We already have a solution to the Brexit conundrum

As a party we seem to be in a bit of a puzzled place at the moment with regards to Brexit now there’s a chance our MPs will have a vote on Article 50. Should we reject any attempts to invoke Article 50 and risk being labeled as anti-democratic – potentially putting many of our current MPs seats at risk? Should we put some red lines down in the hope of getting a decent “soft-Brexit” deal and drive away many thousands of new members? It really is a Catch 22 situation.

Or is it? Is there not an alternative that will allow us to vote against invoking Article 50 whilst allowing the Brexiters a real and fair chance of getting what they want? I believe there is. And we have been campaigning on it solidly for three decades!

Let’s be honest, referendums are the very worst form of democracy. They merely take a snapshot of a moment in time based on public feeling at a certain point and allow populism to run rough shot over evidence based, considered policy. More often than not they don’t give an answer to the actual question asked or provide solutions, they merely create more issues. This is exactly what happened in June.

Let’s get one thing straight. The 52% of those that voted Leave are NOT xenophobic, racist, far-right supporting nutcases. Many of those that voted felt they were being ignored about immigration concerns. Many wanted to remain in the single market and keep freedom of movement – but wanted more sovereignty for parliament. Many more just wanted to stick two fingers up at the political elite. And it worked.

But now we have all started to focus on the wrong solution to the problem of Brexit.

The Tories in a panic have turned further to the right and started pushing an agenda of – well – national socialism for want of a better phrase. Purporting to want to control the borders and stand up for the “working people” by giving them what the Tories perceive they want as a result of Brexit. They fail to take into account the fact that actually only a minority of the population voted brexit and almost certainly only a minority of THAT minority voted for “hard-brexit”.

Meanwhile Labour have no idea what they’re looking for. Some Labour MPs are saying they’ll refuse any attempts to implement Article 50 whilst the party says it’s official line is to get the best Brexit for working class people they can. Effectively, fighting the Tories for UKIP voters by compromising with more control on immigration in return for protection of workers rights.

And then there are us. The Liberal Democrats. A party that SEEMS to be saying we’ll fight Brexit and push for a second referendum, whilst simultaneously suggesting we’ll go for a soft-Brexit if it’s on the table. But actually our Brexit strategy has always existed. And that is proportional representation.

We need to abandon the “let’s have a referendum on the destination” strategy and fight for the one single thing that can save this whole sorry mess whilst allowing the whole electorate to keep faith in politicians and representative democracy. With proportional representation we can ensure that any government that attempts to invoke Article 50 – or indeed cancel Brexit – can do so with an absolute mandate.
So what should be the plan?

In my view we should say first and foremost we will vote against any efforts by THIS government to implement Brexit, instead offering a different option that isn’t another referendum but a change in the electoral system to implement STV.

Following that, a general election should be called and all parties outline their version of Brexit. (in our case – not to Brexit). The country can then elect a government where every single vote goes towards whatever shape Brexit takes. It allows everyone to have their say on the direction to be taken. No ifs. No buts. A real, solid mandate.

We have been the pro-PR party for decades. And now it is the ONLY decent solution to a situation we should have never been in.

What June showed us more than anything is that people want change in the political system. Brexit won’t give them that. But PR will.

Stuff referenda. Let’s push for PR!

* Kev Walsh is Chairman of Bolton Liberal Democrats, an admin of the Liberal Democrats Policy Debate Group on facebook and a pro-active Remain supporter.

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  • Who exactly are you speaking for ?
    I voted to leave the EU! That was the question and the majority voted to leave the EU.
    What part of the vote was unclear ?

  • John Peters 11th Nov '16 - 2:48pm

    I think someone sent you a spoof referendum question. Mine was about should we leave the EU or not. If yours was about PR you have been the victim of a fraud. I suggest you contact the police.

  • Matt (Bristol) 11th Nov '16 - 3:11pm

    Kev, I think you’re throwing a bit too much red meat to the trolls here.

    I make a related set of points (but not an identical argument) in my post of 6:30 last night on this site:


    But whilst what you’re saying makes sense for the future, arguing to annul the referendum in favour of an STV election makes little sense as a route out of the mess Cameron has got the nation into already.

    The ‘second referendum’ as an A50 red line is a reasonable compromise as we try to define how to enact the (thin) mandate the nation has given the government to leave the EU – but I freely admit it is not an unproblematic policy, particularly if sold in the terms, for eg, that Aberavon and Neath Lib Dems are using right now on their website, ignoring the conditional elements of the policy in their headline and just focusing on the ‘vote against Article 50’ part of it.

    And for those who argue that unilateral single-market exit was inherently tied into the Brexit ‘offer’ – you are blatantly ignoring the delicate and deliberate ambiguities of the phrasing around ‘access to the single market’ used by Boris Johnson and many others.

    For eg:

  • Matt (Bristol) 11th Nov '16 - 5:03pm

    Furthermore, directly tying STV and Brexit-opposition removes one of the things that commends it to a wider audience – UKIP have STV as their official policy.

    Selling STV to the country as way to circumvent what UKIP campaign for would kill STV dead.

  • As the High Court has ruled, the referendum was ADVISORY. It was and still is up to MPs to decide whether or not we remain or leave the EU, and there is nothing “undemocratic” about whether they choose to follow or ignore the electorate’s advice. A policy (or policies) does NOT go from being a “bad policy” to being a “good policy” just because a majority of the electorate support either it or the party that advocates it.

    Irrespective of the general election result, we still oppose policies of the Conservatives even though the electorate returned them with a majority to Parliament. There is nothing “undemoratic” about doing so.

    Imagine for a moment, we held another referendum on something repugnant – let’s say, introducing slavery or something equally vile – and to our horror we find the electorate support it. Would we then do a flip-flop and suddenly announce that we would now support introducing slavery, or stand-by while it is introduced, or would we clearly state that as slavery was an awful idea the day before the referendum, it remains an awful idea the day after the referendum?

    That maybe a hypothetical question now but, if we head down the road of referenda, we need to be crystal clear that we aren’t giving a blank cheque so that all supposedly “advisory” referenda are in fact binding. Parliament is NOT and cannot be sovereign if in fact its decisions can be overriden by referenda.

  • Peter Watson 11th Nov '16 - 6:09pm

    “Let’s be honest, referendums are the very worst form of democracy.”
    But Lib Dems seem keener on them than anyone else.
    In the last Parliament they negotiated for the AV referendum and introduced the Scottish independence referendum. This does not include those mentioned in the 2010 manifesto: an in/out referendum on EU membership, a referendum on joining the euro, and a referendum to approve a written constitution.

  • Oh please. People with ‘concerns’ are racist nutjobs. Stop indulging them. They couldn’t care less about anyone else’s feelings. Why should we care about theirs?

    I recommend you read Hadley Freeman on the Guardian website on the subject of white male rage.

  • paul barker 11th Nov '16 - 7:32pm

    I have a mixed reaction to this, of course we shoud be against Referenda except as a desperate, last resort.
    Of course we want PR but the only way we are ever likely to get it is a Government dominated by Libdems & for that we need to get 30% at a Westminster Election. To get there we need to unite a big chunk of the 48% behind us, we need to start that process with a clear, simple opposition to Brexit.

  • Andrew McCaig 11th Nov '16 - 7:43pm

    I just looked at an electoral reform society Q&A of the UKip leadership candidates this summer and none of them were in favour of STV….

  • Andrew McCaig 11th Nov '16 - 7:48pm

    This is a highly theoretical debate!

    However if you use constituencies with 6 members STV is quite proportional for larger parties but not great for parties with a dispersed 8% vote share… the big thing about it is that it allows everyone to influence who is elected, even if their preferred party is not. Hence Lib Dems could express preference for pro-remain Tories and Kippers for pro-leave Tories, etc..

  • Jayne Mansfield 11th Nov '16 - 10:16pm

    @ Paul
    In 2010 the Government agreed that referendums ‘ cannot be legally binding’ so it was up to MPs and Peers to decide ‘whether or not to take action’.

    @ Peter Watson,
    Referenda and ‘direct democracy’ are much favoured by UKIP too.

    The UKIP leadership contender Paul Nuttall has vowed to have referendums on abortion and the death penalty if enough people want them.

  • @ Jayne Mansfield
    “In 2010 the Government agreed that referendums ‘cannot be legally binding’”

    Which act of Parliament do you think this is written in?

    How do you explain the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act 2011 which in section 8 of Part 1 clearly states that if there is a Yes vote AV MUST be implemented (http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2011/1/section/8/enacted). The AV referendum was not advisory, it was what I call “legislative” because it included the legislation setting up AV voting.

  • I’ve been a lifelong Liberal and Lib Dem, supporting them against all for 40 years.

    Nick as leader knocked my faith in the party hard enough, especially the “power sharing” deal he cut where the parties values were compromised for a sniff of power. But I’m afraid Tim’s comments about voting against article 50 is the final straw. I can no longer support a party that does not appear to understand the concept of democracy or a democratic vote. You have not only lost my vote but my respect also, it seems the party is now self serving and the will of the people simply gets in the way.

    I rather naively thought MP’s were elected to serve and to carry out the will of the people. It saddens me to say that I believe the current leadership is a disgrace, and seems to be a shallow ploy to try and gain support from the disgruntled remainers.

    I would remind you that British people have died literally by the million to preserve democracy in the last century or so, Tim is a disgrace for moving against the referendum vote and the will of the people.

  • Paul. – you ask what part of the vote was unclear. Can you point me in the direction of whatever document that exists that explains the how and what of Brexit? The lack of clarity is between the degree to which immigration control is sought at the expense of access to the single market. Leavers, particularly BoJo, muddied the waters by arguing that he wanted his cake and to eat it which means he wants immigration control and access to the single market. IDS stated that there would be no material change in trade as the EU needs us more than we need them. In short, where to strike the balance. That is the question that remains unanswered and the efforts of Tim Faron and the Lib Dems are being applied to get that clarity and a soft Brexit. That is the definition of the best deal arising out of Brexit but the government are too scared to say so because of the fox/cash et al faction.

  • Jayne Mansfield 12th Nov '16 - 2:53pm

    @ Michael BG,
    I do not have to explain under which act the referedums are considered not legally binding. Perhaps you should note that I made no reference to the law in my post, preferring to leave legal matters to those with ‘legal brains’.

    I was referring to a recently revealed event in 2010 when David Cameron’s government , of which teresa May was a part took a very different view to the one that Teresa May is taking now. The view taken by the Government was taken in response to an enquiry by a House of Lords committee, which concluded that, ‘because of the sovereignty of parliament, referendums cannot be legally binding, in the UK and are therefore advisory’.

    The constitutional reform minister Mark harper responded , ‘The government agrees with this recommendation’. ‘Under the UK’s constitutional arrangements, Parliament must be responsible whether or not to take action in response to a referendum result.’

    This begs the question, why were the electorate not fully informed of the government’s view on this before voting? And also why has Teresa May changed her opinion?

    Given the abuse heaped upon judges who have just passed an opinion, perhaps you have an explanation.

  • Andrew McCaig 12th Nov '16 - 3:13pm

    You are obviously unhappy with the current Party approach in terms of democracy.. But I would appeal to you to reconsider.
    I really fail to see how calling for another vote, once what we are actually about to do has become clear, can be said to be either undemocratic or “moving against the will of the people”?? The “will of the people” has been established on one day, 23rd June 2016. In two years time and with a clearer idea of what will happen when we Leave, the “will of the people” might be different. A second referendum will give people the chance to reaffirm their choice or pull back from the brink. If they again vote Leave, we will Leave. If not, we will Remain. Obviously a large number of people will be disappointed, whatever the result, but it cannot be called undemocratic. Furthermore as Tim has said there is no reason why another referendum should delay leaving by any significant period.
    In 2010 I resigned from the Party after 33 years of membership because a majority of our MP’s broke a pledge made individually with the electors in their constituencies. That pledge was always wholly within their power to keep, as Tim amongst others showed. For me breaking that pledge was definitely undemocratic. I rejoined once the person who led us into that colossal error was no longer Leader. If any of our MP’s made a pledge to constituents to vote in favour of Article 50, then they should stick to it. But giving people a chance to vote should NEVER be called undemocratic.

  • Andrew, sadly i don’t prescribe to treating the electorate like a 5 year old, where you keep repeating the question until you hear the answer you want. While your argument on the surface seems like reason, I am aware that if the electorate were to give the answer you wanted to hear in a second referendum, you would pull up the ladder, lock the door, and make damn sure they would not be given another chance to reverse that decision again for a very long time. It is not democracy to keep holding referendums until you get the result you want, and to then withdraw any mechanism to change or modify that vote at a future date.

    We had a vote, and like it or not, a decision was made to leave. The parties duty is to enact that vote, if those sitting MP’s don’t like that vote then they should abstain or resign, it’s really very simple. We can always justify or intellectualize our opposition to leaving, that doesn’t make it right though. I am also aware that the referendum is not legally binding, and I totally expect Tim and others to hide behind that as justification for their actions. It is my belief however that it is morally binding, and to do otherwise shows how amoral the party has become. It is not about how an individual MP thinks or believes because that decision was given to the populace, our MP’s now need to make that a reality.

    It is often the case that a person or people have worked against the greater peoples will, they justify their actions as being in the peoples best interest, or for long term gain, or argue that the electorate are too ill informed to make these decisions. I believe such an approach is termed dictatorial and I will have no part of it.

  • David Allen 12th Nov '16 - 5:51pm

    No good. We might as well argue that we’ll only accept Brexit when the Prime Minister is a 140-year old nobleman from Rutland with a k at the centre of his name. To say that Brexit must wait on STV will look like a transparent attempt to put up a specious road block to what was – after all – an expression of popular will.

    Tim Farron’s line is miles better.

  • @ Jayne Mansfield

    I have looked Mark Harper up on Wikipedia and he was Under Secretary of State for Political and Constitutional Reform (2010-12). Do you have any references to the House of Lords committee report or to Mark Harpers statement? It seems very strange that before the passing of the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act 2011 which included a non-advisory referendum on AV (did you read the act?) that both a House of Lords committee and a government minister would concluded that referendums can only be advisory. As Parliament is sovereign it can pass a law making a particular referendum binding if it wants and 2011 was not the only time this happened. It also happened in 1979 with the Scotland Act. Also there is a convention that it can’t bind a future Parliament. (By the way I am not arguing that the 2016 referendum was legally binding.)

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