What a mess! The Brexit fiasco

Brexit has not been done. There never was an oven-ready deal. Whatever Johnson thought was ready for the oven is now burnt to a cinder.

It’s time to use ridicule to explain how this UKIP-Tory government has made such a mess of Brexit. Five and a half years since the Brexit referendum, and Liz Truss has just become the sixth minister in charge of getting Brexit done. The public are beginning to understand that Johnson did not have a clue what sort of Brexit he wanted when he was campaigning to leave and is now struggling to come to terms with the failure to deliver.

A succession of incompetent ministers have attempted to reconcile the Leave campaign’s contradictory objectives. We started with David Davis – who went to meetings with Michel Barnier without any briefing papers. He lasted nearly two years as Brexit secretary. Olly Robbins did most of the work, reporting to Theresa May, against a backdrop of hostile briefings from Tory MPs. Dominic Raab picked up the poisoned chalice when Davis and Johnson resigned over May’s Chequers package. He lasted four months, a period distinguished only by his admission that he had not understood how important the port of Dover was.

Stephen Barclay was a steadying influence over the 13 months until the Brexit Department was abolished. Johnson kept him on for a few months after he became Prime Minister but brought in David Frost to do the actual negotiation. Once the UK had left in January 2020 Michael Gove in the Cabinet Office took charge of sorting out the post-Brexit relationship – with Frost as ‘Chief Negotiator’ formally reporting to him, changing status from special adviser to politician on his appointment to the Lords that summer. In March 2021 Frost was made a Minister of State, sidelining Gove and attending the Cabinet. Now he’s resigned because he thinks Johnson is too left-wing, and Liz Truss as foreign secretary takes over the role.

Oh, and the wonderful trade deals that the UK was going to negotiate with the rest of the world have been handled by a newly-created Department of International Trade. Liam Fox, who sincerely believed that the Indians remain so grateful for the benefits of British imperial rule that they would offer us a generous trade agreement, lasted three years as secretary of state, without achieving anything worthwhile. He was confident from long friendships with right-wing US Republicans that Washington would rapidly give Britain a free trade agreement but discovered that US politics is more complicated than he’d imagined.

Johnson replaced him with Liz Truss on becoming prime minister. She’s best known for taking her personal photographer wherever she goes, and for refusing to listen to critical advice. She followed Fox in asserting that geography doesn’t matter when it comes to trade, completed agreements with Australia and New Zealand which most commentators think have given them more advantages than the UK, and has pursued membership of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Her permanent secretary is a New Zealander; there are Australian advisers in No.10. Anne-Marie Trevelyan took over the Department in the summer 2021 reshuffle – comparative stability compared to other Cabinet positions in this chaotic government, with only three secretaries of state in six years.

The Leave campaign ignored well-informed warnings that a hard Brexit would create problems for Northern Ireland – including from a concerned Irish Government. They asserted that they would take back control of Britain’s borders without considering the need for cooperation in border management with those on the other side – a simple truth that I first heard from Finnish officials about relations with the Soviet Union before the cold war had ended. Attacking the French still substitutes for any coherent policy towards our European neighbours – and without a European policy, Britain has no effective foreign policy.

Brexit has not been done. Cross-Channel trade has shrunk sharply, and trade with New Zealand and Australia cannot make up for the loss. Liberal Democrats and others need now to craft an alternative economic and political approach to our European neighbours, on which a policy group is now working. Meanwhile, remind all those who you meet that this government is not only corrupt but also incompetent, on the central issues of international economic strategy and foreign policy.

* William Wallace is Liberal Democrat spokesman on constitutional issues in the Lords.

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  • Brad Barrows 22nd Dec '21 - 9:01am

    I would caution that the victory in North Shropshire was in a strong pro-Brexit area. Do we really want to start alienate Brexit supporters who are currently turning to us as an alternative to the current government? So we do need to work on policy to improve our current situation, post-Brexit, but let us not attack Brexit itself but rather the incompetent Tories for getting us a bad deal.

  • While delivering Focus a few years ago, I was accosted by a man. Conversation:

    Man: Are you Liberal?
    Me: Yes.
    Man: I voted “Leave”.
    Me: What about the border in Ireland?
    Man: I voted “Leave”.
    Me: Do you want a border in the Irish Sea?
    Man: I voted “Leave”.
    Man’s wife: I don’t understand why we don’t just leave.

    Why were people who “don’t understand” asked to decide?

  • John Marriott 22nd Dec '21 - 9:35am

    Blaming everything on the EU in general and France in particular is still a popular knee jerk reaction to almost any predicament in which we find ourselves. I am not sorry to see the departure of Lord Frost. Perhaps he ought to be giving his title back as well, as he would seem to have gained it under false pretences. As for Northern Ireland, with its access to the U.K. and the Single Market, what’s notator like? If I intended to set up a new export business I know where I would be setting it up!

    Please let’s not get into ‘I told you so’ mode. Many people are like me. We have no desire to be part of a ‘United States of Europe’, a view shared by many current citizens of the EU. We voted to remain because, as I have written several times before, because we could see on which side our bread was buttered. Lord Hague called us ‘pragmatic remainers’ and classed himself as one as well.

    Instead of campaigning to rejoin something whose existence in its current or even aspirational form is by no means guaranteed, we should be aiming for the closest possible cooperation short of membership. This will require compromise on BOTH sides, something I have also championed many times on LDV and elsewhere. As I have also written many times, IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE LIKE THIS.

    So, Ms Truss, get down from your tank, put on a smile, pick up the phone and call Brussels.

  • Jim Dapre 22nd Dec ’21 – 9:08am…

    Following on from your post…I live in a ‘rock-solid’ Tory/Leave area (East Suffolk).. I get the same response of ‘I voted Leave’ but any further conversation begins, and ends, with, “I don’t want to talk about it any more”..

    I’d like to put it down to dissatisfaction with the result but it seems more like WW1 ‘trench warfare’..Their positions were fixed years ago and logic falls on deaf ears..

    BTW..The empty shelves were the fault of the EU who are still, spitefully punishing us for leaving!

  • I could not agree more with Lord Wallace’s summary of the utter incompetence of our government in so many areas including there dealings with our close allies in Europe, in or out of the European Union we need to have a common sense working relationship with them that recognises the benefit for us all in so many different aspects of our lives. We could not have such a divisive bunch of politicians in control of our country at this time of crisis.

  • William Wallace 22nd Dec '21 - 10:59am

    One pitch to confused or still-committed Leave voters is to ask them how and why they think the government has made such a mess of Brexit. We didn’t have to leave the Customs Union, or to refuse to maintain agreements on inspections for food. Frost’s resignation statement made it clear that the underlying agenda for these hard Leavers has been to make the UK a version of Republican USA or authoritarian Singapore: low tax, nationalistic, vastly unequal. That’s nto what many who voted Leave thought they were voting for. The levelling Up White Paper, due in January, will be the next test: if it doesn’t commit to substantial increased spending in poorer areas, it will satisfy the Tory hard right but not many Leave voters.

  • KENNETH GARDNER. PRO 22nd Dec '21 - 11:00am

    Departed Frost is on record for stating, the single market is the biggest trading area open to the U.K, Why would we want to leave it ??? To date, the single market has expanded and offers yet more trading opportunities to member countries combining the European Union. With all the small trade offers Lizz Truss has aspired to, they are a far cry from the trade and opportunities the Tory Party so cavalierly signed away. The U.K needs a new Govt insitu, preferably a Govt made from All opposition parties with the resolution to return the U.K commercial viability by seeking a total rejoin along with all the attributes the Single Market and European Union offers.

  • If the LibDems aspire to throw away the amazing North Shropshire victory, to achieve electoral irrelevance and to be despised by a large proportion of the population, then William Wallace has just described the perfect way to achieve all that…. keep disrespecting voters by (indirectly) telling them that they were wrong to vote the way they did 5 years ago.

    To bang on about how bad Brexit is turning out economically is to fundamentally misunderstand the motives of many Brexit voters: They weren’t (on the whole) voting for Brexit on economic grounds: They voted Brexit because they wanted fuller control of UK laws and the destiny of the UK to be in the hands of the the UK Government, rather than partially in the hands of the EU, and they were (on the whole) quite prepared to suffer some economic disadvantage and a difficult transition period in order to achieve that. Telling everyone how bad Brexit is because of economic concerns and difficulties negotiating treaties etc. will just convince those voters that the LibDems don’t want to listen to their concerns. And it will also alienate a good few people who voted Remain, but who believe that a referendum result should be respected.

    Come on people… let’s move on! There are many, many, things we can legitimately attack the Tories over (including general incompetence) without continually trying to re-fight a war that was lost (or, depending on your point of view, won) over 5 years ago.

  • Simon McGrath 22nd Dec '21 - 11:17am

    @william Wallace ” One pitch to confused or still-committed Leave voters ”
    why talk about brexit at all. why not do what we did in C&A and N Shropshire and talk about all the other issues voters care about?

  • SimonR@ Surely our relationship with Europe is fundamental to so many aspects of our lives, we are part of Europe whether we like it or not and it would benefit us all to recognise how much interdependence there is between such close allies in peace and troubled times? Many in this present Cabinet spent years sowing seeds of discontent with our membership of the EU, there are many subtle ways of proving how misguided they were!

  • It seems to me the Party does have a very real opportunity to substantially increase its share of MPs at the next election – if it does approach the task in a relatively gentle fashion.

    With all that has happened over the last few years – I think the electorate would appreciate a party offering a slowly evolving agenda rather than one that is high in conflict – perhaps best defined as the middle ground.

  • Nigel Hunter 22nd Dec '21 - 12:03pm

    Slowly evolving agenda and stability is indeed what is needed not the emotional roller coaster of conflict thrown at us by the media papers and otherwise.To sell the party as a stable organisation that can get to grips with our problems is needed.That feeling of stability has to be what we sell to the voter.

  • @Barry Lofty: Sure, our relationship with Europe is important (as is our relationship with most other countries). But the trouble is, anything the LibDems say about Europe is going to be seen by voters through the filter of ‘these were the guys who were going to ignore the referendum and just cancel Brexit last time round‘. Set in that context, it’s very easy for any message along the lines of ‘Look how bad Brexit has been! We need much closer cooperation with Europe‘ to come across either as sour grapes or even sounding like ‘We’ll sneakily reverse Brexit by the back door‘ (And are you sure that isn’t actually the intention of at least some LibDems when they talk about cooperation with Europe?)

    I think to avoid that, you need to ditch anything that sounds like a criticism of Brexit itself. I’d suggest the message needs to be much more like, ‘Hey, Brexit is done, we understand we’re carving out a new place for the UK in the World. As part of that we need a really good relationship with our neighbours

  • Malcolm Todd 22nd Dec '21 - 12:34pm

    For pity’s sake, stop fighting the last war. Nobody, but nobody is going to vote for the “I told you so” Party.

  • Simon R 22nd Dec ’21 – 11:14am (et al), It is not this party that is keeping ‘Brexit’ in the limelight; it is the ERG led government..

    As John Marriott points out the ‘protocol’ gave N.I. the best of both worlds (outside full EU membership)..The government cannot allow this to go unchallenged and, no matter what the economic damage, political dogma demands confrontation for its own sake..

    Back in April the then First Minister Arlene Foster denied that the DUP was refusing to attend meetings involving ministers from Belfast and Dublin; it was all about which ministers were available and finalising the agenda.. 8 months later that pretence has been dropped as. like the Westminster government, any success in cross-border trade is an anathema..

    The nonsense about a post EU ‘Global Britain’ has proved a mirage and all that are left are political blame games..

  • We should have accepted the result of the Referendum in 2016, as we said we would beforehand, then campaigned to maintain a close relationship with the EU for the benefit of all sides. May’s deal was preferable to what we eventually got: we’d have been inside the Customs’ Union.

    We’ve wasted five years alienating many of our former supporters and the wider electorate and deservedly got a poor result in 2019.

    The post-election report detailed the serious strategic errors of the Remain Alliance strategy. We now need to move on and show we are not obsessed with concerns that are of no interest to the vast majority of voters.

    Btw The Rejoin EU Now candidate was seriously out-polled at the by-election by The Monster Loonies. So please let no one fantasize about that as a strategy.

    It’s ok to talk about a botched Brexit and voters being let down by the Tories, but not to suggest the Referendum loss in 2016 was unfair or illegitimate in some way. Or hint that only the intellectually challenged or unknowing could vote for it. (That merely shows that WE are intellectually challenged.)

    We need to say something that resonates with large numbers of voters not just our core support. North Shrop showed the way: ambulance and GP waiting times, farmers sold down the river. Bread and butter issues, not LD obsessions.y

  • John McHugo 22nd Dec '21 - 2:08pm

    I agree with William.

    To those who say “stop fighting the last war” etc, it is all a question of tactics – and tactics need to be thought through very carefully, because pointing out “I told you so” will obviously be counterproductive with many former Leave Voters.

    Having said that, I must confess I enjoy telling the High Tory type of Brexiter that they have fallen for a grievance culture and should try to cast aside their sense of victimhood (over sovereignty etc). It tends to make their blood boil, which I see as the first stage in helping them cope with their grief over how Brexit has turned out to be not quite what it was sold as.

    But to those like @Malcolm Todd who think we are fighting the last war, have a look at this piece by Phil Moorhouse in his A Different Bias blog: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V7aQobgZa4Q&t=1s. I find the quality of Phil’s postings very variable, but in this one I think he puts his finger on a truth that is only gradually dawning – masses of former Leave voters are steadily falling out of love with Brexit, and politicians who continue to support it through thick and thin may find they have an albatross round their necks. Having seen Phil Moorhouse’s piece, I no longer think this is just wishful thinking on my part.

  • Alex Macfie 22nd Dec '21 - 2:15pm

    Simon R: The Brexit referendum was in June 2016, 5½ years and 2 General Elections ago. And now that Brexit is actually happening, we can finally see its real-world consequences, which were not known at the last election. Do you honestly thinik that ordinary voters are going to care about adherence to an old advisory referendum over and above their current lived realities? Voters tend to look to the future, not the past. It’s the people who still bang on about the referendum who are living in the past, not those who argue against this government’s Brexit policy. And anyway, why should the Lib Dems be bound by the result of a referendum that we would not have run if we had been in power (certainly not the way it was run)? Chances are that by the next GE, anyone who still holds a quasi-religious attachment to the Brexit referendum result isn’t ever going to vote Lib Dem anyway.

    If we followed your argument, we could not criticise the government’s Brexit policy at all. And since the Brexit IS this government’s flagship policy, and most of its decisions stem from Brexit (apart from those related to the pandemic, and even then it’s still relevant), this means we shouldn’t be attacking the government at all. However, I think this particular theory, that “ignoring the referendum result” will be our undoing, has already been proved incorrect. After all, it could be argued that we were doing just that by voting against the government’s Brexit deal in Parliament last December. There were certainly a lot of people arguing at the time that we needed to support it to show that we “accepted Brexit”, otherwise we would become irrelevant. Well, as we know, that isn’t what happened to us.

  • Mick Taylor 22nd Dec '21 - 3:29pm

    I don’t often find myself in agreement with Alex Macfie, but his cogent argument tells it like it is. The declining number of leave voters who are happy with Brexit shows we could be knocking at an open door.
    In any event, what kind of democracy is it that says that a decision made almost 6 years ago is binding for all time, especially to those who opposed it at the time and have largely been proved right? We can change our MPs and the government every 5 years. Surely we can reconsider the result of an advisory referendum!

  • Malcolm Todd 22nd Dec '21 - 5:13pm

    You’re missing the point (well, my point anyway). It’s nothing to do with “respecting” or “overturning” a referendum result. The referendum is utterly irrelevant now – it’s irreversible not for any principled reason because it relates to a condition that no longer applies, i.e. being in the EU.
    But there’s no way to revert to the status quo ante now. We have to make the best of the situation we’re in – and the Tories most certainly aren’t doing that. By all means, bang away at them about trade deals, good relations with Europe, and all that. But don’t frame it in terms of Brexit, because we can’t undo it, and all that amounts to is telling people, “See? We knew you were making a terrible mistake when you voted for Brexit, and now you can see we were right.” Even the people (like me) who agreed with you at the time will find that irritating; but the many people among the electorate in the next election who actually voted Leave (maybe 40% of all likely voters?) will just be turned off.
    You can continue to believe that many of our problems today and over the years to come are either caused by Brexit or exacerbated by it. But knowing that makes no practical difference to how we seek solutions now; and framing your answers in terms of Brexit (and how wrong it was) will just encourage those who voted Leave (the poor, benighted fools) to stop listening.

  • Malcolm Todd 22nd Dec '21 - 5:14pm

    “not for any principled reason but because …”

  • William Wallace 22nd Dec '21 - 5:38pm

    Bear in mind that nearly half of the electorate voted against Brexit; that younger voters were overwhelmingly against leaving; and that it has become clear to a significant number of voters (farmers, in North Shropshire etc.) that they were lied to. Yes, we can’t simply go back in: but a more coherent approach to economic and political relations with out neighbours is clearly in our interests. And trying to make the UK more like Republican Texas (as Steve Baker et al. seem to want) is off-the-wall idiotic!

  • Peter Martin 22nd Dec '21 - 9:14pm

    @ William Wallace,

    “Bear in mind that nearly half of the electorate voted against Brexit….”

    Remainers are fond of pointing out that 0.72 x 52 = 37.4 which is the percentage of the electorate which voted to leave the EU.

    So, by the same arithmetic, 0.72 x 48 = 34.6 which is the percentage of the electorate voting to remain in the EU. ie nearer one third than one half!

  • If Peter Martin wants a Tory Government in England – and the break up of the UK – for the rest of his lifetime (which I hope will be long) then he is going the right way about it. He conveniently forgets that Scotland voted heavily to remain in the EU.

    It is the right wing Brexiteers in the Tory Party plus what’s an unholy alliance with that’s left of the Corbynites (of whom I believe Peter may be one) in the Labour Party who are acting as a major driver for people in Scotland to make the prospect of Scottish Independence more likely

  • @John McHugo: “It tends to make their blood boil, which I see as the first stage in helping them cope with their grief ” Wow, how lovely of you! Because obviously the one thing politics really needs is a bit less kindness and understanding 🙁

  • Chris Moore 23rd Dec '21 - 7:45am

    We have a choice as a party: develop an outlook and policies that appeal to the many liberal-minded voters who don’t currently vote for us for many very good reasons.

    Or appeal to the tiny blessed core of the enlightened: bang on about how Leave mislead the electorate, how the electorate got it wrong, but how we in our wisdom got it spot on. All very satisfying and we will doubtless go on successfully winning a handful of seats in affluent univerity and market towns.

    We have an opportunity to put the last ten years of strategic errors behind us. Please everybody get over 2016.

  • @Simon R. You were right to pick me up on what I said about my discussions with Brexiter High Tories, because it was dismissive and lacking in kindness. However, I still think that what I wrote about many Brexiters across the country falling out of love with Brexit stands (that doesn’t, of course, necessarily mean that they are ready to rejoin the EU). I really do recommend people look at the Phil Moorhouse clip I linked to my earlier posting.

  • >” Attacking the French still substitutes for any coherent policy towards our European neighbours”
    It would seem similar emotive smear tactics are being used by the diehards to attack both the current Government for
    “being too European…”

    It is worth noting how they are casting the demon and finding excuses for the failure of leading Brexiteers – such as David Frost, to deliver anything substantive.

  • For those of us who live outside Shropshire the main reason for the LibDem vote in the election was the Prime Minister. I imagine almost everyone saw the balloon bursting. This was the story. It was brilliant publicity, but for most people there was an election and we won because of the Prime Minister.
    I understand that there was a background to it, but that was the story from the party.
    I have to admit that photos of the balloon bursting was very successful, and those who thought of it should be encouraged. However we need to look at the reality that other people are just as able to think as we are.
    As far as Europe are concerned we make our support of membership of the EU clear. It is also true that whether we publicise it or not then the electorate will be reminded of it.
    We need to start with publicising the reality of the EU and what are the results of our non-membership.
    This does not mean that we should accept the misinformation which is still being spread. When people for example talk about the issue of control we should ask what is this control we have gained by refusing to co-operate with our European neighbours.
    We might also reflect on the fact that this argument can also be applied in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. In fact I have heard this argued on TV by SNP supporters a lot. Why should these countries be governed a Westminster party, which cannot get a majority in any of those countries?
    We are in a crisis at the present time. We need to focus on finding a way through the mess we are in. If we can find any ideas at all we will need to campaign for them. In the meanwhile we need to try to agree on the reality of what is happening now.

  • Peter Martin 23rd Dec '21 - 1:42pm

    @ David Raw @ Martin

    “……..Scotland voted heavily to remain in the EU.”

    So did most of the London constituencies. Is London going break away too?

    Scottish votes, including many Scottish residents who live in England, counted equally with everyone else.

    The referendum was over 5 years ago. It’s time to move on from those arguments. Lib Dem and SNP MPs could have forced a Brexit which was much closer to what they say we should aim for now, if they only voted in support of one. But, again, they didn’t and that’s history now.

  • Peter Martin 23rd Dec '21 - 1:58pm

    @ Jim Dapre,

    ‘Why were people who “don’t understand” asked to decide?’

    This is an arguments used to deprive people of their democratic rights. The Jim Crow laws in the USA were based on the concept that black people had a lower level of intelligence and so weren’t entitled to the same voting rights as white people.

    Sure, you can find voters on both sides of the EU debate who had strange reasons for voting as they did. Some Remainers thought that UK football teams would be excluded from European competition if we left the EU. Some Leavers were annoyed that the UK entries in the Eurovision song contest didn’t attract more votes.

    Lib Dems shouldn’t have voted for the referendum in the first place if they considered that the population as a whole wasn’t qualified to decide.

  • Brexit has indeed turned out to be a monumental mess.

    Dominic Cumming’s strategy at Vote Leave was to avoid spelling out exactly what it did mean which was brilliant in campaigning terms as everyone could, in their imagination, pencil in whatever they wanted and imagine the Brexit would deliver that.

    I think that, in part, explains the strength of attachment to the cause of Brexit that many have – it was a political Aladdin’s lamp, granting every cherished dream without the messy business of tough trade-offs and compromises that always exist in the real world.

    But in terms of delivery, it’s been a car crash because in the real world those tough trade-offs cannot be avoided and, with next to no prior discussion or analysis by David Davis and his many successors, Barnier predictably ran rings around them. So, we’ve now arrived at the position where all concerned say it’s not my Brexit – including bizarrely BoJo and Frost.


    So, I think the clever strategy from now to the next election and beyond will be to turn the opponents’ prior strength back onto them judo-style.

    Draw a line under the referendum by saying, “Yes, we were opposed but we are where we are” and then move on to say, “The Tories haven’t delivered on THEIR promises. They’ve screwed everything up and …” The dots can be filled in with almost anything – sovereignty, jobs, migration, fishing, farming etc.

    And, of course, it’s not BoJo that has failed – he’s a dead man walking – but the Tories as a whole. We must not let them do their normal skin-shedding routine of ‘New Leader – New Party’.

  • Chris Moore 23rd Dec '21 - 8:57pm

    You are right, Peter.

    Democracy encourages people who know little about politics or government to vote and participate. This gives them a stake and the government legitimacy through popular support.

    The fact the Leave campaign told lies in no way invalidates the 2016 result. Remain told lies too: the Leave lies were more strident and effective. Even if it had only been Leave who lied, this wouldn’t have invalidated the election. Remind me of any general election where lies haven’t been told?

    We need to move on.

  • Alex Macfie 23rd Dec '21 - 9:09pm

    Chris Moore: Yes indeed, “we need to move on,” which means not worrying about whether our policy conforms to the straitjacket of an advisory referendum from 5½ years ago, which we as Lib Dems would not have held if we had been in power. What matters now is the real-world consequences of government policy since that referendum happened. The people who haven’t “moved on” are the ones who are still banging on about that referendum as if it amounted to anything.

  • Peter Martin 23rd Dec '21 - 9:32pm

    @ Martin,

    At risk of contradicting myself after suggesting we should move on from Brexit, maybe you do deserve a better answer.

    This is that there isn’t anything particularly good about Brexit. I would have liked the UK to have remained a member of a different EU. Maybe a community rather than a union. However the the EU has embarked on a disastrous course with a quest for ever closer union and the introduction of a common currency. Trying to impose a common currency on a large number of very different economies is never going to work. Economists of the left (see for example Wynne Godley) and of the right (see Milton Friedman) have all said the same thing. It’s a disaster in the making. That the UK was the only country to argue for a different kind of EU and we had the good sense to stay out of the eurozone ourselves was never going to be enough to insulate us from the fall out when it does start to disintegrate.

    Even leaving won’t do that completely. This could be sooner than any of us appreciates if there isn’t a radical rethinking of the Eurozone rules and a willingness on the part of the surplus EU countries to write off hundreds of billions of euros of unrepayable debt. The situation was bad enough before the Covid emergency. It’s far worse now. The figures are so terrifying, in neoliberal terms, that hardly anyone dares even look at them, much less talk about them.

    If you think Brexit is a fiasco……


  • Alex@ if our policy is let’s go back into the EU now Brexit has been a disappointment, we can kiss goodbye to the next election.

    Peter’s right that there are serious problems with a single currency for a collection of nations whose economies are not closely in sync. And the ever closer union, though not, of course, so close as to forgive debt.

  • Chris Moore: No-one is suggesting we fight the next election on a Rejoin Now platform. The way many die-hard Brexiters talk about this issue, virtually any criticism of Brexit as it has been implemented amounts to disrespect of the referendum result or a failure to move on, and we should really just put up and shut up. But recent election results (including North Shropshire) suggest that voters are not concerned about “respecting” an old referendum result (now long enough ago that there would have had to be a GE since then), but about their current lived realities, and how current government policy affects them. This means we start from a blank slate, without reference to the 2016 referendum result.

  • I think those claiming that Brexit has been some kind of fiasco are looking at it through very one-sided spectacles. The reality is that there have been both good and bad consequences of Brexit for the UK. On the bad side, extra bureaucracy, shortages of some workers, harder for people who want to move to/from Europe to do so, and the difficulty reconciling Brexit with free trade in Ireland. On the good side, Brexit allowed the UK to distribute Covid vaccines much more quickly than the EU countries – which must have saved countless lives in the UK. Wages in many industries are now rising, and the removal of free movement must surely have reduced pressure on the housing market, making it less difficult for people to find decent homes. We no longer have to make those (if I recall correctly, £8bn/year) net payments to the EU. And there are also potential benefits that we haven’t yet realised – for example, the talk of the UK being able to implement higher animal welfare standards now that we are no longer constrained by EU laws.

    Also worth pointing out that some of the bad consequences are partly the result of Covid (those shortages of some workers), some are arguably inevitable short-term consequences of the UK transitioning to a new trade position and will iron themselves out over time (difficulties with new bureaucracy importing/exporting), and some were not inevitable consequences of Brexit, but are simply the result of the Tories making bad decisions (some of the issues with the new trade agreements). Most voters are not stupid and will have some awareness of these nuances.

    Personally, I voted Remain, and I was sad about Brexit. But we have to live in the real world and move on. And the idea that, come the next election, masses of former Brexiters will be so disillusioned with Brexit that they will enthusiastically welcome a LibDem message that basically comes down to ‘We told you so!’ is utter fantasy. They won’t. If that’s the LibDem message, then they will en masse vote Tory again.

  • Chris Moore 24th Dec '21 - 7:39am

    @Alex: I think we basically agree.

    Simon’s analysis is about right. I’d only point out the net payment to the EU bought us a series of services we are now having to provide on a stand alone basis: trade policy, for example, which was much better provided collectively.

    So the real net payment is less.

  • nvelope2003 24th Dec '21 - 6:06pm

    Simon R: If Brexit was important to the voters of North Shropshire why was it that so few disaffected Conservatives voted for the Brexit candidates such as Reform, Reclaim and UKIP who got a total of less than 7% of the votes cast in a bye-election but voted Liberal Democrat instead ? However, I agree that it would be wrong to dwell on the decision to leave the EU until the full consequences become clearer.

  • Barry Lofty 24th Dec '21 - 7:49pm

    People are disaffected with this government and its leader who, at same time
    , are hugely associated with the Brexit campaign which cannot be completely ignored?

  • Peter Martin 25th Dec '21 - 11:02am

    @ nvelope2003

    ” If Brexit was important to the voters of North Shropshire why was it that so few disaffected Conservatives voted for the Brexit candidates such as Reform, Reclaim and UKIP who got a total of less than 7% of the votes cast in a bye-election but voted Liberal Democrat instead ?”

    You could always ask them. There were nearly 18,000 votes cast for the Lib Dems so there should be no shortage of data.

    There will be plenty of Leavers in that 18,000 . Voting Lib Dem doesn’t mean they have changed their minds – especially as the Lib Dems didn’t include the EU issue in their campaigning. Many Labour supporters and members, like myself, voted Leave in 2016 and still voted for Labour in subsequent elections. So the Brexit issue isn’t at the top of everyone’s list of voting priorities.

    All political parties should also talk to those who didn’t vote to ask them what they think. Most of the electorate, 54% of them, didn’t vote in the by-election.

  • John Littler 25th Dec '21 - 11:36am

    Simon R, there have been no positives about how Brexit applies. The support for it is slowly and steadily draining away. None of the Leave offer headlines has been apparent. Turkey is still an infinite number of years from joining, the NHS is not getting an extra £350m a week and is a worse state than ever. Even sovereignty does not apply as this government avoids or prorogues Parliament and lies to the Queen.

    Borders work worse now, as there are two states at a border and if you don’t have EU type good and formal co-operation; and we don’t; little gets done. We see this with the Fishing situation much worse, or the return of failed asylum seekers to France almost ended.

    You said Leave didn’t happen on economic reasons. Yes it did, which is why £350m was the main headline and which conned many people including NHS staff for supporting it. Secondly, we were in deep Tory austerity that was crucifying parts of the North and Wales and cutting economic growth to an eventual standstill and Leave was the only change; albeit phoney; on offer

    My own small firm did what the dept for Business suggested and set up functions inside the EU. It then finds that VAT has been messed up and we can no longer reclaim the 23% of good moved into Poland from the Far East. That is a great deal of money lost to the UK, or pushing UK firms to move more functions to the EU from here. We have manufacturing, finance service industries, transportation, horticulture and the arts related all needing to move there and many going, while we get the shortages they don’t.

    N.I is inside the Single market. It and France and Germany are growing much faster than Britain and France is getting the Inward Investment at the top level, which used to come to the UK. The UK has fallen to 7th in total GDP and an incredible 39th on GDP per head.

    The UK is realising it has been sold a pup and will want to be closely engaged with the EU again and quite soon, if it can.

  • nvelope2003 25th Dec '21 - 5:59pm

    Peter Martin: How does an elderly person without a car and living in a place with no railway station get to North Staffordshire to interview 18,000 Liberal Democrat voters ? I understand 32% of the voters did not vote in 2019 either so what is the point of your comment ? There is usually a drop in turnout at bye elections because people are not voting, at least directly, to change the Government but possibly in some cases to give an unpopular one a rocket with the hope that it might mend its ways. Maybe it will.
    I suspect that most voters knew that the Liberal Democrats were strongly opposed to leaving the EU, not just a little bit like some Labour politicians anxious to keep their seats and play things down as much as possible until it all blew over. Looking at local by election results it would appear that in many cases their party’s support has almost collapsed in places where there is an active alternative challenger to the Conservatives such as the Liberal Democrats, Greens or an Independent candidate but not often an avowedly Brexit supporting candidate as happened a few years ago. I wonder why ?

  • @ envelop2003 “How does an elderly person without a car and living in a place with no railway station get to North Staffordshire to interview 18,000 Liberal Democrat voters ?”

    Woke up after a big Christmas Dinner to find I agree with Mr Envelope’s troubling and perceptive question. Fact is he’s right. They couldn’t. Mission impossible.

    To be fair to the Liberal leadership, Mr Gladstone had recognised the problem by abolishing the North Staffordshire Constituency in the 1884 Reform Act ……. a typicallyt selfless gesture given it was a Liberal gain in 1880.

    As they say, Mr Envelope, you win some you lose some. Merry Christmas and Happy Hogmanay.

  • Peter Martin 25th Dec '21 - 9:02pm


    There’s no need to wonder. Brexit is done so most leave inclined voters feel there is no need to vote for the brexit party or whatever they want to call themselves.

    The question now isn’t whether to leave or remain. It’s whether or not to apply to rejoin. Given that the EU probably wouldn’t entertain such an application, just yet, and if they did the terms wouldn’t be what we had previously, the feeling is that it might be safe to vote LibDem again.

  • Peter Martin 25th Dec '21 - 11:45pm

    John Littler,

    Do you have a reference for your assertions on growth rates and GDP?

    This reference shows that the UK is still 5th. Not 7th as you claim.


    It is impossible to separate the effects of Brexit and the Covid pandemic. This reference shows the UK suffering to a similar levels as many other countries but also make the point that technical differences in methods of calculation can lead to distorted results.


  • Simon R. Wages are not rising. Average wages are well behind the 5.1% CPI and further behind the more realistic RPI; as includes rents and property. CPI is predicted to hit 6% in 2022 and possibly higher. The rising prices hit poorer people much harder as are based on higher proportions of their core spending, on food, rent, utilities, petrol and council tax.

    The way to get wages rising is not to create. labour shortage and shrink the economy, as now, but to allow free trade unions again and sectoral annual pay bargaining as has been latterly released in many western countries.

    The encouragement of the gig economy or fake self employment by medium to large firms and the government’s refusal to enforce existing HMRC rules on self employment, will keep general wages down.

  • nvelope2003 25th Dec ’21 – 5:59pm……..There is usually a drop in turnout at bye elections because people are not voting, at least directly, to change the Government but possibly in some cases to give an unpopular one a rocket with the hope that it might mend its ways. Maybe it will.I suspect that most voters knew that the Liberal Democrats were strongly opposed to leaving the EU, not just a little bit like some Labour politicians anxious to keep their seats and play things down as much as possible until it all blew over……….

    There was a tsunami of anti-Johnson news in the run up to this election; every day a new revelation..The miracle wasn’t us winning the seat the miracle would have been them holding it..
    Although this is the first time anyone but a Tory has held the seat a LibDem hold at the next GE may be on the cards..The government was elected on their “Get Brexit Done” slogan but there is a growing dissatisfaction among Leavers, not for ‘Leaving’ but for the way this government has handled Brexit..As other posters have pointed out there is no immediate prospect of rejoining but, when it becomes clear that better relations with our largest trading partner will be beneficial, the anti-EU retoric won’t resonate with voters..

    BTW..Your “not just a little bit like some Labour politicians anxious to keep their seats and play things down”..Have you forgotten that Sarah Green won Chesham and Amersham (a real miracle) by campaigning on local issues and against LibDem policies including HS2..,It’s called politics..

  • nvelope2003 27th Dec '21 - 3:53pm

    David Raw: Thank you for your seasonal good wishes. I wonder why so many of us oldies make the mistake of writing Staffordshire instead of Shropshire. I noticed Lord Patten said it on Radio 4 but I have been very careful and only recall doing it once. I would love to visit both Shropshire and Staffordshire
    All the best for 2022 and I hope you are able to celebrate Hogmanay in the way that you like.

  • nvelope2003 27th Dec '21 - 5:42pm

    expats: An MP was originally elected to Parliament to represent the local electorate and probably many still try to do that. I hope that Sarah Green can combine this with giving general support to Liberal Democrat policies without having to slavishly follow every one of them, as many party members and voters might do. Despite various promises the Government seems to be backing down on its support for HS2, first by abandoning the Eastern route and now there are reports that they may abandon the link to Manchester. If that happens, with the decline in commuting by rail, there will be grave doubts about the need and/or viability of the route to Birmingham in view of the huge cost so maybe our MP will not have to change her views on this issue as support for the project falls.
    The point I was trying to make about Labour MPs was that although many of them seemed to have supported our membership of the EU, only the Liberal Democrats gave clear and unequivocal support for that policy, not that it did them much good but I suppose it might do so in the future if things go badly although I would not be optimistic

  • nvelope2003 27th Dec '21 - 6:21pm

    expats : I have done some research and it appears that when North Shropshire was called Oswestry it had a Liberal MP from 1904 by election until 1906 and Liberals often came second in 3 cornered fights

  • Steve Comer 28th Dec '21 - 4:20pm

    Peter R said: “Brexit allowed the UK to distribute Covid vaccines much more quickly than the EU countries – which must have saved countless lives in the UK.”
    Given the UK death rate, this is a highly dubious claim.

    I live in Cyprus. Many friends of mine of similar age in the UK had their first vaccine 4-5 weeks before I did, but I was fully vaccinated 1-3 weeks before they were as the UK had a larger interval between the two doses. And I had my booster jab in early November, earlier than most people I know in England.

    Let us not fall into the trap of believing the propaganda of the Johnson apologists!

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