be happening any time soon.

Liberal Democrats have always believed that Britain should be outward facing, collaborating with other countries to tackle global challenges. Our membership of the European Union allows us to do that.

Britain has now voted to leave. The margin of victory was small and risks dividing our country. We must respect the outcome of the referendum in how we talk about moving forward.

We also have to understand that for many people this was not just a vote about Europe. It was also a howl of anger at politicians and institutions who they feel are out of touch and have let them down.  Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson and Michael Gove won this campaign by deliberately deceiving voters. They offered cheap slogans and easy answers that they knew they could never keep. Their hollow pledge of £350 million for the NHS has already unravelled and people will be right to feel angry that they have been let down again.

We must also remember that there are many, many European citizens who have made Britain their home. We are immensely grateful for the contribution they make to our country and we are committed to ensuring they can remain here and feel safe here.

I believe our country’s future is still best served by our membership of the European Union, despite its flaws. Millions of our fellow citizens believe that. I also believe many of those people share our vision of a country that is tolerant, compassionate and positive about Britain’s role for good in the world. They share our vision of a country that wants to repair its divisions by working hard together, not by offering cheap slogans.

That is why I want to make clear that the Liberal Democrats will fight the next election on a clear and unequivocal promise to restore Britain’s prosperity and role in the world, with the United Kingdom in the European Union, not outside it.

At the same time, we must address the difficult issues that this referendum has raised about Europe and our country – but with real answers, not cheap slogans.

Since the result of the referendum became known, thousands of new members have joined our party. I encourage you all to reach out to family, friends, colleagues and acquaintances and encourage them to join us to build that Britain together.

What this does show, though, is that the Liberal Democrats have been at the forefront of opposing Brexit from the start. We have led the way on this and now everyone else is catching up with our point of view. We need to make sure we get the credit for it in the long run.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • John Roffey 2nd Aug '18 - 10:55am

    There is an interesting article in today’s Guardian that suggests a fudge:

    German sources deny Brexit deal offer amid warning from pro-EU camp
    Anti-leave group fears ‘blind Brexit’ postponing key decisions would be worse than no deal

    “There are concerns amongst some remain backers that the chief EU Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, is prepared to make the offer if it has the endorsement of Germany and France, on the basis that the majority of EU leaders fear the possibility of no-deal scenario. There is also a concern that details of the future relationship cannot be negotiated in the short time available.

    Until now it had been assumed that France and Germany would insist that any political declaration on future relations would include details of the planned future trading relationship after Brexit. A relatively brief declaration on future ties will not be a formal treaty, unlike the withdrawal agreement, which will give details of future UK payments, the Irish border and citizens’ rights. A vague deal on future relations is more likely to be acceptable to May’s MPs, and harder for the Labour party to oppose.

    Remain campaigners have been anxious for months about how the EU would play the final negotiations and whether commission officials would be willing to defer many issues so long as any agreement contained legal guarantees on the Irish border.

    The remain campaign has no systematic diplomatic contact with the key EU players, and is reliant on the ad hoc contacts made by senior figures such as Sir Nick Clegg or Tony Blair”


  • Catherine Jane Crosland 2nd Aug '18 - 11:00am

    Caron, you are right in saying that Tim’s account is inaccurate. He did not call for a “referendum on the deal” the day after the referendum.
    He just made vague remarks which indicated that he believed that Lib Dems should in some way seek to prevent Brexit from taking place. No definite suggestions about how. But nevertheless very worrying to those of us who believed that a democratic referendum should be respected.
    But I think you are mistaken in saying that the “referendum on the deal” policy only emerged when Conference voted for it in September 2016. Tim did start talking about it very soon – not the next day, but certainly within a few weeks of the referendum, and certainly some time before Autumn Conference. He then began to speak of it so often, that it became almost inevitable that Conference would make it official. It did seem as if Tim was creating policy without the backing of Conference.
    What he never explains, is why he never ever said anything *before* the result, about the need for a “referendum on the deal* in the event of a Leave vote. Why in fact he had spoken as if the referendum should be the final word on the subject, and had spoken scornfully about “neverendums” (when it was suggested that the Leave side might campaign for another referendum if Remain won).

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 2nd Aug '18 - 11:21am

    Following my comment just now, I see that you do say, of the “referendum on the deal” policy, “that came later in the summer, and conference enshrined that position in a motion passed in Brighton in September”.
    How could it be acceptable for Tim to speak of this policy as if it was Lib Dem policy, before it was voted for by Conference? More importantly, how could it be acceptable for him to commit the Party to fighting Brexit *at all*, before Conference had voted. The party had never previously suggested that it would not respect the result, whatever that result might be.

  • This is what Tim Farron wrote the day after the result:


    No mention of a referendum on the final deal, but a commitment to “respect the outcome of the referendum”

  • John Marriott 2nd Aug '18 - 12:04pm

    It’s surely time that the Lib Dems moved on from Messrs Clegg and Farron. Being wise after the event can be tiresome to many people. As for “getting the credit”, who appears to have claimed, and been given, the credit for raising Income Tax thresholds, for example?

  • David Evans 2nd Aug '18 - 1:16pm

    I must admit, I am becoming increasingly worried by an attitude by quite a few members in our party to query the *exact* words used by a fellow Lib Dem, and the *exact* time it was said, rather than support the vital message for the party – That it was us and us alone who were ahead of the game in this.

    We have always been more pro-EU than the other parties and were the only party to fight a pro EU campaign across the entire country for the referendum.

    We can spend forever quizzing each other and pointing out how not quite perfect something or some fellow Lib Dem is in some regard or other, but unless we learn to fight as a team and not just ignore or undermine fellow Lib Dems because they are not perfect enough, we will simply fail.

  • Very well said @David Evans. The full quote @Paul from Tim’s piece on LDV is “We must respect the outcome of the referendum in how we talk about moving forward.”

    “in how we talk about moving forward” is key – firstly it about “moving forward” i.e. back to membership of the EU and secondly about what would not and not be appropriate after a democratic decision – to completely ignore the referendum and go on and behave as if i hadn’t happened would not be appropriate. There would have to be some further democratic process.

    Tim goes on to say as is quoted above:
    “That is why I want to make clear that the Liberal Democrats will fight the next election on a clear and unequivocal promise to restore Britain’s prosperity and role in the world, with the United Kingdom in the European Union, not outside it.”

    The ONLY way to read that paragraph is that we would be advocating a referendum to remain/go back in (the date of the General Election was not known at that point) and it is what he and we did.

    Taken together it is fair to say that Tim was calling for another referendum that day – even if didn’t 100% explicitly say so.

    Clearly leaders have to react to news stories. Much though I like party conferences, it might be a little difficult to sit in permanent session on the oft chance that a news story broke! Leaders should take soundings within the party. And their reaction should be in line with policies and the direction and ethos of the party. Clearly in this case Tim’s reaction was. If not, the ultimate sanction is that the leader gets booted out. But they have to speak and react to events and indeed clearly – not to do so would be a dereliction of their duty.

  • Sue Sutherland 2nd Aug '18 - 4:50pm

    I am unable to be active in politics any more because I have M.E. but the day after the Referendum was a very black day for me and I really needed to see, and talk to, some fellow Lib Dems so my husband drove me to a meeting of my new local party which is Trafford. (We moved from Bath 3 years ago). Chris Davies who used to be an MEP was there and he asked what we thought we could do now. I suggested a second referendum and he quite rightly shook his head, so I suggested a referendum on the Brexit terms. I’m not trying to make out that I was the first to have the idea because I’m sure lots of other people thought of it too. I have to say Chris shook his head at that idea too.
    However, what Tim Farron did was to tell us that the Brexit vote was a howl of anger from people who felt ignored by the rest of us, so it has always been clear to me that, as well as campaigning for a referendum on the terms we should also be campaigning to right the wrongs that led to Brexit.
    We haven’t done that yet, but I’m hoping that motions brought to the September conference will be the first step in showing that we have a different answer to inequality and poverty than UKIP, the Tories, and now Labour.
    Membership of the EU has given us prosperity, but even our party when we were in Coalition failed to ensure that everyone shared in that prosperity. Unless we do this we have failed as Liberals and failed as Democrats by seeking to overturn the vote.

  • David Evans has it absolutely right. What are we doing arguing on a pinhead about who said what when. the big picture here is that we were first to call for a vote on the deal?; for a year we were shouting in the wilderness about this and we suffered in the GE for it, but we were right. And now there is a huge momentum for the idea – which is great, but we need to make sure we get some political credit for being the first. I’m not naïve enough to think we can actually *lead* the campaign now that so many prominent people are involved, but we should certainly be a big part in it and we should hammer home the point that we were first to say this.

  • Katharine Pindar 2nd Aug '18 - 10:40pm

    What Tim Farron did, Catherine Jane, was give a lead straight after the dreadful Referendum result. Surely that is what leaders should do – give a lead straight away. I found it very heartening, and was glad to follow Tim, and then to have the backing of Conference. Well said, David Evans, Sue Sutherland and others on similar lines above.

  • Peter Watson 2nd Aug '18 - 10:43pm

    I think the unilateral party-political approach followed by the Lib Dems and celebrated here by Tim Farron has benefited neither the party nor the campaign to remain in the EU.

    The polling cited by Farron (https://d25d2506sfb94s.cloudfront.net/cumulus_uploads/document/h8fq3xim2u/TimesResults_180726_SecondReferendum_w.pdf), still shows a small majority voting to remain in the EU in such a referendum, something that has not changed much since polls before the real one in 2016. The same poll also shows 20% of respondents who voted Lib Dem in 2017 oppose a referendum and would vote to leave the EU!

    According to other YouGov polling last week (http://d25d2506sfb94s.cloudfront.net/cumulus_uploads/document/kgfdyeogty/SundayTimesResults_180720_for_web.pdf), more than two-thirds of people are unclear about Lib Dem policies towards Brexit (31% of respondents are “not very clear” and 36% are “not clear at all”), and only 9% would vote for the party. Even if Lib Dems are in the right place, it does not look like they are leading anybody there!

    A change in nett support for another referendum is one thing, but Lib Dems in particular and the Remain campaign in general still face some massive challenges if they are to achieve their goals.

  • Peter Hirst 3rd Aug '18 - 10:41am

    The plan is give us no credit for opposing a hard Brexit and demanding a people’s vote. I feel our credit could come more from Labour voters who must despair of their Party’s sitting on the fence. What does it take for voters to change allegiances?

  • Peter Watson 3rd Aug '18 - 11:41am

    @Peter Hirst “What does it take for voters to change allegiances?”
    Despite all appearances to the contrary in Libdemland, party allegiance is about more than just one issue even when that issue is as important as Brexit.
    If the goal is to stop Brexit, then a cross-party or non-party-aligned movement should be able to mobilise and co-ordinate voters (and their MPs) without requiring them to change their other allegiances but it often looks like the Lib Dem priority has been to attract voters and members rather than to prevent Brexit.

  • Peter Hirst 3rd Aug '18 - 12:08pm

    Thanks, Peter; the danger is we become a pressure group. I agree that remaining in the eu is so important that it transcends political parties. It is challenging to disentangle the two at least for me.

  • The one thing that put the most pressure on Corbyn is if the Lib Dems do well electorally – to that end a successful campaign to Remain means the Lib Dems doing well. And we will ONLY get a second referendum if Corbyn and Labour come out for it.

    Clearly it also means working cross party and outside parties. People do on a whole range of issues – the environment in Friends of the Earth, human rights in Amnesty International. But political change means parliamentary legislation and that means political parties. And of course MPs work across parties on many issues – not least Brexit.

    But our stance on Brexit, stems from our stance as a Pro-European party (almost) completely united – through the sixties through the referendum in the 70s through to the 2016 referendum. Whereas Labour and the Tories have always had at least a third of their MPs against whatever the leadership’s changeable position on the EU was at the time.

    Brexit is not the only concern or issue but it is a key one and we are clearly not a “one trick” pony as a full conference agenda shows – but it is the British public’s number one concern at the moment so we need to be talking about it. But we also need to be talking about other things as we are but we are a “fully rounded” political party out of which comes our stance on Brexit.

  • OnceALibDem 3rd Aug '18 - 1:16pm

    “Clearly it also means working cross party and outside parties”

    Yes – how serious the party is about this given it is telling activists not to use the phrase ‘People’s Vote’ I’m not sure.

  • David Evans 3rd Aug '18 - 2:06pm

    Peter Watson, I fear it is even worse than you say. It is not that ‘Even if Lib Dems are in the right place, it does not look like they are leading anybody there!’ It is that ‘We have totally failed to get people to notice we are there!’

    I am afraid it is the inevitable consequence of our failure to defend the party (and its values) against our Conservative enemies when in coalition. Now with only twelve MPs our party is of no consequence to the media whatsoever, unless it does something of real interest. David Rendel and many others warned our leaders of the consequences, but still there is not the slightest indication that our remaining MPs etc have the slightest clue what to do to turn things around.

  • Brian Woodcraft 3rd Aug '18 - 4:40pm

    “Tim Farron reminds us how the Lib Dems have led the fight against Brexit from the start” – this is why I am no longer a Liberal Democrat (my wife and I resigned from the party last year). We both want the UK to leave the EU ASAP but remain on friendly terms with the remaining 27 members of the EU. I was a Liberal Democrat councillor for twenty years and for a while the Lib. Dem. group leader on Greenwich Council (London).

  • David Evans 3rd Aug '18 - 5:41pm

    I can understand Brian’s position very much, and it is a principled liberal one, based on liberals being internationalists and the EU being in part (and it depends on how big you think that part is) a club to protect EU farmers and manufacturers (EU fines for Volkswagen diesel test fraud – no chance).

    The reason I supported remain, was that my judgement was that on balance, the good bits of the EU outweighed the bad bits, plus I knew the Tories would make a total mess of the leave process. Admittedly, even I am shocked at the Maybot’s troops total incompetence.

  • Brian Woodcraft 5th Aug '18 - 4:53pm

    Thanks David. Your analysis of my feelings about the EU are spot on!
    Except, for me and my wife Barbara, we feel on balance that the UK would be better off and our future brighter outside of the EU. This might also force the EU at long last, to reform and become less sclerotic & bureaucratic and more democratic.

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