What should we be campaigning for in the European elections?

So we are almost definitely going to fight the European elections – independently, or in some form of coordination with other Remain-committed parties. But what – beyond ‘Remain’ – should we put forward in our campaign?

First and foremost, we have to make the case for continuing British participation in managing relations among European governments, warts and all. We should not risk getting bogged down in discussions about how to ‘reform’ and improve Europe’s current institutions. They don’t work very well – but neither do our national political institutions, and they work much better than any other international institutions (think WTO, UN) so far created.

Our neighbours across the Channel are our closest partners in almost every way: they are our most important trading partners, they share our democratic values (with some backsliding, but then there’s some of that within the UK as well), they are vital to Britain’s safety and security. Liam Fox may argue that Australia and New Zealand are emotionally much close to Britain than the Netherlands and France – but they are much further away, and much smaller, and we can maintain close relations with them as well as our European neighbours.

Brexiters like Mark Francois wallow in the myths of Britain standing alone in World War Two while those on the other side of the Channel collapsed ‘and we saved them’. We need to go for that myth wherever we hear it. The largest contingent of foreign pilots in the Battle of Britain was from Poland; there were also many Belgian pilots, then and throughout the war. The idea that we can pull Britain away from countries which have been entangled in British history since Roman times, and follow the Trump Administration in the USA and maybe also the Russian government, is absurd.

Other issues fit into this approach. The world is in a climate change emergency. The EU is one of the major players in developing global responses to climate change, pushing against reluctant governments in the USA, China and elsewhere. (Yes, the EU isn’t perfect here, either; but it’s better than the rest.) We have much more influence over limiting global warming as part of a European caucus than on our own, outside.

The economic case for staying inside is also strong. Leavers in the Referendum campaign peddled the fantasy that there are other countries enthusiastic for striking free trade deals with Britain on its own. 3 years later, the USA is aggressively protectionist, China is aiming to dominate advanced technologies, and India is unwilling to offer Britain concessions it would not grant the EU. We look to be heading towards a global recession: best therefore to stay in the world’s largest single market, and cooperate with our neighbours in weathering the storm.

The Leave campaign cleverly converted popular concern over immigration into a Brexit issue, suggesting that immigrants were flooding in from the European continent. Now the UK economy is suffering as skilled EU citizens return home, while numbers of migrants from outside the EU (who were always a larger proportion of incomers) continue to increase. It’s clear that the UK and other rich democratic states face a common challenge, of determined migrants from poorer countries, and refugees from conflicts, dictatorships and failed states struggling to find safety and prosperity. That’s a common challenge, which we will manage better by working with others, to share asylum programmes, to combat people-smuggling, and to promote development and good governance (and women’s rights) across the world.

The Leave campaign also succeeded in persuading the ‘left behind’ that the EU, not domestic politics and financial priorities, was the prime source of their problems. We need to argue that many of Britain’s domestic failings – in education, public investment, housing, industrial strategy – are the result of domestic failures (stretching back 20 years or more) rather than of dictates from Brussels, and can only be resolved by changes in domestic policy. EU regional funds, recycling part of the UK’s budgetary contributions, have done more to assist our poorer regions than the Conservative government would have done on its own. Right-wing populists who are pushing for a ‘hard’ Brexit want to make Britain a low-tax free-market economy, and leave disadvantaged regions further behind. We should be pushing for longer-term investment in skills, transport infrastructure, and innovation – whether or not we stay in the EU, but recognising that will be easier to achieve if we stay in.

Let’s see what our manifesto says; I’m told it’s almost ready. The local election campaign should give us a good start. We’ve got good arguments to make; let’s make them as loudly and persuasively as we can.

* Lord Wallace of Saltaire is a Liberal Democrat member of the House of Lords.

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  • Lorenzo Cherin 17th Apr '19 - 1:27pm

    A sensible piece Lord Wallace writes.

    Would you please do a bit more with influence, to show these arguments to Sir Vince, who can show them to TIG mps , and we can, together, Change UK politics and in Europe.

    Stephen Dorrell is now in Change UK. How many more ex mps or members of the Lords with little to divide them from this party, are going to fight it?

    The values you reveal are shared by all mainstream people in our political discourse.

    But this party has pushed them too far. People are voting Brexit for reasons you understand. They are patriotic but fed up. We in this party sound as though we barely get either reason. TIG sound that way too. Their flaws are ours, ours, theirs. It is pretentious to feel other than that.

    Do something about this or the mainstream is going to be the revived post May Tories.

  • Brexit Party now on 27% and ahead of Labour according to YouGov poll (carried out on the 15/16 Apr).

  • Peter Watson 17th Apr '19 - 3:21pm

    @malc “Brexit Party now on 27% and ahead of Labour according to YouGov poll”
    I think the European Elections present a serious risk for Lib Dems (and Change UK).
    The EU elections could be presented as a surrogate for a second referendum and deliver (in England, anyway) a bit of a thrashing for unambiguously “remain” parties, and even a low turnout could be depicted as a lack of interest in the EU.

  • Barry Lofty 17th Apr '19 - 4:48pm

    If the latest YouGov poll truly represents the views of the British people and Farages party really has the support of 27% of the electorate in such a short time, I have to say what a sad, sad, country we have become. I just hope Lord Wallace and others are given the time and space to put the positive side of remaining in the EU!!

  • chris moore 17th Apr '19 - 5:34pm

    Brexit party gains have come mostly at the expense of UKIP that has lost half its support in a few days.

    Given UKIP’s move to the extreme right, this is not a wholly negative development.

    It also shows how fluid and volatile voting preferences are in the Euro elections.

    BTW Lib Dem support has risen since the last You Gov Euro poll to a princely 9%. Change is down to 6%.

    At the moment Change are in a bubble of media hype. Once reality strikes home, prospects for fruitful co-operation between Lib Dems and Change will improve.

  • Fully agree with the sentiments expressed.
    Please though we need a clear briefing paper for members on how the real European Union works. How decisions are really made. How it is untrue to say that decisions are being made by unelected bureaucrats.

  • In the Yougov poll:

    34% – Leave parties (UKIP and Brexit)
    37% – The “Don’t know” parties (Conservative and Labour)
    29% – Remain parties (Lib Dems, Greens, Change UK, Nationalists)
    1% – Others
    (Rounding means sums to 101%)

    If you put Labour in Remain and Conservative in Leave then
    51% – Remain
    49% – Leave

    🙂 !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    (And obviously there are some Remainers and Leavers voting for most parties)

    Let battle commence!

    An interesting question from Yougov. “Imagine that, at the European Parliament elections, the Conservatives say they supported going ahead with Brexit on the terms of the deal negotiated by the government. Labour say they supported going ahead with Brexit but staying in the customs union. The Liberal Democrats, the Greens, [PCY/SNP if in Wales/Scotland] and Change UK say they support a public vote on whether or not to go ahead with Brexit. UKIP and the Brexit Party say they support leaving without any deal.

    How would you then vote in the European Parliament elections?

    15% Con
    15% Lab
    15% Lib Dems
    22% Green, Nats, Change UK combined – (10%, 5%, 7%)
    31% Brexit, UKIP – (25%, 6%)
    1% Others
    (Sums to 99% I assume because of rounding)

    37% Vote parties
    31% No deal parties
    15% May deal parties
    15% Customs union parties

    If Labour say they support a public vote on Brexit then they stay on approx same share as the headline figure of 22% (up 1% to 23%), Lib Dems, Greens go down a bit. In that scenario
    50% Vote parties
    48% No vote parties
    1% Other parties

    (Again sums to 99% due to rounding)

    Details via https://yougov.co.uk/topics/politics/articles-reports/2019/04/17/brexit-party-leading-eu-parliament-polls

  • Certainly the Lib Dems need to have a clear message and campaign strongly that the EU (whilst it may have some faults) is a force for good and some of the focus must be on climate change. Greens narrowly ahead of LD’s in You Gov poll and uniform projections suggest they would have double the number of seats if reflected on election day (though of course only one survey and a snap shot) and changes when specific Brexit policies mentioned. In fact if Labour to support Custom Union without confirmatory vote Liberal Democrats, Conservative and Labour are on 15%,whilst Greens stay on 10%.

    However whilst expected Brexit party to rise these findings a bit alarming and overall hardline Brexit parties on 34% and 49% for Brexit (inc Tories or 46 in worst case scenario). Remain parties on 29% or rising to 37% if Labour not for public vote. In case of Labour being fully committed to Referendum could put Remain parties on 50% and Brexit ones on 48%. of course not going to be totally reflective of a future People’s vote (with other issues and tribal loyalties) but some will frame it that way and in terms of seats likely more of a challenge for Anti-Brexit voices. However time to change some minds if play it right way.

  • @Michael1 sorry did not see your post originally and cannot edit, know some of mine is very similar.

  • You absolutely have to coordinate with other pro-Remain parties to stand up to the Farage demagogy. Now is not the time for a fight amongst pro-EU parties.

  • @Jonathan C – absolutely right, but it also requires a willingness on their part to coordinate with us! Narrow tribalism or the pursuit of ideological purity – whether by Change UK, Greens or Lib Dems – may well be the undoing of us all.

  • The question of an Alliance has been settle. According to Vince Cable in The Independent we wanted an Alliance on a single ticket & Change & The Greens said no.
    We need to try again after May 23rd.

  • One of the problems is that the bloated quango that is the UK Electoral Commission has crafted a whole rulebook that makes ‘fusion lists’ in UK elections all but impossible.
    In Democracies that use Party List systems regularly this is not uncommon.

    For example in Cyprus where I have registered to vote there are candidates on party lists who are not party members. For example AKEL (the left party) has a candidate on its list who is a Turkish Cypriot Professor at the biggest University here, not a party member, but a candidate with a broad base of support who will attract personal votes in an open list system.

  • Arnold Kiel 18th Apr '19 - 3:31am

    We should start by avoiding statements like: “Europe’s current institutions (…) don’t work very well”, “Yes, the EU isn’t perfect”, “whilst it may have some faults”, needs reform (without specification, my favourite)…

    They unthinkingly talk after the mouth of the misinformed. They are apologetic, mean nothing, do not guide to practicable options, and support the Brexit-cause.

    The current EU institutions, body of law, and ways of operating reflect a democratic consensus achieved across a continent of 500 Million people from 28 sovereign democratic nations. They are a unique and remarkable achievement on this globe usually governed by money and might.

    A sensible formulation is: “the EU reflects an evolving state in democratic European history. It will evolve further, best with a newfound strong UK voice in it.”

  • Christian Davis 18th Apr '19 - 8:21am

    With hindsight I think we should have renamed the Lib Dem’s the Remain party for this one election. By doing that we would have been a natural rallying point for all remain voters who could have voted for us without the baggage of our brand of the baggage of the way they’ve voted in the past. Big mistake really.

  • Nonconformistradical 18th Apr '19 - 8:25am

    @Arnold Kiel
    “A sensible formulation is: “the EU reflects an evolving state in democratic European history. It will evolve further, best with a newfound strong UK voice in it.””

    In plain English please. Because if you express it like that a fair percentage of people won’t bother to read further. If they don’t read any more then you have no chance of persuading them to support the European cause.

  • Arnold Kiel 18th Apr '19 - 9:01am


    you are absolutely right. I did not want to propose a slogan, just an appreciative wording for the fact that the EU is not and will never be perfect, and that this is a good thing.

  • Alex Macfie 18th Apr '19 - 9:35am

    Christian Davis: Remain or Leave is a domestic issue, not a European issue. The way to address any concerns about our so-called “baggage” (presumably meaning the Coalition) is to point out that (i) that is now long past, and most of its architects have left active politics; (ii) the Coalition never did apply in the European Parliament, which works on separation of powers and each party belongs to its own ideological pan-European group; (iii) it would be grossly hypocritical for Change UK in particular to attack us over our “baggage” when 4 of its MPs carry the exact same baggage.
    But ultimately politics is about campaigning, not branding. A good showing in the local elections will go a long way to showing us as the main ideological opposition to the “Brexit Party” in the Euro election.

  • Richard Underhill 18th Apr '19 - 10:11am

    Mark Francois MP (Rayleigh and Wickford) should know that the history of the Tory Party in the late 1930s is of appeasement. Tory whips arranged for the chairman of Epping Forest local Con Party to abuse WS Churchill MP.
    They left the UK woefully unprepared. When recruitment into the RAF was increased training was still necessary. Polish pilots with combat experience came to OUR aid, although Britain and France had done very little to help them during the winter of 1939-1940. The Battle of Britain was “a close run thing”. Without them we would have lost.

  • Paul Barker, After May 23rd, it will all be too late. The pro Brexit parties (and I include Lab and Con in this) will have won and Remain will be finally undermined. Sadly your never ending trail of “Something else (Choose whatever is in the news now) will come along and save us” posts have all been proved to be incorrect. We had to choose to change and we preferred to prevaricate.

    Now we are in a battle to the end with people who should fighting with us not against us, and it will not end happily.

  • Mick Taylor 18th Apr '19 - 4:53pm

    For goodness sake will those people seeking to blame us for non cooperation with other remain parties get their facts straight. It is change UK and the Greens who have refused to cooperate, misguidedly believing that the PR list system obviates the need for it. We know it doesn’t but they are not listening.
    Given their refusal to cooperate we have to go all out for the remain vote and forget about the others. Our party machine may be creaky, but Change don’t have one and the Greens is very patchy.
    If we stick to our solidly ‘Stop Brexit’ line there is just a chance that remainers will vote LibDem.

  • Andrew Tampion 18th Apr '19 - 5:18pm

    “A sensible formulation is: “the EU reflects an evolving state in democratic European history. It will evolve further, best with a newfound strong UK voice in it.”
    That will be interpreted, I think correctly, as meaning evolving towards ever closer Union which will be very unpopular in the UK.
    “With hindsight I think we should have renamed the Lib Dem’s the Remain party for this one election.”
    There is no evidence that campaigning for remain has benefited our party’s poll ratings, unless you want to argue that they would have been even worse. There is evidence that nearly one third of Lib Dem voters voted Leave, https://lordashcroftpolls.com/2019/03/a-reminder-of-how-britain-voted-in-the-eu-referendum-and-why/, so I suspect renaming the Party as Remain would do more harm than good.

  • Peter Martin 18th Apr '19 - 6:42pm

    Can I paraphrase Arnold Kiel’s recent posting (18th Apr ’19 – 3:31am) ?

    It is that everyone should stop complaining. The highly educated EU apparatchiks know much better than lesser mortals about how the EU should function. Yes, we will remove national sovereignty to be replaced by a much less democratic ‘European’ sovereignty but we cannot actually be too open about it all in case it arouses too much ignorant opposition.

    It is better that this includes the UK too. The last thing we want the EU populists to see is a country successfully leaving. It might put silly ideas into their heads.

  • Arnold Kiel 18th Apr '19 - 7:23pm

    Andrew Tampion,

    you are absolutely right. But why is it unpopular? I am convinced because of relentless one-sided propaganda no important politician ever took a stance against in the last 20 years. This election must be the turning-point. The British public is now open for a pro-EU view, but politicians must courageously seize this opportunity, stop agreeing in Brussels to what makes sense, and then catering to nationalistic feelings back home, or, even worse, use the EU as a scapegoat for their national failings. They should say what is right, for a change, not what is popular, a discipline Farage is anyhow unbeatable in.

  • An alternative formulation of the nature of the EU is given by economic sociologist Professor Wolfgang Streeck, emeritus director of the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies in Germany. He says the EU is a ‘liberal empire’.
    He argues that “from the original six countries cooperating in the management of a few key sectors of their economies, the EU became a neoliberal empire of 28 highly heterogeneous states. The idea was and is to govern those states centrally by obliging them to refrain from state intervention in their economies.
    “The EU has a centre and a periphery… The centre imposes and enforces its political and economic order on the periphery, in the form of the common currency, the ‘four freedoms’ of the common market, and a general requirement of adherence to ‘European values’.
    “Moreover, compliance is rewarded by fiscal transfers, in particular, the structural and social funds. The centre offers military protection to countries on the periphery in return for imperial loyalty.
    “Peripheral countries that do not follow the rules, such as Greece are punished by central institutions like the ECB, while central countries like France are exempt from punishment. Sometimes wayward governments in peripheral states are replaced by the centre with imperial governors, as happened in Italy, or Greece. And exit from the empire is, while possible, made as difficult as possible…
    “The British pro-EU left has, for fear of Thatcher and her current and future acolytes, sold its anti-capitalist birth right for the thin gruel of a European minimum entitlement to a few days of parental leave. People can ask for more, as they have successfully done in all other rich European countries. But the right tells them that these measures would mean less employment – and they seem to believe it! Britain is one of the richest countries in the world. But the left has been persuaded that it requires European tax money to have a regional policy, even though this has made no difference at all to regional inequality.”
    For the detail see

  • Peter Martin 18th Apr '19 - 8:32pm

    @ Katerina,

    “Our bad picture of the EU is largely the result of a hostile press……………..”

    I’ve heard this line quite a lot recently. There’s really no evidence that the press are any longer opinion formers. Maybe they once were – although I have my doubts. Their wealthy owners usually and naturally wish to impart a right wing bias, but their priority is to sell newspapers. If the EU was universally popular, the papers would reflect that view -albeit with a right wing bias too.

    You really need to get out and talk to people a bit more to find out what they really think. I do that quite a lot when I get the chance. I full well understand that I don’t share the majority opinion in their support of the monarchy. It would be easy to blame all that on a right wing press too. But I really don’t think this is the case. Whenever there’s a royal wedding and the papers a full of the photo coverage, it is because the editors know what will sell papers. In a democracy I just have to accept that. I might make the argument that the monarchy isn’t about democracy, but it doesn’t do any good!

    The feeling in the country is that the EU has overreached itself. This is true of most remainers too. They don’t want the euro and they don’t want Schengen. They aren’t keen on the EU Parliament. Firstly its not democratic. Secondly it has the power to create laws which override UK laws. People don’t want all that. They want laws made in Westminster. So a standard Remainer argument is that the UK has a good deal because we don’t have to have too much EU. If we stay in this is very likely to change if the EU takes us to where people like Arnold Kiel wants it to take us.

  • @Peter – I think you need to get out more! 🙂 It has even recently begun to dawn on Mogg that remain is a valid form of leave, but then it is clear that he has only recently begun to actually think as opposed to not thinking and regurgitating the standard Brexit nonsense! Talking to Brexiteers, I’ve yet to come across one who can point to real examples that stand up to scrutiny – I’m not suggesting that remain is wonderful, just give me some real evidence as to why you think leaving the EU is such a good idea, as currently when pressed every Leave supporter I’ve spoken to has resorted to mindless emotional justification.

    None of the points you make are reasons for leaving, just reasons to apply some restraint: By remaining, the UK won’t get the euro unless Westminster agrees to it, likewise with Schengen and any ‘laws’ coming out of the EU/Parliament – interestingly, on that last point is to look at the history of those laws and discover that in many cases the UK was the prime advocate for those laws, just that it suits the Westminster crowd to have someone else be the fall guy. I expect you think the EU Copyright directive is a bad thing (because it comes from the EU and not directly from Westminster), even though it has been fully backed by the UK and who will be adopting it Brexit or no Brexit?

  • Roland
    Remain is a valid form of Leave! Yeah and dogs are a valid form of cats and eating meat is a valid form of vegetarianism.

  • Peter Martin 19th Apr '19 - 7:21am

    @ Roland,

    “By remaining, the UK won’t get the euro unless Westminster agrees to it, likewise with Schengen and any ‘laws’ coming out of the EU/Parliament”

    Yes, at least for now we have negotiated opt-outs on the euro and Schengen. But that won’t last indefinitely. Can you imagine a State of the USA having its own separate currency or having immigration controls on the border?

    But you are quite wrong on the question of primacy. That’s EU law. 100%.


  • There’s not much to add to this comprehensive article. We should take the opportunity to espouse our values of internationalism, the rule of law and human rights. In a world that seems to be becoming divided despite globalisation we can show we believe that localism and cooperation can co-exist. We need a stronger United Nations and a freeing of its needing of unanimity in the security council that perhaps should be abolished.

  • @Peter Martin

    As I have said several times only one country not in the Eurozone meets the criteria of having spent two years in the ERM II that is needed before a country join the Euro and that is Denmark. The UK (and Denmark!) has a treaty opt-out of the Eurozone. Any treaty change has to be unanimous (i.e. subject to veto by one country) and is subject to a referendum in the UK! That also applies to Schengen. Four non-EU countries – Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Lichtenstein are also members of Schengen.

    All this means that any expansion of the Eurozone is unlikely in most of our lifetimes and I suspect UK entry beyond that!

  • For clarity I should have written that Switzerland is a non-EU country in Schengen – Sweden is an EU country!

  • Peter Martin 20th Apr '19 - 1:30pm


    “All this means that any expansion of the Eurozone is unlikely in most of our lifetimes”

    I’m not sure what your life expectancy might be, but the euro has 19 out of 28 potential takers so far. So it wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect #20 before too much longer.

    The euro, in itself, isn’t really the problem. It’s more the rules that go with it (ie the ill-named Stability and Growth Pact, and the even worse European Fiscal Compact) which are designed for a large net exporter like Germany. Denmark is in that category so wouldn’t have any real problem with the euro. On the other hand, it is clearly not suitable for countries like Italy and France. It wouldn’t be suitable for the UK either.

    I take your point about Treaty change, but allowing the UK to keep all its opt-outs clearly doesn’t fit in with the EU’s “Grand Vision”. My guess is that the EU will use its newly acquired position of strength to whittle those down if we do have to stay in.

    We aren’t totally exempt from the rules of the SGP and there could be scope to move against us by tightening up on our requirements without requiring Treaty change. What are we going to do if we disagree? Threaten to quit?

  • John Marriott 20th Apr '19 - 9:07pm

    The point many people appear to be missing is how fragmented the Remain parties appear to be. Under the current PR system we could end up with the Brexit Party and UKIP virtually sweeping the board. It would make a great deal of sense if, for this election alone, those parties advocating Remain could combine on a joint ticket. But it won’t happen, will it?

  • @Peter Martin
    “Yes, at least for now we have negotiated opt-outs on the euro and Schengen. But that won’t last indefinitely. “
    I think Peter you, like many leave supporters are suffering from the delusion that you have the right to dictate what future generations of UK citizens and their sovereign parliament do or do not do. I don’t expect the current UK-EU relationship to continue as it is, unchanged ‘indefinitely’ to do so is to deny the evidence of history.

    “But you are quite wrong on the question of primacy.”
    You’re forgetting, a sovereign Westminster agreed to this arrangement.

    Like most leavers you are failing to see that the causes of the problems you perceive originating from Brussels actually are to be found in Westminster.

  • Peter Martin 22nd Apr '19 - 7:53am

    @ Roland,

    Tony Benn often used to make the point that Parliament only borrows its sovereignty from the people. It has an obligation to return its powers to the people, undiminished, at the end of each Parliament.

    There cannot be any compromise on this. Otherwise it is Remainers who are claiming “the right to dictate what future generations of UK citizens and their (less than fully) sovereign parliament do or do not do”.

  • Katharine Pindar 23rd Apr '19 - 1:25am

    This was such a useful article, thank you, William. It really is necessary for Remainers to keep repeating how important the EU has been and continues to be for its 28 members, and to consider how we should relate to it in future, with more understanding and more engagement, hopefully, than we have had in the past. Meanwhile, another session inviting the public to choose options on a Brexitometer is coming up in a local town centre next Saturday – all to the good.

  • @Peter ” It has an obligation to return its powers to the people, undiminished, at the end of each Parliament.
    There cannot be any compromise on this.”

    Unfortunately, as the world has grown smaller and more connected, Parliament’s powers have decreased. A Parliament that agrees to Brexit will be one that returns diminished powers; truely, Westminster has created a fine mess.

  • @Peter ” It has an obligation to return its powers to the people, undiminished, at the end of each Parliament.
    There cannot be any compromise on this.”

    Unfortunately, as the world has grown smaller and more connected, Parliament’s powers have decreased. A Parliament that agrees to Brexit will be one that returns diminished powers; truely, Westminster has created a fine mess.

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