What should our policy on one of the defining issues of the age be?


Do not think about whether we should call for another referendum.  A referendum is a mechanism, not a policy. Instead, what should we ask our fellow countrymen and countrywomen to support?

Seventy years ago some of our forebears put forward the policy, in the ashes of our continent, to exchange the conflicts of nations for the cooperation of peoples.

It has been a spectacular success.

What, in those dark times, must have looked like a utopian fantasy has largely come to pass. In seventy years no member state, once admitted to the fold, has engaged in armed conflict with any other member state. Newly democratised Fascist dictatorships have been kept as stable liberal democracies. Newly liberated Communist tyrannies have had their economies and societies utterly transformed. In the continent that gave rise to both Communism and Fascism, and where destructive, terrible, wars were commonplace; that is a magnificent achievement.

We have enshrined human rights. Acted on workers rights, acted on the environment. Decisions affecting the continent are taken by the continent, subject to the scrutiny and approval of the people of the continent: both by state’s governments and a directly elected parliament. Europe-wide regulation prevents a rush to the bottom and not only eases passage at borders but removes, for trade, those borders entirely. Borders to trade are no more! Our entire model of trade, the imperialist model, is no more.

And think of that imperialism; think how it was, how we were, and where we have come from. We were part of a war-like continent of vicious nationalism and subjugation of others. Our post war story, of which the European project is an inextricable part, is of how European Civilisation dragged itself to where it can begin to claim the epithet “civilisation”.

To be part of that civilisation should be our policy. Shaping that civilisation should be our policy. Sharing the benefits of that should be our policy. And, of course, sharing the burdens should be our policy. We should not shirk our work in building a better continent, a continent acting for a better world.

It is true that, last June, the democratic process produced a decision to withdraw from that great civilising project. We are entitled to resubmit our policy to the democratic process, to ask our fellow countrymen and countrywomen to change their minds. We are entitled to, in any event. But as we look into the abyss of Brexit we have a duty ask for a change of course.

There are those who seek to mitigate the disaster rather than turn from it; to hang onto the Customs Union, to remain within the Single Market.


Doing so would leave us without voice, unable to shape the future of our continent, subject to laws and policies we have no control over. Not citizens of our continent but subjects of a subject power, subjects of an overseas dominion of an entity we have no claim to.

It is not “the Tory” approach to withdrawal that is the issue: it is withdrawal. It is not withdrawal without a “good deal” that is the issue: it is withdrawal. Now is not the time to suggest damage limitation. It is the time to drop discussion of the nature of withdrawal and ask the people of Northern Ireland, Wales, Scotland and England to turn away from withdrawal. To ask them to turn to the great European project. To join, as full members, to work with our fellow European citizens to build our future together.

* Tony Lloyd is a member in Lewisham Liberal Democrats, an accountant and so pro European that he insisted on the European national anthem at his wedding.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • paul barker 17th Jul '17 - 7:21pm

    I agree with every word of this. Calling for a Referendum/Election is a tactic, the goal is to be at The Heart of Europe.

  • I too agree. Any form of Brexit is not as good as being in the EU. Looking to the LibDems to turn the ship around and persuade those who voted leave that we are really much better off on all counts. Remain in the EU.

  • Richard Underhill 17th Jul '17 - 8:48pm

    Good content. Hope your wife agrees.
    Beethoven’s ninth symphony is not owned by the EU, but is a beacon to the world. Pianist / conductor / politician Daniel Barenboim tells us that others have tried to use this brilliant and beautiful music to support their regimes,
    Others include Walter Ulbricht GDR.

  • Peter Martin 17th Jul '17 - 8:57pm

    In seventy years no member state, once admitted to the fold, has engaged in armed conflict with any other member state.

    So all we Europeans, with the possible exception of the UK, have to share the same currency, or at least commit to it, so we don’t start killing each other? The highest death toll was between the USSR and Germany last time around. And that can still happen again unless we have Russia in the EU too?

  • Frances Alexander 17th Jul '17 - 9:22pm

    I was in East Berlin three weeks before the wall came down, meeting other members of Women Welcome Women World Wide. They were terrified that there was going to be another Tiananmen Square in Eastern Europe. The way Kohl brought together the two Germanies was an example to us all.
    I shed tears on the Christmas morning after when the orchestras and choirs of East and West Berlin came together in Alexanderplatz and performed Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. The Ode to Joy had a word changed. Not Freude – Joy, but Freiheit – Freedom.
    This friendship among nations is precious, and we should value it.

  • Little Jackie Paper 17th Jul '17 - 9:43pm
  • Little Jackie Paper 17th Jul '17 - 9:50pm

    All of this article I could have agreed with upto about Maastricht and the A8 accession. After that the stark reality is that what we ended up with is not what we joined.

    Back in the early 1990s I was dead against a referendum on Maastricht. I can’t believe just how wrong I was. We absolutely should have had a referendum on what, plainly, was a changed deal. Too many leaders around the EU have ducked asking the voters about that political construct.

    Following asymmetric expansion and the euro what we have IS different to what we signed up to. To say as much is, to my mind, a statement of fact.

    The euro needs huge structural reform – Macron’s ideas are certainly interesting. But those ideas mean reopening Treaties and referendums. At Maastricht we should have had a two-tier EU: a full-blown EZ and something that looks like the EEA. Long run we may end up there – decades late but no bad thing.

    At the moment it seems the most consistent argument for staying in the EU is that it’s all too difficult to leave. Not the most ringing endorsement or long-term strategy.

  • NATO not the EU.

  • David Becket 17th Jul '17 - 10:44pm

    Our policy must be staying in a reformed EU. It needs to be more democratic. Freedom of movement must be reviewed, it cannot be used to enable those from a low wage country to undercut wages in a high wage country. It must be easier to deport criminals, and if you move to another country you must be expected to support yourself. The French won’t like it, but Strasburg must go.
    We must not make the mistake Nick made in that famous debate, he expected to see an EU similar to that of today in ten years time. There is a lot wrong with it, and if we put our heart into it we could help make it better.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 17th Jul '17 - 10:47pm

    Tony , gives us a well crafted, heartfelt piece, but someone educate and enlighten me, if this were the route for us as a party or country , how come we got seven and a bit per cent as led by a passionate remainer running a remainig oriented campaign , with a leftist
    previously unpopular leader and party getting forty per cent backing Brexit ?

  • This is a very emotive thread. But these high emotions shed no light on the real reasons for Brexit.
    Frances makes a very emotional plea, and concludes “This friendship among nations is precious, and we should value it.”
    If it were possible to ask the 17.4 million leavers, I doubt you would find one who disagreed with that statement. Like Frances, leavers very much want to be close friends with the nations of Europe, but the reality of Brexit very is different. Leavers, just don’t want to be part of this unifying Suprastate club anymore. For leavers, Friendship = good, Suprastate = bad. It’s that simple.
    The EU had its chance to reform but failed us all. Truth is there is no democratic mechanism within the EU structure that would force reform upon it. By contrast, look at the hubris of May, assured of a landslide only to be crushed by ‘good ole’ British democracy. That direct ‘voter shock’ to the system is impossible in the EU structure, because frankly, democracy was purposely designed-out from the start.
    For me the emotionally worrying bit is this. A true liberal would accept as a given, a nation’s democratic right to say No Thanks. Moreover a true liberal would admonish, not applaud, these constant EU threats of a ‘punishment beating’ on the UK, simply for daring to leave their club.
    I ask you liberal to liberal, what other relationship would you consider it O.K. for one party to say to the other, ‘don’t you dare leave me or else’? So is it really possible to be a liberal and deny the democratic right of a nation to retain the friendship of a continent, whilst pursuing the exit of a political relationship which we don’t believe works for us?

  • Peter Martin 18th Jul '17 - 6:49am

    @ Martin

    “Had we adopted the Euro, I do not believe we would be in the Brexit mess of today and London would have been the undisputed Euro capital of the EU.”

    The euro works fine for a large net exporter like Germany but it would be a disaster for a net importer like the UK.

    The problem is in this macro-economic relationship.

    Govt Deficit = Savings Of Private Domestic Sector + Trade Deficit

    The Govt Deficit would be restricted to 3% of GDP if the UK were in the EZ. See the terms of the so-called Stability and Growth Pact. Our trade deficit is about 4% now but has been higher. So even with 4% we’d have to encourage ever higher levels of household debt to keep the economy functioning.

    The would be two ways make the Govt deficit target.

    1) Go into the euro at a low level, say at parity, which would make imports a lot more expensive in euros compared to what they’d been in pounds, and cause our trade to balance or even be in surplus.

    There are good arguments for doing this but there is an obvious downside.

    2) Throw the economy into deep recession. Fewer people then have enough money to either save or buy imports. ie The Greek “solution”.


  • Peter Martin 18th Jul '17 - 7:05am

    @ Little Jackie Piper,

    I enjoyed Larry Elliott’s article in the link you gave. I’m sure he’s quite right about the superboom followed by a superbust which joining the euro would have created. His last paragraph hasn’t quite stood the test of time though

    “That, in short, is what would have happened had Blair won and Brown lost in 2003. The boom would have been bigger and so would the bust. Britain would have destroyed the euro on departure, and would now be on the point of leaving the EU altogether. The idea that Farage might be the next prime minister would be quite credible.”

  • I just don’t recognise the author’s portrayed Utopian world.

    I have seen some of my ‘rights’ systematically taken away – European Arrest Warrant, European Investigation Order, the Maastricht/Lisbon fiascos – where was I allowed a say when I was subject to a three-party political stitch-up on these and others?

    As for workers’ rights – there has been a ‘rush to the bottom’; the author may not wish to acknowledge it, but wages and conditions have not been levelled up – but down.
    We have also seen trades unions taken to the European Court of Justice – the infamous Laval Quartet – and fined huge amounts of money.

    And if I were a Christian baker of cakes, and I wished to uphold my Christian values regarding homosexuality, should being found guilty of my bigotry be reason to lose out financially?
    Is the judicial enforcement of morality a ‘Liberal’ thing? And who gets to pick the judges?

    David Cameron was correct in his assertion that that “..the EU is seen as something that is done to people..”, and I wholly agree.

    Most people in 1975 voted to stay in a ‘common market’ – I don’t ever remember being asked about flags, anthems, and combined taxation.

  • I don’t see the EU as a great civilising project. We managed to not invade anywhere in Europe perfectly well even before we joined the Common Market. As far as I know Norway hasn’t invaded anywhere either.

  • Peter Martin 18th Jul '17 - 9:48am

    From a historical perspective, in a couple of hundred years time, and if humanity manages to survive and avoid the horrors of catastrophic climate change, will the EU be considered quite the progressive force that many consider it to be now? Or will it be considered to have been a reactionary protectionist trading block?

    Whatever its charitable virtues, it still treats Africa in a neo-colonial fashion. Africa could be a wealthy continent if only the Rest of the World, including the EU, practiced what it preached on free trade. But it doesn’t. Brussels applies tariffs, for example, to tomato sauce, but not to tomatoes; to chocolate, but not to cocoa beans; to roasted coffee, but not to green coffee. Africa, in other words, is expressly discouraged from developing secondary industries that would add value to its commodities. Not all of which the EU rates tariff free in any case. If it doesn’t feel like importing wheat from Africa then it will find a reason not to do so. The EU as the dominant partner calls the tune. The EU is the customer after all!

    In turn we are a net customer of the EU. So we shouldn’t let the EU entirely call the tune on just how tariffs will be applied after Brexit. It’s obviously not realistic to expect trade with Africa to immediately replace trade with the EU. But neither should we underestimate the potential for Africa to come good economically in the longer term given the right trading relationships.Trade with the EU won’t cease after Brexit but it might dip. There’s lots of other countries in the world besides the E27. They probably will be more the future of the world economy than seems remotely possible right now.

  • Absolutely correct.The noble vision of achieving peace and prosperity in the European continent where all the member states no matter what their size will be given the opportunity to prosper if it adopts the common principles is enviable.
    I am sure the critics will always find aspects which Do not suit them or dislike sharing their prosperity or sense of superiority prevents them from accepting the common vision.
    These people should be reminded of the dreadful bloodpaths of the last century and the poverty and destruction of the entire continent from which the UK was suffering right up to the 1970s and how we have come sinse then.

  • @ Lorenzo “how come we got seven and a bit per cent as led by a passionate remainer running a remainig oriented campaign , with a leftist previously unpopular leader and party getting forty per cent backing Brexit ?”

    I’m not sure he did back Brexit – rather it was put on the back burner. It might just be that he addressed the issues of social justice and inequality affecting the lives of ordinary people and the legacy of austerity which the Lib Dems were tainted with by association.

    In contrast the Lib Dems appeared to be a one trick pony with an occasional whiff of internal controversy over personal sexuality.

  • Andrew McCaig 18th Jul '17 - 10:11am

    Sheila Gee

    If there was indeed a “constant EU threat of punishment beating on the UK” of course I and I am sure all other Liberals would admonish them. But there isn’t! It is a fabrication of the Tory Leavers like Boris Johnson reinforced by their false truth Press supporters.

    The EU has been extremely consistent both before and after the referendum. If you leave the club you cannot expect the same economic benefits outside as inside. No-one in Europe has said we will not be friends afterwards, unless of course we don’t wish to be. That again is the imagination of Leavers some of whom certainly are not friends to Europe, and would like the whole EU project to collapse in chaos, it would seem.

  • If you leave the club you cannot expect the same economic benefits outside as inside

    But why not?

    There’s no fundamental reason why a single market should be tied to a federalist political system.

    The EU’s decision to tie the two together, and say that if you leave the political structure you are also cast out of the single market, is entirely a political choice of the EU and is clearly designed to economically punish those who decide to leave the political structures of the EU.

  • Peter Martin 18th Jul '17 - 1:46pm

    There hasn’t been much discussion on David Owen’s EU views on Libdemvoice

    If anyone is thinking that being in favour of Brexit is solely the preserve of racists and mental defectives then surely Dr Owen, whether or not there might be some disagreement with his other political views, must give them cause to question that.

    David Owen argues that the EU has to quickly become the USE to get over the current problems with the common currency. I’d say he’s right. He also says we shouldn’t therefore be part of the EU. But is he right about that? If we all understand that’s where the EU has to go to survive then we could be part of the EU. We’d need to push it in that direction. We’d need to give up the pound and adopt the euro. We’d need to be full members and not half hearted members like we were before. Are we prepared for that?


  • Joseph Bourke 18th Jul '17 - 3:28pm


    “There are those who seek to mitigate the disaster rather than turn from it; to hang onto the Customs Union, to remain within the Single Market.”

    I am one of those. I think full UK membership has long been an impediment to the kind of reform and political integration the EU needs. It has been clear for some time that there needs to be a separation of powers that recognises the core EU is comprised of the Eurozone counties and those on a path to membership of the Euro.

    Our place is as a non-euro member in a two-tier EU- the Norway option if you like. That is as a result of our history and close economic, political and military ties to the Anglo-sphere.

    The UK as a member of the European Union (but not the Eurozone), a leading Nato partner and a political bridge across the Atlantic gives us a place in the world in keeping with the aspirations and culture of the British people.

    Ever closer political union has been rejected by the British from the very start and was reconfirmed in Cameron’s attempted renegotiation. A confederation that you can voluntarily withdraw from if you choose, as a peripheral member in a two tier EU, is a very different animal from a federal union of states – as the confederate states of America came to understand during the American civil war.

  • Mike Falchikov 18th Jul '17 - 5:09pm

    Frances Alexander. Yes, I remember watching (on TV)the Berlin wall being breached
    and earlier scenes on the Austro-Hungarian border as Eastern Europeans walked out
    of the Communist sphere and into land owned by Otto von Hapsburg MEP. One must also give due credit to the last Communist leaders of Eastern Europe. They saw that
    history was against them. They knew their Soviet “comrades” wouldn’t assist them anymore, they let their people go and for the most part they themselves walked away quietly, for which they deserve great credit. A great moment in history, even if things
    aren’t quite so rosy in these countries now.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 18th Jul '17 - 6:04pm

    Three cheers , one each, hip hip hooray, for David Becket , Sheila Gee and Joseph Bourke !!!

    We need to remember the words of the late great Harriet Beecher Stowe,

    Common sense , is the knack of seeing things as they are , and doing things , as they ought to be, done.

    We could all want our bit of that, but pretending all is well with the EU and our being in it , flies in the face of reality. Reform, a word beloved of Liberals of old, is needed with bells on…

  • Ah the brave Breiteers are out in force. All with a wonderful view of what Brexit means all mutually exclusive. Has it not occurred to you that some of you if not all of you will be disappointed. That’s the problem Brexiteers have a wonderful aspiration but one not shared by their fellows. Still if you don’t get the Brexit you want you can always blame the EU.

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 19th Jul '17 - 8:28am

    Sheila Gee, I very much agree with your comments at 12.06 am yesterday. The party’s response to the referendum result has been neither liberal nor democratic.

  • A Social Liberal 19th Jul '17 - 10:13am


    France was not part of NATO for nearly half a century, yet in those 50 years they and their centuries old protagonists Germany have not even come close to war. Why was that? I suggest that the common denominator which stopped them was indeed the EU and its forbears.

  • Thanks for all the comments.

    One theme of objections (Little Jackie Piper, David Becket, greg, Glenn, Peter Martin) is that current arrangements are sub-optimal. This is no surprise. Optimal arrangements are impossible to design and, as they involve pesky humans, are not implementable. (Witness the command economies of the 20th Century). This is why European Civilisation has dragged itself to the point where it can begin to earn the epithet “civilisation”.

    It will develop. Though I am not whiggish enough to think that it will always improve, I am confident that it is capable of improvement. Take Peter’s point about tariffs to Africa, this is a fantastic point and the EU lies in a great place to secure change. As the biggest economy in the world we have the size to influence other large economies in the world and, if that fails, we could even be able to drop tariffs on certain manufactured goods unilaterally. Peter and others, though, would only be able to take part in the EUs actions on this if they remained citizens of the EU. Leaving the EU leaves our rights to shape the future of the EU behind.

    Another theme could be called “entitlement”: “we want this and if we don’t get it then that’s somebody else’s fault”.

    The short answer to Dav’s question as to why the benefits of the single market are only available to EU members is “none of your business”: how a body organises its internal market and the basis on which they will allow third parties to trade with it is their business and their business only.

    Sheila Gee, there is no right, democratic or otherwise, to friendship. Friendship is an agreement, rights are not. Those who voted Leave whilst wishing to retain the friendship of the rest of Europe took the risk that friendship would not be accepted by the other party.

    The portrayal of the failure of the EU to endanger its own interests in order to ameliorate the UK’s act of self-harm as “punishment” is a mendacity put about by Brexiteer politicians. Sheila Gee, you even re-use a term used by the most dishonest of that particularly dishonest lot.

  • “The highest death toll was between the USSR and Germany last time around. And that can still happen again unless we have Russia in the EU too?” (Peter Martin)

    An interesting point, given the events in the Ukraine and Crimea… If we also look at Turkey, we begin to see that one of the EU’s problems is maintaining cordial relationships with its neighbours.

    The question thus arises is whether a UK outside of the EU will be better placed to influence such matters than if it were to remain within the EU. Being hopeful – perhaps Brexit will cause the EU to formally recognise tiers of membership and so have more meaningful dialogues with nations that aren’t full members.

  • France was not part of NATO for nearly half a century, yet in those 50 years they and their centuries old protagonists Germany have not even come close to war. Why was that?

    The looming threat of the USSR.

  • The short answer to Dav’s question as to why the benefits of the single market are only available to EU members is “none of your business”: how a body organises its internal market and the basis on which they will allow third parties to trade with it is their business and their business only.

    Right. But it proves, doesn’t it, that what the EU really cares about is not the economic benefits to its member nations, but the forging of a federalist political union and eventual United states of Europe?

    And seeing as it is unacceptable for the UK to ever become part of such a thing (though we would have been happy to be part of an economically beneficial association of nations), it makes perfect sense for us to leave.

  • A Social Liberal.
    I think that the shear devastation in WW II is the real reason for peace, that and the Holocaust. After that Germany is. In truth most countries manage perfectly well without invasions even when they are not in the EU. Japan not in the EU, Australia not in the EU, Norway not in the EU and so on. The idea that without the EU Germany would try to invade France yet again is hardly a ringing endorsement.

  • Peter Hirst 20th Jul '17 - 5:49pm

    Generally I am in favour of referenda for important constitutional and other issues. However, until we have a much clearer process that is fair, informed and democratic, I am uncertain whether I can argue for another one. The challenge is the process not the principle.

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