At what point do we call for Article 50 to be revoked?

At what point short of the cliff edge do Liberal Democrats say “Enough!” When in this utterly bonkers trashing of our economy do we call for the immediate revocation of Article 50?

We know that the UK can do that without requiring the consent of the other 27 EU member states.

We also have it as  part of our policy to call on the Government to suspend Article 50 to legislate for a People’s Vote or to avoid no deal and, if that suspension isn’t agreed, to call for the revocation of Article 50.  Here’s the motion we passed at Conference last year.

Conference reaffirms the Liberal Democrat commitment to:

Fight for an “exit from Brexit” referendum to be held once the outcome of the UK-EU negotiations is known, for the public to choose between “the deal” or Britain remaining a full member of the EU.

Campaign for Britain to remain a full and active member of the EU.

Enable all UK citizens living abroad to vote for MPs in separate overseas constituencies, and to participate in UK referendums.

Introduce votes at 16 for all elections and referendums across the UK.

Conference calls for:

The Government to release full impact assessments of all options, prior to any meaningful parliamentary vote, thereby demonstrating that there is no Brexit deal on offer that will deliver the promises of the Leave campaign.

The Government to seek to extend Article 50 if required to legislate for a referendum on the deal, or to provide enough negotiating time to avoid a catastrophic no-deal scenario, and if such extension is not agreed to withdraw the Article 50 notification.

The right to full participation in civic life, including the ability to stand for office or vote in UKreferendums and General Elections, to be extended to all EU citizens not already entitled tovote as Irish or Commonwealth citizens, who have lived in the UK for five years or longer.

The UK Government to guarantee unilaterally in law, including in a no-deal scenario, the rights of all EU citizens living in the UK, ringfencing the Withdrawal Agreements’ Chapter on citizens’ rights.

The bit about the revocation was put in as an amendment, but was not opposed by the leadership. It’s not as if Conference forced them into something that they didn’t want to do like we did over the immigration motion.

So the motion commits us to fighting for a People’s Vote and to campaign for Remain in that referendum. We are obliged to do that, therefore, until that becomes impossible.  I agree with Vince that there is a route to getting it, but the deal will have to be rejected by the Commons again first.

At that point, if the Government refuses to ask for the suspension of Article 50, or if that suspension was refused. then we should without doubt call for it to be revoked. 

If we do, we will no doubt face the “democracy” argument. Well if we had a properly functioning democracy in the first place, we wouldn’t be in this mess. If people had got the Parliament they asked for in 2015, the Conservatives would not have had the majority to have the EU Referendum in the first place.

And honestly, I really don’t think that there are many people who would be that bothered if Article 50 were revoked. A few thugs in hi-vis jackets might carry out some random acts of vandalism, but we really shouldn’t let that threat stop us doing what is right.

That doesn’t mean  it would be easy, though. There would be loose ends which would infect our politics for some time to come.

No deal is an abyss that no responsible Government would ever take us near and I still expect May to teeter on the edge of that particular precipice. At that point, if we can’t get a suspension of Article 50 for a People’s Vote, we have to be calling loudly for revocation.

Vince has been softening up the ground for this by saying that No Deal is a choice for the Government. The logical conclusion of  that is that they should pick a plausible course that avoids it. If their terrible deal is rejected, then the only options any government that cares about the national interest can take are revocation or a People’s Vote. The latter is a much cleaner option because it allows the nation to express its view and finally put this to rest.


* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Paul Barker 3rd Feb '19 - 6:06pm

    Now is the short answer.
    I don’t believe that a 3 Month delay is enough to organise a Referendum that couldn’t be stopped by Legal challenges & there is no support for a longer delay. Cancelling Article 50 now does not mean that we couldn’t organise a Referendum at some future point, when things have calmed down.
    We are now 54 Days from the cliff edge & panic could break out at any point, we have to stop worrying about offending idiots & concentrate on doing the right thing.

  • Alisdair McGregor 3rd Feb '19 - 6:31pm

    Immediately. If we don’t, we are not serving the country as the public servants we are. This terrible calamity must be averted.

  • Ideally, last Tuesday, but now will do in a pinch.

    Talk of idiots is counterproductive. We need to be calling out and going after the architects, headbangers and charlatans who are giving us the no-deal crash-out we’re on track for, including Putin and Murdoch, as well as their glove-puppets like Farage and Fox.

  • What question(s) shall we ask if we go for a People’s Vote? Will ‘Leave’ (as well as ‘Remain’) be again on the ballot paper? If so, people may vote ‘Leave’ again and that will leave lots of people terribly disappointed and they may require a third ballot to be held. On the other hand, if ‘Remain’ comes on top there will also be a lot of disappointed people who’ll, rightly in my view, also ask for a third ballot, a ‘ Final People’s Vote’ say. Who’s going then to decide when we’ll be stop having these ballots? Revocation seems to me a much more logical step but, given the composition of the present Parliament, this looks like wishful thinking. A general election therefore, with a very strong showing from Lib Dems, is probably the most realistic option.

  • As I read it, the Lib Dem Conference motion called on the Government to withdraw the Article 50 notification if, but only if, an extension is not agreed. As a matter of principle, therefore, calling for revocation of Article 50 should only be a very last resort (as the motion puts it) in order “to avoid a catastrophic no-deal scenario” – after all other options, including any possibility of holding another referendum, have been exhausted.

    In practical terms, we already know that the EU27 would be highly likely to agree an Article 50 extension for the purposes of another referendum and *may* also agree this for further negotiation on a deal – so any failure to agree such an extension would most probably be due to the U.K. Government’s refusal to request one … although HMG may yet see sense if (as seems more likely than not) it remains unable to negotiate a “deal” which the HoC will accept. Otherwise, if we are still heading towards a “no deal” outome, say, by this time next month, it is IMO much more likely that the HoC would *then* vote for something along the lines of last week’s unsuccessful Cooper amendment – to compel HMG, if it will not willingly do so, to seek an appropriate Article 50 extension.

    At that point, if a majority of the HoC still fails to assert its authority over HMG, Lib Dem and other like-minded MPs could well be justified in pressing for revocation – although, by then, the battle would almost certainly have been lost. Why? Because if no HoC majority can be mustered to force HMG to request an extension, it’s even less likely that we could win a vote for outright revocation – so, realistically, if that does eventually become our default position under the terms of our previous Conference motion, we might as well whistle in the wind!

  • P.S. Further to my previous comment, I also agree wholeheartedly with David Raw @6:33pm above.

  • John Marriott 3rd Feb '19 - 10:25pm

    @Lizi Caa
    If, and for me it’s a big IF we do have another Referendum, why not, as ‘Michael 1’ christened it when I suggested it in another thread, a ‘preferendum’? Let’s suppose that Parliament puts together a ‘deal’ which the government takes to Brussels and which meets with its approval. Why not have three options on the ballot paper? : Brexit with no Deal / Brexit with a deal / Remain.

    Voters would be asked to number the options in order of preference. If they wished, they could limit their choice to one ot two only. If no option exceeded the 50% threshold, the second choices from the option that came third would be applied and the option with the most votes would win. OK, it might be considered too sophisticated for some; but, I suppose, if you can’t count up to three, you might have problems. It’s a whole lot better than yes or no, in my opinion.

  • @Martin: “… Politically a referendum to annul the previous one is desirable, though not constitutionally necessary….”

    Legally and constitutionally, you are no doubt correct in your analysis regarding the permitted grounds for withdrawal/revocation of Article 50. Politically, however, I feel that it would be virtually impossible to make a sufficiently strong democratic case for such a course of the action unless/until a further referendum had first been held and voted for ‘Remain’. If the Lib Dems were to advocate that Article 50 be unreservedly revoked, without the need for any such fresh democratic mandate, or (even worse) without exhausting all possible means of securing one, I fear that we would be overwhelmingly condemned in the court of public opinion.

  • Arnold Kiel 4th Feb '19 - 5:25am

    We must also distinguish 2 kinds of extension:

    The 2 months technical one which ends before the European elections; it is being argued that the UK cannot be a member and not participate in them. It is based on a withdrawal agreement being reached and implemented. It is effectively a postponed leave-date, not really a decision making event.

    A real rethink-extension which would amount to a total UK policy reset comprising European elections, another referendum, and a GE, possibly contested by new parties. Hard to imagine, but nothing less would do. If one thinks through the various permutations of potential outcomes and the sequencing of this exercise, simple revocation of the Art. 50 notification suddenly looks quite attractive.

    As usual, this most reasonable course of action is the least likely to get a majority. I am also wondering about the technicalities: even if there were a majority for it, who could sign an effectively binding letter to Mr. Tusk? May just has the choice of political death before or after the signature. The former means to die fighting, the latter traceless cancellation of her premiership (and testifying 3 years of missed opportunities for the whole country). Some caretaker MP? Appointed by the Queen for that purpose alone, followed by a GE?

    Concluding, the LibDem policy sounds wise. Hold your nerve and wait a little longer.

  • We talk about article 50 when we start to campaign to convince people of the truth of the EU. A democratic, open institution which we should be proud of.
    The answer appears to be never.

  • Paul Holmes 4th Feb '19 - 11:12am

    Can anyone explain to me what our “Calling for Article 50 to be revoked” would achieve?

    In March 2017 we opposed Article 50 being moved in Parliament and (from memory) it was something like 50 MP’s against and 500 in favour.

    In June 2017 we campaigned in the General Election against the Referendum decision and polled 7.4% of the vote. The Con/Lab Parties campaigned on Manifestos committing them to Leave and polled 82% of the vote between them.

    I voted Remain in 1975. I campaigned for and voted Remain in 2016. But, outside of gesture politics and the echo chamber I can’t see what people think such a declaration now would actually achieve. Of course it would mean that as the problems of Brexit unfold in real time we can say “Told you so” -but we have doing that ever since 2016 anyway.

  • Came across this site looking for Brexit info online. Someone explain this to me please. The Lib Dem’s said EU membership should be decided by referendum. They voted to hold the referendum? How does that translate into ask again?

  • Revoke To Remain 4th Feb '19 - 4:49pm

    @Paul Holmes

    RE: 82% of vote split between Tories and Labour in 2017

    Although the media and politicians attributed the GE results to the parties’ Brexit positions, IMO, that is way too simplistic and probably not the right to conclusion to draw from the results. General elections are not referendums on single issues, and hence are unlikely to be reduced to single issues by the electorate.

    Former UKIP voters were likely the only ones whose vote was motivated by their support for Brexit, and I suspect they all opted for the Tories (with anti-immigration May at the helm). For everyone else, there were probably other factors such as:

    Voting for Labour and the Tories:
    Acknowledgement of a potentially wasted vote if voting for a party that was not Labour or the Tories.

    Voting for Labour:
    The anti-austerity vote
    The anti-tory vote (with May as leader; Cameron was “detoxified” with help from the Lib Dems)
    The Corbyn-ista vote

  • Goodness, Alex 3:06 4 Feb, you’ll be banned from here so fast your feet won’t touch the ground if you suggest that we only advocated a referendum because we thought we’d win and are now wriggling like worms on a pin because we lost. If you want to accelerate the banning process, you might suggest that men who wear frocks shouldn’t determine access to womens’ spaces and/or that the change in the nature of cannabis reaching the streets means that our ‘relaxed’ attitude to it is horribly naive.

  • Richard Underhill 5th Feb '19 - 6:00pm

    Phil Winwood 3rd Feb ’19 – 6:12pm
    We divided the House of Commons to vote for Europe at the start.
    Tories and Labour voted against us.
    We are still here.

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