Tim Farron: ‘Unless the government agrees to a referendum on the final Brexit deal, the party will vote against Article 50’

Tim farron photo by liberal democrats dave radcliffe

This morning, Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron has laid out a red line on Article 50 and said unless the government agrees to a referendum on the final Brexit deal, the party will vote against Article 50 in the House of Commons.

Tim Farron said:

Millions of people are deeply worried by the government’s handling of Brexit.

So my position is very clear: the Liberal Democrats believe that the people are sovereign.

They must decide whether or not they agree with the deal that the government reaches with Brussels, which means a referendum at the end of the negotiations where people can either vote for the deal or to remain in Europe.

We will vote against Article 50 unless it allows the people a vote on the deal, because the will of the people must prevail – both on departure and destination.

The government has no plan and their haphazard approach is leading us towards a disastrous version of Brexit which risks jobs, communities, security and the economic health of the nation.

* Chris White is a member of the Liberal Democrat Voice Editorial Team, a Liberal Democrat Councillor from St Albans and Deputy Leader of the LGA Liberal Democrat Group.

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This entry was posted in Europe / International and News.


  • Good.

    A principled politician in possession of a backbone.

  • A politician that is happy to subvert democracy.

  • Glenn Andrews 11th Nov '16 - 10:14am

    Don’t have a problem with is. Nothing wrong with defending EU rights and protections for all the population of the nation (including the 26% of the UK that voted to leave the European Union)

  • Good. I’m glad this has been clarified and the Lib Dems are sticking up for the 48%.

  • What if the agreement is a really good one or a 9/10 one? Would the Lib Dems then still fight to stay in the EU? We all know how the establishment is travelling on the wrong side of history. All this will do is make the Lib Dems seem more establishment yet with 8 mps!

  • Help, I agree with Simon Shaw.

    The new establishment in the West is reactionary, ill-informed populism. Farron is being anti-establishment by standing up for evidence-based policy. He’s doing what a politician should be doing – setting out a platform of beliefs and seeking to persuade others that he is right. That is the opposite of the opinion-poll-led vapid politics of the last few decades that got us here.

  • The Lib Dems require a distinctive position even if it angers some and is scoffed at by others. We can only benefit in electoral terms from the outlined approach. That is better than more of the same and electoral stagnation.

  • “We will vote against Article 50 unless it allows the people a vote on the deal, because the will of the people must prevail – both on departure and destination.”

    Pure political posturing and pointless.

    There is no consensus in the Lisbon Treaty / Article 50 for the UK to have a 2nd referendum on the result of the negotiations.
    Once Negotiations have been complete.
    “The Treaties shall cease to apply to the State in question from the date of entry into force of the withdrawal agreement or, failing that, two years after the notification referred to in paragraph 2, unless the European Council, in agreement with the Member State concerned, unanimously decides to extend this period.”

    There is no line saying, unless the member state withdraws its article 50.

    The EU would not want member states to be able to invoke article 50, start negotiations, cause uncertainty and then withdraw because they did not like the terms agreed. The EU could not have member states constantly threatening to invoke article 50, whenever the member state did not like something that was happening in Europe. It would cause to much uncertainty and instability.

    Once we start the process of leaving, that it we leave.

    There can be no 2nd vote

    If a State which has withdrawn from the Union asks to rejoin, its request shall be subject to the procedure referred to in Article 49. That would mean rejoining with Schengen and adopting the Euro.

    This is pure posturing by the Liberal Democrat Party. Not that there 8 votes are going to make much difference to the result.
    However, I think it will have far wider consequences for the party in the long term. 30% of Liberal Democrats voted for Brexit. The country does not like politicians who try to stifle democracy. Out it this way, I certainly can not see Liberal Democrats Increasing their number of MP’s at the next election if they did this

  • David Evershed 11th Nov '16 - 10:42am

    Once Article 50 is triggered the Uk will leave the EU.

    So any second referendum would be a choice between:

    a) the negotiated deal and

    b) the default option of the World Trade Organisation arrangements

  • John> A politician that is happy to subvert democracy.
    You clearly commented without actually reading beyond the headline.
    Or is ‘the will of the people must prevail’ not democratic enough for you?

  • “Once we start the process of leaving, that it we leave.”

    Again, nothing could be further from the truth. Invoking Article 50 does not bind us to leaving the EU.

  • @AngrySteve

    “Again, nothing could be further from the truth. Invoking Article 50 does not bind us to leaving the EU.”
    Instead of just saying something is true or not true, why not try backing up your arguments with some real facts, linking your opinion to legislation and acts of parliament / EU to back up your case.

  • Why should I when you haven’t bothered, continue to ignore High Court rulings, the law of this country and clutch at any straw to back your prejudice?

    Here goes anyway, from the author of Article 50:


  • The irreversibility of an Article 50 declaration surely needs to be established in law; I expect that it shortly will be. Our opinions on this matter little here so little point in us arguing them.

    Until we have that legal clarification, not agreeing to enter A50 negotiations without a referendum makes sense – but SImon Shaw’s absolutely right that it’s not about the 48 vs the 52, it’s about what’s right for the whole country and how we unite the divisions that have emerged and lingered from the referendum campaign.

  • The ‘48%’ was a snapshot in time. The percentage is now higher than 50% and that’s just for staying in the EU. The percentage that would want to remain in the single market, etc is much greater than this. Democracy demands that our voices are heard, that the rule of law abides and that decision making is informed.

  • @AngrySteve

    “Why should I when you haven’t bothered, continue to ignore High Court rulings, the law of this country and clutch at any straw to back your prejudice?”
    How am I Prejudice? Please elaborate

    Why on earth would anyone listen to the opinion of Lord Kerr, who has little understanding of the article that he indeed wrote. He said to the BBC
    “I thought the circumstances in which it would be used, if ever, would be when there was a coup in a member state and the EU suspended that country’s membership.”

    Why would anyone trust the competence of a man who wrote article 50 who did not have the intelligence and foresight to put in a get out clauses should a member state wishes to change his mind.

  • Ah, I see.

    You understand Article 50 better than the idiot that wrote it.

    I take it you also understand issues much better than all the idiot experts out there.

    Welcome to the new Western world.

  • Legal advice to the HoL on the matter is summarised towards the end of this article…
    I expect someone can mine Hansard for the full text of what was said if they are sufficiently interested.

    However, with Labour all over the place on the issue and likely to split 3 ways on any vote, it would be a pleasant surprise if the question even has the remotest chance of arising.

  • Farron is clearly trying to play the EU game and keep on having referendums until they get the vote they want.Winchester anyone ?

    Naturally if there had been a Remain vote then there would have been zero discussion of a further referendum .

  • Drew Durning 11th Nov '16 - 11:38am

    I agree with Tim

  • Arthur Pewtey 11th Nov '16 - 11:40am

    This is more about positioning for the general election than Brexit. With 8 MPs Farron has zero chance of overturning the vote but he is certainly getting the headlines as a minority party.

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 11th Nov '16 - 11:41am

    I remember a television interview that Tim Farron gave, quite soon after the referendum result. He said he did not like the idea of Parliament blocking Brexit – he said something like “that wouldn’t seem quite fair somehow.”

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 11th Nov '16 - 11:45am

    In his statement, Tim Farron says “The will of the people must prevail, both in departure and destination”. So how can he then justify blocking the “departure” that the people have voted for?

  • Eddie Sammon 11th Nov '16 - 11:52am

    “a referendum at the end of the negotiations where people can either vote for the deal or to remain in Europe.”

    Are Lib Dems going to try and ensure we are offered a good brexit deal, or leave it up to the Conservatives, hope they get a bad deal and then people vote to stay in the EU? Not a vote winner. Probably decided by those who have an emotional attachment to the EU, rather than a pragmatic one. Or maybe a strong desire for a core-vote strategy.

  • Excellent news. Let’s have a proper referendum based on real options, not hypothetical concepts and dreams.

    Leave people should be fine with this. They won the first one, so surely they should win the second if this is the right choice for Britain, right?

  • Theresa May must be quaking at the thoguht that she will have to rely on the support of all the DUP’s 8 seats to cancel out the Lib Dem votes.

  • Matt (Bristol) 11th Nov '16 - 12:27pm

    a) The lib Dems voting against Article 50 will not ‘block’ it unless a significant number of Labour and Tory MPs join them. This will almost certainly trigger an election, in which all bets would be off…
    b) similarly, putting in a second referendum (on what terms?) will not necessarily ‘block’ leaving the EU.
    c) What a second referendum may do is make soft Brexit more likely, as May will know that this is the position acceptable to a larger majority of the country. Therefore you can argue that pushing for a second referendum is trying to create workable democratic compromise about how the will of the people should be enacted, not blocking the will of the people per se.
    d) If the voting in the referendum had been reversed, would a second referendum have gone away? No siree. We have Farage’s word on that, and it is likely a block of Tory MPs would have joined him.

    As to the internal processes: this is not the only policy the Lib Dems could have enacted, but it is consistent with our previous statements, and enables us to move forward without a split within our own ranks. We need to accept this decision and encourage our MPs to keep to it.

    But I agree with Simon Shaw that we should _not_ claim or posture that we will be a block to Brexit, in all circumstances — that is, until and unless we can evidence that there is a clear popular mandate against it, in all circumstances.

  • @Eddie Sammon – “Are Lib Dems going to try and ensure we are offered a good brexit deal, or leave it up to the Conservatives”

    How, exactly, do you propose that the LibDems try and ensure we are offered a good deal? This is entirely in the hands of May, Fox, Davies and Johnson.

    I’m sure our 8 MPs will campaign for exactly that, and we will all continue to express our opinions on LDV and elsewhere, but we LibDems are not in a position to “ensure” anything related to Brexit.

  • I was a passionate ant-Brexiter, not least because of the uselessness of the official Remain campaign. But I would happily see our MPs vote for Article 50 letter to be sent provided that we were satisfied with the terms upon which we were going forward (ie Single Market being the minimum) into negotiations. Surely, it is down to Parliament, not the government, to set the rules for what happens after Article 50 is written including how the matter will be reviewed and whether there should be a second referendum once the negotiated terms seem clear (about 18 months after Article 50 letter?)? This would allow the people of the country to decide if what they are likely to be getting is what the majority of them thought they were voting for – and whether it is worth supporting. Then all you have to do, if the people don’t want it to go forward, is to get all the other members of the EC to agree to forget it ever happened. 🙂

  • Matt (Bristol) 11th Nov '16 - 1:01pm

    “Then all you have to do, if the people don’t want it to go forward, is to get all the other members of the EC to agree to forget it ever happened.”

    I, too am a passionate anti-Brexiter, but I venture to suggest that is somewhat unlikely.

    The challenge here is how to make the best of a bad situation, whether in or out. We have basically been in ‘neverendum’ territory ever since the referendum became serious politics in 2013.

    A lot of the blame for the full awfulness and complexity of our situation can be placed – not on Theresa May as PM – but on the Cameron government (in which May was still a participant) that drafted and enacted the EU Referendum Act 2015 without giving serious thought to the post-referendum process in either outcome – indeed, it appears they actively refused to do so.

  • @Angry Steve

    “Ah, I see.

    “You understand Article 50 better than the idiot that wrote it.”

    Well it seems as though the “idiot” as you put it, not my terms, did not understand what he was writing, especially considering the lack of clarity of what a member state can / can not do in regards to withdrawing an article 50 once invoked.
    Don’t you think that it is imperative when writing laws and treaties that effect EU Members state and millions of people that the legislation would be crystal clear with all the T’s Crossed and I’s dotted.

    “I take it you also understand issues much better than all the idiot experts out there.”

    No I don’t, I listen and read to what ALL the experts are saying and form my own opinion as i understand things.
    I certainly don’t go around talking in derogatory language towards those I disagree with, unlike some

    “Welcome to the new Western world.”
    Thank you, Welcome to Democracy

  • Eddie Sammon 11th Nov '16 - 1:31pm

    Hi Nick Baird, by try and ensure I mean try and improve our chances for a good deal. We can do this by providing moral pressure and ideas. It can’t just look like we have left it to the Conservatives and some Labour MPs to negotiate a good deal.

  • Typical dishonesty of the Libdems.

    First they said we should have a referendum if there was going to be EU treaty change.

    When they had the chance to force Labour to honour their promise to hold a referendum on the Lisbon treaty , the Libdems were whipped to sit on their hands in Parliament. This they justified by saying what people really needed was an in/out referendum. No caveats , no second referendums, an in out referendum

    Now that we have had the in out referendum the Libdems shift the goal posts yet again.

  • paul barker 11th Nov '16 - 2:00pm

    Personally I think this is too complex, too subtle, too many bloody words – typical Liberal failings. I would delete everything before “The Party”.
    But, in the absense of an Emergency Conference this is is now Party Policy & I will go with it while keeping an eye on the possible dangers – the main one being that The Government gives us what we are asking for.
    I apologise for any apparent lack of enthusiasm.

  • Peter Watson 11th Nov '16 - 2:19pm

    @Dav “Theresa May must be quaking at the thought that she will have to rely on the support of all the DUP’s 8 seats to cancel out the Lib Dem votes.”
    As the Guardian reports, “The party has only eight MPs but their attempts to derail any article 50 bill are likely to have more success in the House of Lords, where they have more than 100 peers.”
    The Dem in Lib Dem risks being stretched increasingly thin.

  • @AngrySteve – “… Invoking Article 50 does not bind us to leaving the EU.”

    My observation on this can be found here:

    It is notable in the BBC interview with Lord Kerr you link to, that the only get out from Article 50 Lord Kerr actual mentions was for the UK to “change it’s mind”, however this left unstated that for this to have any effect the EU had to accept this “change of mind” and thus reach a “withdrawal agreement” that enables the Article 50 clock to be stopped.

    In my opinion, the best way to avoid accidentally leaving the EU is to avoid actually invoking Article 50 in the first place (and matt before you start jumping up-and-down I fully appreciate the challenge that represents).

  • re: “and thus reach a “withdrawal agreement” that enables the Article 50 clock to be stopped.”

    This scenario, also presents Tim with a problem, as in his world we would have to have a referendum on the deal. I suggest it would be unwise to assume that a couple of years down the road that the UK would be overwhelmingly in favour of remaining – what would Tim do if the electorate rejected the “resumption of normal business” agreement?

  • Sue Sutherland 11th Nov '16 - 2:37pm

    It is vital that we get a second referendum because the political situation and leaders in EU countries will change. More importantly Trump has indicated that America will withdraw from NATO, which explains why Putin supports him. This will leave Europe seriously exposed to any more of Russia’s take overs and give us serious bargaining power with the EU. It will also be a new, serious factor in deciding which way people choose to vote, whichever way it influences them. So far, the discussion has been about trade, sovereignty and immigration so the defence of our country and the rest of the EU is a completely new issue which people should be given the right to consider.

  • Here we go again. Our leader does something courageous. He goes as far as his colleagues will allow him to commit the Liberal Democrats to blocking Brexit. My opinion of Tim Farron rises tenfold. Yet, we have the usual procession of Brexiteers and defeatists complaining that the Liberal Democrats are subverting democracy.

    Three days ago, the people of Nebraska in a referendum voted to reintroduce capital punishment. If the Nebraska legislature refuses to implement this outcome, will that be subverting democracy? Does a referendum outcome make the avoidable taking of human life morally right?

    Similarly, does a referendum outcome, which cannot bind our sovereign Parliament, and was expressly stated to be advisory only, force our Parliament to throw aside its ancient and primary duty to do what is in the manifest best interests of the British people?

  • @Roland

    ” (and matt before you start jumping up-and-down I fully appreciate the challenge that represents).” I assure you Roland, I am not that excitable 😉

    “I suggest it would be unwise to assume that a couple of years down the road that the UK would be overwhelmingly in favour of remaining – what would Tim do if the electorate rejected the “resumption of normal business” agreement”

    Also, we have to remember that the negotiations that Cameron got with the EU are now null and void as we voted to leave the EU and that was expressed most intently by Junker and the EU. So should this mythical opportunity arise where the people are given a 2nd chance Referendum on the basis of the outcome of the EU negotiations. The Choice will be accept the negotiated terms of Brexit
    Stay a member of the EU and carry on as we are, even without the reforms that Cameron had previously negotiated.
    I cant see the public going for that one somehow.

  • Good, I’m all in favour of politicians being up front with their views. You might not like his views you might not vote for him, but you can’t say he hasn’t got principles.

    It seems Tim is not a follower of Marx unlike most politicians

    Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them… well, I have others.


  • john stevens 11th Nov '16 - 6:07pm


  • Denis Loretto 11th Nov '16 - 6:07pm

    Important points to me –
    1. The issue of the UK’s place in Europe and the precise details of that place are far too important for us to stop fighting now – not just for the “48” but for all who live here as has been said above.
    2. This vote needs heavily whipped – to have only 8 MPs and allow them to be all over the place on this vital issue is not a good look.
    3. Surely before March 2017 we can get a definitive legal position on whether or not Article 50 is withdrawable after triggering. In my view even if the permission of all 27 is needed this is deliverable. Having looked over the precipice I doubt if any one of those countries truly prefers a EU without the UK.
    4. I’m with Tim.

  • Tim is on Russian TV now. Free view RT

  • Sorry, I think they are using his picture for the article.

  • This is regrettable. There is no reliable indication that article 50 is reversible. A referendum on the final deal will therefore only mean that the time to negotiate is shortened further from the 18 months or so that can be expected. Rejecting the deal would just mean that the UK exits without any resolution to the problems raised by terminating the treaties. It would be senseless and harmful.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 11th Nov '16 - 10:48pm

    Catherine Jane Crosland
    Can I say , this is clever , Tim is principled, but , as colleagues have said , it must not be for the 48 but the 100, we can , as Simon says , and he is correct , promote it as that ! Any worries , such as by the ever admirable, Catherine , do not feel it is against previous comments or democracy , for we can say , we want people involved, via their elected members , then directly !

  • I don’t agree with this position, but I understand the political reasoning and can get behind it. It’s a tricky tactical choice and Tim Farron deserves our backing.

  • The threat by Tim Farron to ‘vote against (the triggering of) Article 50’ unless the Government gives an assurance that a second referendum will be held to approve the final exit deal is neither honourable or democratic. It is also probably unworkable.

    It seems the energies of this party are focused entirely on thwarting a smooth transition out of the EU at any cost. The cost might be less than 8 MPs after the next general election and if the imbalanced numbers of Lib Dem peers also seek to obstruct our exit from the EU, it may hasten the demise of the House of Lords. Interesting days!

  • Pat: Of course it’s both honourable and democratic to campaign democratically for something you support. The referendum did not mean that the entire country collectively supports leaving the EU. Someone has to speak up for the 48%. To declare the losing side in a vote “undemocratic”, and thus imply it is forbidden (dare I say, “politically incorrect”, using the term in a literal sense) is the way of the dictator. Democracy simply doesn’t work that way.
    The Witney by-election result shows that Remainers are prepared to make themselves into a political force. Richmond Park may well show the same. The next election could well show this as well. Not that I think it will be easy; if it were held now, there would probably be a Tory landslide, but I think the Lib Dems could gain some seats by targeting the (newly politicised) pro-EU vote.
    As for the House of Lords, well we Lib Dems do not support it. If we did, then we would not seek to use it to obstruct the government’s agenda; we would instead do what Labour tends to do, by participating in the gentlemen’s agreement that says “don’t try to defeat the government too often”. Labour contains a lot of people who support the unelected House of Lords exactly as it is, and the last thing they would want to do it to provoke a constitutional crisis that might lead to a proper elected second chamber. But this is what Lib Dems would very much like to happen.

  • paul barker 12th Nov '16 - 1:48pm

    I accept that this is now Party policy but I still worry. What happens if May gives us a 2nd Referendum, on “Hard Brexit” terms & we lose again ? Why would another Referendum be any different ?
    We should be opposing Article 50 by every means at our disposal & we should make that opposition into a slogan : “Stop Brexit”.

  • And still the likes of Farron, Clegg, and Milliband don’t get it.

    So let me be clear, I and many others do not agree with you. Not on the EU, not on multi culturisom, not on your moral neutrality and not on your foreign or economic policy.
    Is this clear, it is not a lack of education or income, it is a lack of agreement with your political ideology. We don’t want it implemented, that’s why I and many others voted tory and then brexit and would do again.

  • Jefferson Horsley 13th Nov '16 - 6:51am

    We open ourselves up for ridicule if our MPs vote for a further referendum on the terms negotiated for Brexit. Referenda are crude instruments for strategic decision-making as we have already found out to our cost. We should concentrate on highlighting our faith in representational democracy by supporting the sovereignty of the House of Commons. Isn’t that something even the Brexiteers wanted?

  • Can anyone tell me which treaty it was after which the prime minister of the day stared earnestly across the dispatch box and said to the house ” if we ratify this, there is no going back’ or even ‘if we ratify this there is no going back without significant economic damage to the country’ . I don’t remember any such statement and if it is now true as many in the lib Dems and labour suggest. Then surely the prime minister and parliament of the day have done this country a great disservice.

  • I disagree with the decision of our M.P’s to vote against Article 50 unless a second referendum is guaranteed. I would much prefer that they abstain on that vote and then make a judgement regarding the need for a further referendum once any Brexit negotiations have been concluded. In the meantime our leaders should consider what reforms they would wish the EEC to implement. The contribution by Nick Clegg in the ” Orange Book ” is a good place to start

  • Jayne Mansfield 13th Nov '16 - 5:03pm

    @ tynan,
    I don’t think that it is a case of Farron, Clegg and Miliband not ‘getting it’. I think that as you say, they don’t agree with you.

    I think that we can all agree though, that we are very fortunate to live in a country where there is an independent judiciary, the rule of law and a means whereby if we disagree, we can change things through political argument and the ballot box rather than through violence.

  • Jayne, as long as the leaders of the remain campaign state and / or believe that we are in this situation because brexit voters were deceived ot too stupid to understand the consequences ot are just racist, uneducated, jealous, and all of these statements have been made by remain leaders, then not only do we simply not agree, they truly don’t get it.
    I do believe in the democratic process, i shall be very interested to see how parliament votes and in how Farron and co react if they loose any second referendum.

  • Apologies all for typing errors small screen bad eyesight, not a good combo.
    In regards to Mr Clegg putting a list of reforms to the EU; if I thought that any significant reform was likely or even possible then I might have been persuaded to vote remain. Sadly for many years I have listened to politicians from many parties argue to stay and reform and yet….nothing.
    Do any of you truly believe the common agricultural policy or fisheries policies are going to be reformed any time soon, or that the EU practices subsidiarity in any meaningful way? Interesting times.

  • Tenants “that we are in this situation because brexit voters were deceived ot too stupid to understand the consequences ot are just racist, uneducated, jealous,…”

    This was a very close vote, there were only about a million votes in it. I think we can all agree that at least a (?small) proportion of Leave voters did so because they are racist, uneducated or taken in by lies. Or all three. And because it was a close vote, those voters probably made all the difference between us remaining in Europe and Brexiting.

  • Phyllis my point is that if the Libs were to assume these were the main reasons you lost the vote, then in my humble opinion you and those who wish to remain will be trying to work out why you keep loosing votes / elections for quite some considrable time to come.
    Yes there are racisits etc in all walks of life, even I would imagine within your own party, but to think this is the reason you lost the vote will take you down entirely the wrong path. May i suggest that ( if you haven’t done so already ) you look at some of the excellent articles on here that argue that liberals need to take a long hard look at them selves in how they approach people whose vote they need but don’t currently have in the bag?
    I also think that to suggest that the winning margin ( about a million votes, give or take ) all belong to that group and that is why they voted as they did is aprime example of the problem that the Lib Dems and other ‘progressive’ groups will have in the coming years unless you can find a different approach to communicating with those with whom you fundamentally disagree.

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