Urgent questions to our MPs regarding Article 50

 

There was rather worrying news from the regional conferences this weekend in which several parliamentarians, including Chief Whip Tom Brake, implied that the party would not vote against an Act of Parliament triggering Article 50 and/or repealing the European Communities Act 1972.

I and many other members are increasingly concerned about this turn of events. Less than two months ago, we passed a policy at Conference that committed the party to remain inside the European Union. Our reputation for many years has been that of a Europhile party, and nearly all of our votes are aware of this fact. So too are the thousands of new members who joined after the referendum. To not vote against would not only be betraying party members, it would be betraying our voters too. After a bruising period in coalition in which we lost the trust of many of our members, I fear that retreating from our pro-European principles poses an existential threat to the party.

Make no mistake, the expressed will of the party is to clearly oppose the triggering of Article 50. The government have a mandate to trigger Article 50, but we are evidently not bound to vote for such a motion, just like we are not bound to vote for other government pledges that we stand resolutely opposed to, such as the Snooper’s Charter or the repeal of the Human Rights Act.

We must escape from this idea that the referendum result means the democratic process has ended. We have the right and the responsibility to scrutinise and oppose the Conservative Brexit plans, and we have the right and responsibility to not only believe that Brexit remains against the national interest, but to promote that idea and campaign upon it.

Just because you lose a battle doesn’t mean you stop fighting for what’s right; just ask Labour how it worked out for them. We cannot afford to triangulate ourselves into bland centrism. We must stand up for our principles now more than ever.

Already, there are dozens of party members who are so concerned that they have signed a request for a Special Conference to ask if our MPs to stick to the crystal clear policy we passed in Brighton: no to Article 50, no to Brexit. I’m calling upon the Parliamentary Parties to make their position on Article 50 clear so we can avoid this potentially expensive but necessary action.

 

* Sarah Noble is an activist in Calderdale. Alongside her role on the LGBT+ Liberal Democrats executive, she shares a keen interest in devolution and transport policy.

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77 Comments

  • William Barter 7th Nov '16 - 4:35pm

    Well done Sarah.

    None of us want a special conference.
    But we also don’t want our parliamentarians to abstain on Article 50 notification.

    And I know which I’d rather took happened. A special conference is an annoyance, but abstaining on Article 50 is us abandoning both our senses and our principles.

  • Sounds ominous we need to beware what might be happening and be ready to ask very serious questions.
    Interestingly there appears to have been a complaint to the Electoral Commission regarding the Referendum, seems Professor Watt is asking them to investigate whether the Leave campaign misled voters over the £350m a week for the Health Service etc. Not clear what this means if the Commission upheld the complaint. We await the comments of the Mail and the Express!

  • Agree with you, Sarah.

    If there is any substance in what you say, apart from the principle of the thing, there is the impact on the Richmond by-election.

    As far as Scotland is concerned, this could also be a final nail in the coffin for many members.

  • paul holmes 7th Nov '16 - 4:41pm

    I would have thought that as a pro European Party we continue to fight to change the electorate’ s mind. That is democracy. But we lost the Referendum and should not try to thwart that clear electoral view via the mechanics of Parliamentary procedure. Starting the Article 50 procedure, albeit with as many caveats and criticisms as you like, is democracy.

  • Matt (Bristol) 7th Nov '16 - 4:45pm

    Sarah, I wasn’t at conference, but the party website states our policy is that ‘Liberal Democrats will decide how they will vote after they see the terms on which the government proposes to negotiate’ and I think it has done so since Conference.

    Calling for a firming-up of the party’s position on this point needs to be done in a careful way to avoid a public argument and split on this issues in the parliamentary party which would be more damaging than holding to the terms of the policy as stated.

    Personally I would support our MPs voting against article 50 if any of these criteria were met:
    a) we felt we had strong evidence that the overall will of the country was to reconsider the referendum.
    b) The government had repeatedly ruled out and/or narrowly beaten back genuine, widely-support cross-party attempts to amend any bill or motion to insert a request for a second referendum.
    c) Under similar circumstances the government had seemed to imply or had stated clearly in the debate that it had no heart to even consider remaining in the single market.
    b) or if it was a free vote, unwhipped.

  • Alex Macfie 7th Nov '16 - 4:51pm

    paul holmes: But opposition MPs vote against government legislation after losing an election. How is this any different?

  • Kay Kirkham 7th Nov '16 - 5:06pm

    If Farage et al had given up on leaving the EU after the original referendum in 1975 they would not have got their way now. Just because Remain lost doesn’t mean the Remainers should give up any more that the Leavers would have given up if they had lost.

    The problem with voting to trigger Article 50 is that it appears to be unrevocable. If that turns out to be not the case, voting to trigger it becomes just a step on the road to a possible referendum on whether to accept the terms of the final negotiation with an option to remain if the terms are rejected.

    It would seem to me to be good politics as the party of the 48% to vote against because we don’t want Article 50 do we.

  • William Ross 7th Nov '16 - 5:06pm

    Sarah

    It would be terribly helpful if your eight MPs did vote against Article 50, assuming they ever have the opportunity. My guess is that such a vote would leave you with Alistair Carmichael as your sole MP whenever a general election rolls around.

  • Becky Lockyer 7th Nov '16 - 5:12pm

    Thank you for this Sarah. It is necessary we clarify this point as people are asking this very question in Richmond. Will our MPs commit to voting against article 50. I voted for the motion in Brighton and am really worried about this.

  • Sarah
    I agree. As we currently understand it, article 50 is irrevocable (may be a slight question mark on this) and a vote for article 50 is a vote to leave the EU. I don’t feel the party should ever vote in this way. Stand by our principles, otherwise who and what are we.

  • paul barker 7th Nov '16 - 5:34pm

    The Labour candidate in Richmond Park is already using this ambiguity to make mischief, claiming that, if elected he will vote against Article 50 & pressing Sarah Olney to do the same. This is pretty dishonest but it might sow confusion.
    We need clarity from The Party Leadership as soon as possible. We should be the “Stop Brexit” Party, in fact I would like to see that phrase addes in brackets after The Party Name on mastheads, enen perhaps on Ballot Papers.
    Brexit is the defining issue of the next few years, it divides our rivals & (mostly) unites us, we should be loud & proud about being The Anti-Brexit Party.
    PS Any chance of an LDV survey on this ?

  • David Evershed 7th Nov '16 - 5:41pm

    Article 50 is only triggering negotiations to leave the EU and not specifying the terms. So voting for Article 50 is a necessary step if we are to implement the result of the referendum.

    To vote against implementing the result of the single issue referendum is a vote against democracy.

    The Liberal Democrat Party would have to change its name to the Liberal Party.

  • Matt (Bristol) 7th Nov '16 - 5:46pm

    We have stayed relatively united as a party up to now. We have a nuanced by carefully negotiated position, which, to be honest, I don’t recognise the summary of in the article, as much as I may agree with the sentiment.

    Let’s not allow certain people to say, they’re all as bad as each other.

    That means a truce:
    a) on the one side, no special conferences, no putsches against the MPs,
    b) the naysayers like Lord Ashdown and Vince Cable, also shutting up and not publicly attacking our leader’s stance, however much they dislike him or Nick.

    I want us to be able continue to win over people who voted Remain and are realising the bankruptcy of both Tory and Labour (and the limitations of the Greens and SNP) on this issue.

    But I don’t want us to become a party that only speaks for the wealthy Remainers found in Witney and Richmond Park.

    We are not the Coalitionist party, we are a party of the centre and of the left that can speak for outsiders, too – and that means not allowing the Daily Mail et al to detach us completely from those parts of our historic supporter base which considered or did in fact vote Leave.

    Forcing our MPs to vote down Article 50 – without first making a serious attempt to find a national compromise on the post-Brexit future that is not the flawed deal the Tories are offering – will isolate us nationally, possibly terminally, and make us overly dependent for our support on a part of the country that risks betraying a key part of our longterm identity.

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 7th Nov '16 - 5:47pm

    Sarah, as I understand it the motion passed at Conference did not specify that Lib Dem MPs should vote against triggering Article.
    The motion did say that the party would campaign for a “soft Brexit”. The central item of the motion was that the public should be given a chance to vote in a referendum on the final deal. This final deal could only emerge once Article 50 had been triggered. Therefore I think if our MPs vote to trigger Article 50, that will be quite compatible with the policy passed at Conference. Indeed to attempt to block article 50 would probably be incompatible with the policy passed at Conference, for it would deny the public the chance to vote on a final deal, which the policy demanded.

  • paul holmes 7th Nov '16 - 5:53pm

    @Alex Macfie. Because a single issue Referendum was held and more people voted on this single issue than on any issue before in our entire democratic history. Argue all you like about soft v.hard brexit and later on about whether the outcome of the negotiations is acceptable but refusing to acept a clear democratice vote is what Trump is threatening in the USA.

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 7th Nov '16 - 5:57pm

    Obviously I meant to say above “The motion passed at conference did not specify that Lib Dem MPs should vote against triggering article 50”
    Also, I remember in an interview Tim Farron said that he did not think Parliament should try to block Brexit – that he did not think that seemed quite fair. So somehow I think he will vote to trigger article 50.
    I think the policy voted for at Conference was supposed to be a compromise. In a way, the referendum on the deal was probably meant to be symbolic, rather than something anyone really expected to happen. It was a way party could campaign against Brexit, without appearing undemocratic, because the policy was for the public to have the final say.

  • @David Evershed – The High Court explicitly ruled last week that the referendum was advisory. MPs have to weigh up this advice, just like any other advice, but are free to act on or ignore it as they choose.

  • Ooops my reference to the complaint against the Leave campaign. I thought it had gone to the Electoral Commission,P. apparently not it has gone to the DPP. If a prosecution was brought and upheld by the Courts presumably the Referendum outcome, being a close result, could be declared null and void. That would be one for the record books and something to tell your grandchildren!
    I am not dreaming. This could actually happen.

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 7th Nov '16 - 6:16pm

    The party’s current policy was voted for overwhelmingly at Conference just a few weeks ago. As I mentioned above, it did not make any mention of Lib Dem MPs voting against Article 50, and indeed the main part of the policy depended on Article 50 being triggered. So what possible justification could there be for an emergency Conference now?

  • Our policy says, in black and white, that we will campaign to stay in the EU. I don’t know how we can do that as a party if our MPs don’t vote against Article 50.

    That doesn’t contradict the list of priorities we want in the exit negotiations. We try to amend bills we oppose all the time.

  • Michael Hopkins 7th Nov '16 - 6:27pm

    How do I sign to support the special conference?

    It’s essential we remain united and committed to Europe.

  • Michael,

    You can sign here: https://goo.gl/forms/TELJ1LrEJ1iglrPc2

  • Peter Watson 7th Nov '16 - 7:07pm

    Voting to trigger Article 50 appears to contradict the Lib Dems’ commitment to EU membership.
    Voting against triggering Article 50 appears to contradict the Lib Dems’ declared position of respecting the outcome of the referendum while campaigning for a soft Brexit and a referendum on the final terms of Brexit.
    In order to avoid confusing matters, I can only really see Lib Dem MPs abstaining in any such vote.

  • It is true that at the SE regional conference on Saturday,Tom Brake thought the party might abstain on article 50.However Tim in his speech seemed to be saying that if a motion was bought to parliament and the lib dems could not obtain an amendment or agree the motion they could vote against it and if the tories ignored democracy and tried to bulldoze article 50 through, agaoin that might be an opportunity to vote against as it would be undemocratic.

    If someone has a clearer memory about that speech I would welcome them clarifying it.
    My own view, failing to vote aginst Article 50 without a full democratic opportunity to influence the negotiations would be another student fees moment

  • Yellow Submarine 7th Nov '16 - 7:22pm

    I’m as pro EU membership as it’s possible to be but the referendum result was what it was. I think in the circumstances seek to amend the A50 bill then abstaining if those amendments don’t pass may be the least worst way of dealing with it as a party. The problem is public opinion hasn’t shifted. If polls are showing 60/40 for Remain at the time of the A50 bill the the Commons may well block it. Unless or until public opinion shifts there is no way round the referendum result.

  • Yellow Submarine 7th Nov '16 - 7:26pm

    But having said all that if handled badly if could all get a bit ” Tuition Fees “. Sadly incoherent populism is in the party’s DNA. Riding the counter populist wave on the Referendum result then abstaining on A50 it’s self could well look duplicitous whatever the actual complexities. But that’s just part of being a Lib Dem.

  • Andrew Chadwick 7th Nov '16 - 7:37pm

    ‘Another student fees moment’ would be about right.

    I joined LibDems on June 24th after hearing Tim Farron’s passion for a fair outcome, striving to remain in the EU – not just the single market. So as I have posted in a thread on Article 50, I am horrified to see that we seem unwilling to challenge the lies that Leave used in the referendum and the fact they were running two contradictory campaigns – for unfettered global trade and simultanously for more protection of special interests – without the accountability to implement either.

    If LibDems don’t take a stand and carry on in the public view just fudging trying to be all things to all men then I would rather, as someone who has worked and moved across Europe for the last 35 years, see the renaissance of a sensible Labour party with people like Owen Smith. He has been clear throughout, despite any risk to his own ambitions, on what needs to be done over Europe to honour both democracy and the interests of the UK.

    My understanding of our party policy is that a vote on negotiated terms needs to offer the alternative of Remain (otherwise to vote down the Government position would be pyrrhic and supporting the extremes of UKIP and the Tory far right) If that’s what we want we need to make it happen, and the Article 50 vote is the only likely way where we can join voices with other parties, even some Tories wanting an informed choice on a concrete option. This #BrexDealVote (search Twitter) also honours democracy and would be seen as supplanting the June 23rd referendum.

  • Matt (Bristol) 7th Nov '16 - 8:35pm

    Sarah, I think if I’ve read you right, that we’re in fact arguing at each other at a position of micro-difference. I’m saying, ‘consider voting against article 50, but try to amend the legislation as a preference’, whereas you’re saying, ‘vote against article 50, but consider amending the legislation as a compromise’.

    To an outsider these positions would look identical.

    However, I don’t think our stated policy does or should commit _all_ our MPs to vote against article 50 in _all_ circumstances, which is the difference.

    By arguing that it logically should, you’re not upholding the policy as written, you’re pointing to one of its weaknesses, which is that its spirit and its letter lead in slightly different directions.

    We should focus our efforts on a second referendum, not on outright parliamentary rejection.

  • Tanya Gibbs 7th Nov '16 - 8:47pm

    As Andrew Chadwick says, I am also someone who joined the party after the referendum, and very much on the back of Tim Farron saying that the Lib Dems would actively oppose Brexit. I’ve been disappointed to see the weakening of that stance in the following months.

    Brexit was an advisory poll, won narrowly by the group that shouted the loudest with bare-faced lies (that are now being investigated by the CPS). It boggles me that anyone can call this ‘democracy’ and I damn well expect the party’s MP’s to stand up for the best interests of the nation. The ‘will of the people’ is a fickle thing, and now that the truth is coming out, I think that ‘will’ might look rather different.

    If Article 50 were something we could back out of if we didn’t like the final deal (which we won’t), then fine, we could agree to find out what the deal could be. But I’ve seen no evidence that we can backtrack, which leaves us voting for a terrible deal with the EU or no Deal at all. We have to make every effort to prevent it getting that far, or we will dig a hole we can’t climb out of.

  • Philip Rolle 7th Nov '16 - 9:21pm

    It’s a difficult one for a Leaver like me to call, but I think Lib Dems should vote against the triggering of Article 50 and take the consequences, good and bad. We have seen, with tuition fees, what happens when a party says something it doesn’t mean. And what chaos ensues when a party is split, as it inevitably will be on its MPs voting other than in accordance with their principles.

    But at the same time, you are voting against a “direction of travel” within the country. Anyone who does this must be prepared to play a very long game.

  • A Social Liberal 7th Nov '16 - 9:53pm

    Signed

    Well said, Sarah

  • Lorenzo Cherin 7th Nov '16 - 10:23pm

    Sarah
    This so wrong , on this , what is advocated would be an electoral nonsense at best , outrage at worst, in my view and gladly , of many excellent Liberal and , importantly , Democratic friends here. As often , we forget the second word of our party , at the peril of the party and democracy !

    Catherine Jane Crosland

    As ever reasonable and sensible , please Catherine , can the likes of you gain the ground we so need to make real connection with the cause of reasonableness and common sense , many good colleagues and myself , herein and beyond , despair or laugh , one or the other , with incredulity !

  • David Pearce 7th Nov '16 - 10:46pm

    Nearly half the country voted to remain. Thats a lot of people who could become lib voters, even if the other half are utterly alienated by libs opposing article 50. A lot more than the 10% support libs have now. Winning elections is never about getting all the people on your side. However, it will not come to that, because if Brexit goes through successfully everyone will bask in that success and it will be forgotten as an issue. If it goes badly people will remember the libs opposed it and it will remain an issue for the future. The extreme right UKIPers are never going to vote lib anyway.

    Most of all the libs still need an issue to get them headlines and votes. This is the only issue in sight. Labour is already trying to steal it for the Richmond by election if their candidate opposes article 50. He knows it will work for him. Libs are dead in the water right now from the coalition and they desperately need an issue the public cares about. Make a stand or die.

  • Frank Bowles 7th Nov '16 - 10:50pm

    Well said Sarah. I’ve been in this party and it’s predecessor through thick and thin since 1985. If our MPs do not vote against Article 50 I will be gone. It’s an absolute red line.

  • Mark Smulian 7th Nov '16 - 11:33pm

    The Liberal Democrats could declare themselves to be the party that opposes Brexit and wishes the UK to stay in the EU, or even return to it after leaving.
    Or, they could say that following the referendum outcome they will vote for Article 50 and seek a ‘soft’ Brexit as best they can.
    Either of those positions are arguable. What is not arguable is to try to take both positions at once.
    Having rightly in my view nailed the party firmly to the ‘remain’ side and the 48% straight after the referendum, Tim Farron cannot now take the second option above without making the party look like fence-sitting opportunists.
    As others have pointed out, 16 million Remain voters is an awful lot of people who need a party to speak for them (and vastly more than have ever voted Lib Dem). Having set out since 23 June to be that party, the Lib Dems can’t now go for a ‘on the one hand, but then on the other’ approach.

  • Katharine Pindar 8th Nov '16 - 12:00am

    With respect, I don’t think this debate is helpful. We are the party united in wanting to stay in the EU. It is the Government party which is divided, unable to decide which bad outcome they prefer (since the only good outcome is staying in the EU), and that is probably why Teresa May says as little as possible about the negotiations to come. When there is a debate in Parliament, our MPs and peers will have to consider the content of the bill and decide what to do next. I don’t believe we should put pressure on our MPs to vote any particular way, since their FIRST duty I believe is to consider, not what their constituents want, not what our party wants, but what is best for the country. Personally I believe that Brexit would be bad for the country, so if I were an MP (as I have said already on another thread) I would vote against triggering Article 50; but our MPs must be free to choose what they will do.

  • Malcolm Todd 8th Nov '16 - 12:32am

    Have you any idea what it must sound like to people on the other side of the argument every time you describe the referendum as “advisory”? It’s yet another abuse of language in this debate, which has seen too much of that already.
    Argue for voting against the democratically expressed wish of the majority of voters if you like, but please stop using loaded language to justify what will quite reasonably be seen by much of the public as parliament sticking two fingers up at the people.
    This party absolutely accepted that a referendum should be held and voted in favour of the enabling legislation. I don’t recall any of our parliamentarians saying they reserved the right to reject the result of it if it didn’t suit.
    There is one honourable way at this point to fight to stay in the EU: demand a second referendum before Article 50 is triggered, with clear guidelines on what will happen in the event of a result either way. Seek to amend any legislation implementing Article 50 to that effect and you’ll have a leg to stand on. But the constant resort to pedanticism and disingenuous talk of a referendum on the terms or of parliament doing the government’s job of negotiation with the other 27 is about to turn me into a Leave voter.

  • Graham Jeffs 8th Nov '16 - 7:46am

    We need to be seen to be voting for what we believe in – and what we have told other people that we believe in. Voting for Article 50 would be terminal and gutless.

  • We are clearly pro-EU membership, and the most consistent pro-EU party. We are quite rightly positioning ourselves to in such a way as to allow the UK electorate to think again should they wish, and therefore provide the possibility for brexit to be actually avoided entirely (whatever the chances of that are). That requires careful positioning. We have said as a party that we accept the result of the referendum – to do otherwise really would be undemocratic, although we continue to campaign for what we believe in, just as losing parties do after gen elections, looking for the next opportunity to go back to the people. The key here is that a significant number of leave voters voted on the basis that the UK could have cake and eat it, and 0% of leave voters knew what the final deal would be. I agree with our policy of calling for a referendum to compare the deal May can ultimately obtain versus remaining – and we are and have been clear we think remaining full members will be better any deal for UK outside the EU that can be struck. But (enough) people won’t know we can’t have our cake and eat it until we’ve had that negotiation with the EU r27. If we want brexit to be avoided, we need that negotiation to happen before the country votes again prior to actual brexit, either in our referendum or a Gen Election. In practice, I expect we won’t get another referendum but there may well be a GE in 2018-19, and in that, I’d fully expect the party the stand as remain candidates, and for our MPs to vote against leaving come what may. The current Parl and its MPs are really bound over by the result of this year’s ref, although I’d expect prob that some of our MPs will vote against art 50 esp anyway as the Art 50 Bill is unlikely to meet our ‘red lines’ eg on single market. Some may abstain. I think we should trust them. Either way I’m sure Parl will pass a Art 50 Bill, but i’m also pretty sure that the art 50 timetable can be suspended if there is will on both sides. As a party we I don’t think we need a special conference, and I think we should take the slightly longer view here on how we position ourselves, so that the outcome we really want to avoid – brexit – can actually be avoided. Let’s not attack each other (inc on something that most likely wont make much difference either way in the short term), but focus on that longer term prize.

  • Ian Hurdley 8th Nov '16 - 9:30am

    Whatever happened – and so quickly – to ‘we speak for the 48%’?
    When the High Court gave their judgement that Parliament is the sovereign power, Their Lordships also made quite clear that NOTHNG could override the will of Parliament and that the wording of the referendum legislation specifically stated that it was advisory, not mandatory. But if Parliament is the ultimate authority then it has an obligation to exercise that power thoughtfully in the interests of the United Kingdom as a whole and of its citizens.
    Instead of nitpicking over a difference of 1.9%, we should be making the case that that actually represents an effective 50/50 split, so which ‘will of the people’ are we responding to? Corbyn’s Labour Party has apparently decided not to oppose Brexit. Are we now saying the same? In which case, half the country has been sold down the river rather than our MPs bowing to the demands of the populist, authoritarian right and its media propagandists.
    So, to all those people who lent us their votes in Witney, hopefully will do in Richmond Park, and those who joined the only credible pro-European party, we promise one thing and deliver another – tuition fees all over again!
    On an issue of this magnitude Parliament’s duty is to debate fully the whole matter of whether to permit notice under Article 50, and having taken all relevant factors into account, to put the matter to a free vote in both Houses. Leaving the EU must not be decided on a whipped vote by any party.

  • Simon McGrath 8th Nov '16 - 9:31am

    Did anyone when canvassing in the Referendum tell voters that it didn’t really matter how they voted because we wanted the Commons to ignore the result ?

  • Ian Hurdley 8th Nov '16 - 9:39am

    @John Bicknell
    The view among constitutional lawyers seems to be that notification under Article 50 would not be reversible, and so we would be committed to accept what the 27 were prepared to offer. Secondly, having seen the way that referenda have a tendency to backfire ( ask David Cameron feels now about calling his), to suggest that ‘the people’ rather than Parliament should decide on the acceptability of the final agreement would be extreme folly.

  • Denis Loretto 8th Nov '16 - 9:40am

    I have a lot of sympathy with what “J” says above except that I think our MPs should agree a line on Article 50 and vote together. Being all over the place with only 8 MPs is not a good look !
    Too little bad has happened yet to make any major shift in public opinion towards “remain”. I agree with J that any re-run before negotiations begin to show what form of brexit is likely to be available or even sought by UK negotiators would confirm the previous referendum decision – maybe with an increased majority. As I have argued on another thread (maybe we’re running too many threads on this right now) the crucial thing is – is an Article 50 application reversible? Surely it must be possible to get a definitive legal view on this. If it is, then the Article 50 application is an inevitable part of honouring the referendum and beginning the process of finding out what brexit really means. If and when it becomes clear that the reality of this gets public opinion shifting significantly towards a rethink we may have some hope of getting enough parliamentary support for the referendum on final destination which it is rightly our policy to seek.

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 8th Nov '16 - 10:01am

    Lorenzo, thank you so much for your support – that means a lot.
    I may come across as confident on Lib Dem Voice, but actually I’m a lot less confident than I sound. I find it hard, and often upsetting, to have to keep expressing a view that seems to be contrary to that held by so many in the party, including many whose views I otherwise respect. But I keep on doing so because I feel that I must.
    Some people above have suggested that if our MPs do not vote against Article 50, then it will be a “tuition fees moment”. It would not, of course, because, unlike with tuition fees, our MPs never promised to vote against Article 50. But to some of us, the party’s apparent disregard for democracy since the referendum result is like a tuition fees moment – or worse.
    I do not tend to go in for emotional comments, but I feel I should say that I love this party, and therefore find it rather heartbreaking to see it behaving in a way that seems so wrong – finding excuses to behave in a way that is clearly undemocratic.
    But I do believe that this is just a phase that the party is going through, and that in a few years most people in the party will look back and accept that the party’s response to the referendum result was a mistake – just as most people in the party now accept that the coalition and the vote to raise tuition fees were mistakes.

  • Rob Parsons 8th Nov '16 - 10:11am

    Malcolm Todd 8th Nov ’16 – 12:32am
    “Have you any idea what it must sound like to people on the other side of the argument every time you describe the referendum as “advisory”? It’s yet another abuse of language in this debate, which has seen too much of that already.
    “Argue for voting against the democratically expressed wish of the majority of voters if you like, but please stop using loaded language to justify what will quite reasonably be seen by much of the public as parliament sticking two fingers up at the people.”

    Malcolm – it was advisory. That is a fact, not an abuse of language.

    As for the vote, I respect it for exactly what it was – a snapshot of opinion resulting in a wafer thin majority based on a mountain of lies. That is neither a safe nor a democratic basis for making a monumental change in our constitution and economy.

  • Richard Underhill 8th Nov '16 - 10:40am

    We must also remember our other policies. The UK parliament that voted for a referendum is a representative but imperfect democracy, to put it mildly. The referendum held on 23 June was a direct, but imperfect, democratic event, to put it mildly. Those who argue about democracy should be more precise. Democracy is a work in progress. The tragedy is that such an important policy was decided in such an imperfect way. Lessons should have been drawn from referendums and representative elections won, as well as elections lost.
    It is right that the issue of sovereignty and the extent of rule by decree should be decided in a UK court and not merely in an English court. This referendum was held UK wide, but decided narrowly with widely variant regional outcomes. The PM has decided promptly to appeal, presumably because she lost in court, but the decision of the higher court has more clout, although inevitably arriving later. She can continue planning in the meantime.
    A brief recall of history is relevant. King James the Sixth of Scotland achieved the union of the crowns in 1603. The union of the parliaments was in 1707. Scottish law continued to have differences, as David Steel often said. There would be surprise if any of the elected bodies would seek to extend the power of the monarchy.

  • Paul Murray 8th Nov '16 - 10:46am

    Perhaps the Liberal Democrats should applaud Donald Trump for saying before polling day that he will respect the result of the election… provided he wins.

  • Rob Parsons

    “As for the vote, I respect it for exactly what it was – a snapshot of opinion resulting in a wafer thin majority based on a mountain of lies.”

    And that is why there is so much distrust on the leave side.

    The government advisory leaflet stated “This is your decision. The government will implement what you decide” – it certainly implies the referendum was more than a snapshot of public opinion.

  • ……………….The government advisory leaflet stated “This is your decision. The government will implement what you decide” – it certainly implies the referendum was more than a snapshot of public opinion………

    What about the Briefing Paper 07212 issued by the House of Commons Library to all MPs on 3 June 2015 which explicitly states as follows:
    ‘This Bill requires a referendum to be held on the question of the UK’s continued membership of the European Union (EU) before the end of 2017. It does not contain any requirement for the UK Government to implement the results of the referendum, nor set a time limit by which a vote to leave the EU should be implemented. Instead, this is a type of referendum known as pre-legislative or consultative, which enables the electorate to voice an opinion which then influences the Government in its policy decisions. The referendums held in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in 1997 and 1998 are examples of this type, where opinion was tested before legislation was introduced. The UK does not have constitutional provisions which would require the results of a referendum to be implemented, unlike, for example, the Republic of Ireland, where the circumstances in which a binding referendum should be held are set out in its constitution.”….

    To me, at least, it appears that one should treat all ‘promises’ made, regarding the referendum outcome, with the same caution/validity as all other government promises as ‘flexible’ (i.e. Not worth the paper they are written on)..

  • I know six years is a long time in politics but perhaps the Government advisory leaflet should be taken as seriously as the statement by Mark Harper MP – “Under the UK’s constitutional arrangements parliament must be responsible for deciding whether or not to take action in response to a referendum result” (Response to House of Lords Report on Constitution (30.9.10.) Is there a problem with MPs acting in the interests of the country if they see disaster looming?

  • I think those who think that we’all be reduced to a tiny rump vote need a reality check and recognise that we already are.

    Polling found last month that a Stop Brexit party would get 26% in a general election. I think we would all kill for that in the polls.

    Conversely, another betrayal of our principles may take us back into the asterisk days.

  • Peter Watson 8th Nov '16 - 11:39am

    @Nick Hopkinson “if our elected representatives cannot express their opinion, what is the point of Parliament?”
    But which opinion? Tim Farron has said that Lib Dems respect the outcome of the referendum, but it was a vote for departure not a vote for a destination so there should be a second referendum on the deal. Voting against triggering article 50 would contradict this as it would be deliberately blocking that vote to depart and disrespecting the outcome of the referendum.

  • John Critchley 8th Nov '16 - 12:50pm

    Peter Watson, spot on! I’m sad about this but it’s the only way to go.

  • paul holmes 8th Nov '16 - 12:58pm

    @ Sarah Noble.
    Firstly – I simply do not believe that a single issue Party would get such a vote in a real General Election as opposed to an Opinion Poll months or years before the real thing. Certainly UKIP never managed it in the opposite direction. It’s fantasy politics.

    Secondly – getting 26% spread across the UK does not actually mean winning much under an FPTP system, as witnessed by the record SDP/Liberal Alliance vote in the 1983 General Election.

    If I had wanted to join a single issue pressure group at any point in the last 33 years I could have joined any one of dozens but I joined a Political Party instead. Neither do I think a clear, single issue, Referendum vote should be rejected out of hand in Parliament. I voted and campaigned for Remain this year and I voted the same way in the 1975 Referendum. If Parliament had rejected the Referendum result in 1975 I would have been outraged and the same applies in 2016.

  • I want to stop Brexit, but this is not the way. Suppose a majority in parliament vote against Article 50 – what then? Do the Brexiteers suddenly give up and quietly walk away? We can’t pit parliament against (a small majority of) the people like that. At best that would result in snap election, but at worst would result in a constitutional crisis and civil unrest.

    I want to stop Brexit by changing the minds of ordinary people. This will only happen when we know what sort of Brexit deal we are going to get, which in turn we only find out after invoking Article 50. So let’s get on with it. And yes, I do believe that we can halt the Article 50 process if we change our minds.

    For all the difference our 8 MPs will make, they should abstain. Neither support or block the process.

  • @Ian Hurdley

    “the wording of the referendum legislation specifically stated that it was advisory, not mandatory. ”

    It absolutely did not say anything of the sorts in the 2015 referendum act.

    Please read the act and then quote back to us where some information is contained.

    There are no laws or legislation in UK law that say’s referendums are advisory unless stated otherwise.
    That leaves it open to interpretation of intent.

  • Malcolm Todd 8th Nov '16 - 1:49pm

    Can we stop pretending that “advisory” simply means “not having full legislative force”?

    The referendum was a question to the people – “What do you want to happen?”
    The question wasn’t answered. It wasn’t “advice” and it wasn’t a legislative act: it was an answer to the question. But the question wasn’t, “What do you advise?” Calling it, after the fact, “advisory” is an abuse of language because it ignores the obvious connotations. “Advisory”, in everyday language, means “not carrying very much weight with the decision-makers”. That is absolutely not how anyone presented this vote before it was held.

    Parliament has every right, legally, to reject that answer. Just as it had the right to reject the electorate’s answer to questions about devolution in 1998 and 1999. But it would be politically insane, self-evidently anti-democratic and morally disgraceful to do so.

  • Malcolm Todd wrote:

    “But it would be politically insane, self-evidently anti-democratic and morally disgraceful to do so.”

    Would it be politically insane and morally disgraceful to reject the outcome of a referendum that called for the return of capital punishment?

  • Andrew McCaig 8th Nov '16 - 2:32pm

    I agree with those on here who say that voting down article 50 in all circumstances would be pretty stupid. Our MP’s all voted for the referendum I believe? Overturning the result of that referendum without a further vote would be undemocratic, however much we dislike the lies of the Leave campaign. Arguing about “advisory” referenda when the govt leaflets put out before the vote said “we will do what the people say” is casuistry… Most people on both sides did believe when they voted that the vote would be respected. I certainly did…

    However there is no defined destination for Brexit that clearly has the support of the majority of the British people. Amending article 50 to stipulate another referendum when the terms of leaving have been made clear is certainly NOT undemocratic (how could a vote ever be undemocratic?). It may be impractical, and I hope we are lobbying our friends in Europe to make it possible. However I would rather be branded impractical than undemocratic… If the Tories bulldoze through article 50 unamended, then our MP’s could vote against it saying “bring back a version we can agree with, and we will vote for it”

  • Paul Murray 8th Nov '16 - 2:48pm

    @Sesenco – if the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Party had voted in favour of having a referendum on capital punishment then yes, it would be wrong to refuse to accept the result. So far as I can tell only Nick Clegg (who did not vote) was not in the “Aye” column.

  • Sue Sutherland 8th Nov '16 - 3:15pm

    So if our MPs vote against Article 50 they will please those in the party and the country that put membership of the EU above democracy, if they vote for they will please those who believe democracy is more important than EU membership. I believe this is what’s known as Catch 22.
    I voted Remain, indeed I’d like to see a Federal Europe, but at the time of the Referendum I thought it was a decision I was voting for not advice to Parliament and I’m sure millions of others thought so at the time. I find I cannot ignore those people who came out to vote for the first time ever because they thought their vote would make a difference. Belief in democracy surely has to take precedence over EU membership and justice must be seen to be done. However, I firmly believe that people should be offered a vote on the terms of Brexit because otherwise they were buying a pig in a poke.
    I do not believe we should try to mandate our MPs because this is a fluid situation that needs them to be able to respond to whatever occurs in the way they think best. We do not have control over what happens, indeed I think no one in the country does because we are now at the mercy of other EU countries and of the rest of the world. Many pigeons may be coming home to roost and it is the Tories who have brought us to our knees.
    Please don’t divide our party.

  • Matt (Bristol) 8th Nov '16 - 3:29pm

    Can those who are arguing for a special conference explain why it will only seek to mandate the MPs, and not the Lords, and what they think about the Lords – not the Commons – voting down Article 50, and why this is different, if so?

    I think we have to be honest that it is in the Lords that a vote against Article 50 is more likely. But that is – in my view – the more dangerous option.

  • @Matt (Bristol):

    “it is in the Lords that a vote against Article 50 is more likely. But that is – in my view – the more dangerous option.”

    I think Matt here has totally hit the nail on the head. Did either side in the referendum tell the voters it was just advisory? NO. Far fewer voted knowing that therewas an ‘advisory’ caveat than thought that Brexit involved remaining in the Single Market.

    One of the things which neither referendum side told anyone also was that invoking Article 50 still enables a decision to stay in to be made at any time during the two year ‘negotiations’ providing all EC nations agree. In fact, both sides made out that this move would be ‘final’. Whether or not the sort of decision to review the UK position on Brexit post-negotiations requires another Referendum (I hate the things but we have, unfortunately, predisposed our voters to expect them) is a matter for Parliament. If there isn’t a referendum, then MPs must vote. Hopefully we will have also ditched the present House of Lords by then.

    I was very active in the Referendum campaign, due, partly, to my recognition of how useless the ‘official’ campaign to Remain was, including the Lib Dem component of it. I still want us to remain. I do not think, however, that making empty gestures which will be treated as sticking two fingers up to the nation are at all useful to such intentions right now. There needs to be a lot of cross-party discussion with Labour SNP and Conservative Remainers as to what to do usefully in the Artlicle 50 debate which Gina Miller achieved (why her, rather than proper politicians who were meant to be working for the people?). Stating that you will vote against Article 50 at all costs is not one of them if you want to be seen as a serious Party wanting to get MPs elected. I have seen references to “26 per cent support” for a ‘Stop Brexit Party. A fairly-homogeneous 26 per cent across the nation on this single issue doesn’t get anyone elected at all but could stop those few MPs who can get 40 per cent support in their constituencies at the moment from ever doing so again.

  • Katharine Pindar 12th Nov '16 - 1:34am

    Entirely, though belatedly, agree with Sue Sutherland here, as often before – thanks, Sue! By the way, Jedibee, pigeons do come home to roost, but I don’t think deer (or even dear!) stand frozen in headlights, they tend to run away instead – unlike our beloved party, which, again contrary to what you said, was quite decisive in determining to stay in the EU if possible, and to ask for a referendum on the terms of proposed exit.

  • “The government have a mandate to trigger Article 50”

    NO!!!!! This is wrong, and we must not act as if it is right. Already the case is lost if this is how we think.

    The Government does not have a mandate. This is the crux of the problem. Everything else is superficial. But for some reason this point is just not coming across in the mainstream press.

    The EU Referendum Bill was presented to Parliament with a Briefing Paper containing this:

    “This Bill requires a referendum to be held on the question of the UK’s continued membership of the European Union (EU) before the end of 2017. It does not contain any requirement for the UK Government to implement the results of the referendum, nor set a time limit by which a vote to leave the EU should be implemented. Instead, this is a type of referendum known as pre-legislative or consultative, which enables the electorate to voice an opinion which then influences the Government in its policy decisions.”

    This is the Government’s stated purpose, in black and white, upon which Parliament relied in passing the Act. The document is there for everyone to read, a basic part of the legislative process. There is no evidence of any watering down of the statement in debate, and no one in the Government has explained how its claim to have a mandate is compatible with this.

    I continue to be amazed that MPs have not seized on this and raised all hell. It is one of the most blatant U-turns I have ever seen, to the point of a deliberate attempt to mislead Parliament.

    What we need is someone with the courage and political presence to take this outrageous abuse of Executive power, and bring it forcibly into the public eye.

    At least Gina Miller has had this courage. It is a disgrace that in Parliament there seems to be a conspiracy of silence.

    Where is there an MP with the courage to act in a statesmanlike manner, when the Executive can deceive Parliament and get away with it?

  • Go and ask any “ordinary” citizen, were they voting to give ‘advice’ to the government or ‘will you do what the majority of the people vote for’.
    We all know the answer!
    Question: If remain had been the 52%, would we be trying to spin this as advisory? We know the answer!
    And here lies the problem: again and again:
    “Ordinary people do not trust politicians” because when things don’t go their way, they become more self absorbed with their own ideals, than with the practical concerns of people they are supposed to be representing!
    All the ideals and rights in the world don’t matter if you don’t have a job, security or hope of a decent future for your family/community.
    A huge number of the 52% knew exactly what they were voting for, they are not thick or dumb or don’t know how the world works. They are acutely aware of how THEIR world works.

    Fact 2: People’s perception of politicians is directly dependent on ‘are you being straight with me’ ‘do you speak to me in language that I understand’ ‘do you understand my concerns (on multiple issues) and ‘are you able to do something to help make my life better’
    That’s why Nigel & Donald communicate the way they do.
    They understand that to get the audience to listen to them they have to communicate in a certain way. I don’t agree with their policies any more than anyone else on here, but simple clear charismatic communication is important – very important.

    Fact 3: Liberalism starts at home – sometimes it seems we are so concerned with trying to fix the world (we are European, international, equality for everyone etc etc) that we forget the people who live here! Ideals are great, but what if uncontrolled immigration, downward pressure on wages, services creaking under the pressure of rapid influx, causes millions of our own citizens to get poorer?
    What is their view of the British Lib Dem party then who may seem more concerned with the rights of a European worker than the plight of their own citizens?

  • Fact 4: Identity is critical – British, English, Scottish, Welsh etc. I was brought up in Yorkshire and now live in the Midlands. I taught throughout the miners strike in the mid eighty’s. Nigel and Donald understand something I rarely see on these pages – if your identity is Yorkshire or English and you see all these other groups getting special treatment because of their ‘special identity’ then that sucks – and rightly so.
    We really really need to understand this – big time!
    Internationalism is fine, being a global citizen is fine, but if your own people see you not respecting their identity first (often through fear of political correctness – that’s another story I’ll resist), then they will get angry and rightly so.

    Question: Ask “ordinary” people if their perception was this vote was a choice between British or European identity…………………………Oops

    Liberalism starts at home – surely we must get it right with our own people first, before trying to fix the world, otherwise we’re simply seen as ‘middle class do gooders’, who have forgotten the people who are actually voting, working and living here!

    So I want to ask a serious question:
    Even if there was a credible way to block Article 50, and/or get back into Europe now, will someone please tell me what that would achieve/change?
    The way I see it (as a Remainer), would that not weaken democracy, risk widespread civil unrest and most importantly, what has changed for the 52% in a few months?
    Do we now have a clear set of policies to fix all the reasons they voted leave (including 30% of Lib Dems remember). I’ve not seen much evidence of this.
    This week would appear to indicate the US and maybe France next have a similar set of issues.
    Surely if we want to be heard, listened too and respected, we must first and foremost recognise all the reasons Britain voted leave, communicate policies simply and clearly to address them and close the inequality gap at home first before going on idealistic crusades.
    I’m not at all sure going back into Europe at this moment, even for short term political gain (26% or not – who trust opinion polls anymore anyway) is a good idea for the Lib Dems let alone a large number of the 52% for whom being British and seeing the pressure on their communities and wages eased is paramount right now.

  • @MikeS
    “Go and ask any “ordinary” citizen, were they voting to give ‘advice’ to the government or ‘will you do what the majority of the people vote for’.
    We all know the answer!”

    That’s just not relevant. The issue is whether the Government can unilaterally trigger the process without Parliamentary approval, or not. And whether they deceived people about their intention or not makes no difference.

    This is Mob Rule, not the Rule of Law. There is no such thing as the Will of the People in English Law. It is a concept that relates to revolutions and insurrections. Just because 51% of the population don’t like the law, that doesn’t mean it suddenly stops being law.

    You may be right about peoples’ perceptions, but that is because of the failure of those who believe in the sovereignty of Parliament to uphold its status. An dthat failure continues, because people are not bringing to the attention of the electorate the massive Elephant in the Room in that briefing paper.

    Do you think the Bill would have been passed if there was a provision in it that Article 50 could be triggered by the Executive without any Parliamentary involvement? Of course not, no one would have touched it with a barge pole.

    This is not about leaving or not leaving. It is about whether we are content to let Parliament be deceived and the Mob decide upon the law.

    The issue would never have arisen if the Government had acted, after the Referendum, on the footing that Parliament was sovereign.

    But instead the issue has been blurred and fudged yet again, no doubt deliberately to confuse people, so that people demanding that Parliament is sovereign are now seen as arguing against Brexit.

  • Arnold – even though I don’t like the outcome any more than you, I’m afraid it is relevant.
    Perception IS reality to most people & if politicians are perceived to be ducking and diving when they don’t like a democratic outcome of a referendum, then trust and engagement is lost.
    I agree Parliament *should* be sovereign and that we elect our representatives to act on our behalf and I agree that the rule of law should be upheld.
    However, this is now a right old mess and it’s difficult to see how we can vote against article 50 and/or stay in Europe at the moment without catastrophic fallout for the Nation.
    The bottom line is that a majority (no matter how slim) think we should leave (yes parliament should vote on the terms if possible), but if any attempt is seen to spin this further in order to ‘stay in Europe’ now it would be seen as/and would be, I believe undemocratic.
    Also I do not believe the term ‘mob rule’ is a very helpful term – sorry. Sounds a bit like middle class elite preaching to the ‘great unwashed’ which could be dangerous. have a good day 🙂

  • Yes, it is a right old mess. But much of that arises from misinformation. There is no question that politicians have misled the public about the purpose of the Referendum, and indeed continue to do so.

    Also we have to remember that for many people, leaving the EU sounds ridiculously easy – like walking out of a shop. In fact, it is a stunningly complex process, as EU law has become so enmeshed in UK law.

    The real problem is not the law, but the gross misleading of people. And that is a political issue that should be determined in a general election.

    I am happy to use the term ‘mob rule’, because it is pretty accurate. If public opinion is sovereign, and not parliament, we have lost the rule of law. And that is what many people are claiming.

  • Hi Arnold
    Actually having listened to all the debates on various threads, I have shifted my stance somewhat (never let it be said that good debate can’t influence opinion!

    If the party wants to vote against article 50 (both out of conscience and to provide a voice for the 48), then fine – I can see that we don’t want another tuition fees moment, and as someone else said, you wouldn’t expect the opposition to side with the government after losing a GE, but to continue to fight their corner.

    However, this last few months surely has to be a massive wake up call for us all.
    Unless we develop workable proposals and clear policies to address the major concerns of the 52, we will make little real sustainable progress. If an opportunity presents itself in the coming months or years we need to be ready.

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