Whip issues apology over Trade Bill vote

Liberal Democrat Chief Whip Alistair Carmichael has issued a statement following yesterday’s vote on the Taxation (Cross-border trade) Bill:

Brexit is the most important issue in a generation. And as Liberal Democrats we have taken on the responsibility of stopping it. We’re the only Party united in this aim.

Last night I messed up. The government squeaked home by just 3 votes in a key amendment. It should have been 1.

I was not expecting a close vote – up until 8pm, Labour were planning to abstain which would have meant the vote would be lost by hundreds. In fact several Labour MPs voted with the government – which is why they won. By the time it became apparent that the vote was going to be close – it was too late to get two of our MPs, Vince and Tim, back in time to vote.

I’m taking responsibility and redoubling my efforts to stop Brexit.

Today is a new day. We will be debating the remaining stages of the Trade Bill – and we are going to hold the government’s feet to the fire.

Thank you for you for your continued support to our campaign to Exit from Brexit.

Christine Jardine MP also commented.

Update from Caron

Layla Moran added her voice:

And Tim apologised on Twitter:

It’s also worth pointing out that three opposition MPs are on maternity leave – Jo Swinson, Laura Pidcock and Cat Smith. There should have been an arrangement in place for them to be able to vote by proxy. The Government in the form of Leader of the House Andrew Leadsom has made all sorts of nice noises about it but hasn’t actually done anything. Funny, that.

I have to say that the fact that our people have been so quick to take responsibility for last night’s mistake – and it was a mistake – is pretty refreshing. Everyone screws up at some point and, actually, when they acknowledge it and show that they’ve learned from it, I think it’s fair and reasonable to let it go. I can’t see any of our lot being allowed to put a foot outside Parliament when there are Brexit votes going down in future.

As for the Bill, let’s hope the Lords strip out the ludicrous ERG amendments and MPs have another chance to vote on this issue.

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  • Bernard Aris 17th Jul '18 - 2:44pm

    I think the main cause of what happened last night is the fact that (and they will hate me if I say this) the Labour Party is so obsessed with at the same time toppling the May government while not estranging the working class voters who voted Brexit , that their behaviour in Commons votes and procedures is as (un)predictable and whimsical/opportunistic as that of one Donald Trump himself.
    At least in the Michael Foot days, you knew where you were at with “Militant” Labour; now nobody including Labour itself has any clue.

    And while Trump is battling collusion allegations, Labour cannot properly resolve its Antisemitism issue, a continuous distraction. Another parallel.

    And with just 3 votes difference May isn’t exactly strenghtened anyway. The pro-Remain Tories are finally waking up to their strength, as their performances on the BBC news and Newsnight last night showed.

  • There are no excuses, he should be sacked forthwith, but even so on something as important as this, where we are claiming to be taking a Remain lead, not even our beloved Leader was there. I am appalled, shocked and downright angry. Our incompetence was there for all to see.

  • 2 Lib Dem MPs were AWOL and somehow it’s all there fault.

    3 SNP MPs were absent as were around 15 Labour MPs plus Jarad O’Marra.

    And that doesn’t event cover the three Labour MPs who voted with the Conservatives last night.


  • The attempt to blame labour is fairly weak. Why not get all hands on deck for all brexit votes, and go down fighting if need be? It is your key policy…

  • Sandra Hammett 17th Jul '18 - 4:33pm

    It would be funny if it wasn’t so sad. We had a chance (given how politics is so volatile) to impact Brexit in a quantifiable way and we screw it up. The optics are just terrible. We get media coverage and it’s not just bad it’s counter to our argument that Brexit is an extremely important decision and we, the Lib Dems, STRONGLY oppose it. What a mess.

  • David Evans 17th Jul '18 - 4:37pm

    It is part of the tradition in some areas of politics that a junior official takes the blame rather the senior person who caused the problem. However, that approach is both illiberal and wrong. It is totally wrong that Alistair should apologise for this, because quite simply, he should never have been asked by Vince or Tim for clearance to miss these votes.

    As a party we have had five years where our leader in coalition threw in all the cards so carefully earned for him by generations of Liberals over 50 years, and ultimately reduced us to 10% of what he had inherited. In five years we went from a party that actually could have a real impact in the House of Commons to a party that was of no consequence whatsoever. For the next two years we had a new leader who played the one card he was dealt – Remain – and used it to try to build a new future for our party. It worked just enough to win us a significant by election that made us a bit relevant again, and may have led to more if it hadn’t been snatched from him by Theresa May calling a new General Election. And whatever the problems with the General Election campaign, it enabled us to even gain a few extra MPs in 2017. We then have another year with another new leader who made Brexit out main focus, and despite some reservations about tactics, we were gradually being shown to be right in our position.

    Then both of them decided that it was more important for them to be somewhere else at a time when critical votes were being held.

    Whatever the reason, it is not acceptable to skive off even when it seems a vote cannot be won on a subject of such importance. Because the one thing that sport teaches you is that if two teams play each other and one believes it will win and the other believes it will lose – THEY WILL BOTH BE RIGHT.

    For us it was even worse because our captain and the captain before him didn’t even turn up.

    As Vince said in his leader’s speech in Southport

    “A modern, diverse party – winning again …
    Winning an Exit from Brexit.
    Protecting our public services.
    And giving young people the start, the voice and the hope they deserve.
    There’s no time to lose.
    Let’s get out there together and win.

    Vince, Tim, Indeed there is No Time to Lose. But because of what you decided to do – last night Liberal Democracy did.

  • I think lib Dem MPs – especially these ones – should be there for any brexit vote, regardless of expected success. It’s your core policy, what could be more important?

    I’m sure if ukip had MPs they would be there for brexit votes.

  • Fair enough.
    Cock up, Admission. Lesson learned. Apology. Move on.
    Hope this new humility is contagious.

  • Sean Hyland 17th Jul '18 - 5:07pm

    Ok the result wouldn’t have changed if they had voted but they have handed a stick to their opponents to beat them with. Easy now for opposition to say ” you can’t be that committed to your own cause of you can’t even bother to vote”. Even if Labour had abstained there was a chance to say that Lib Dem mps are still going to vote for their principles and what they believe is right for the country unlike Labour. Bit of a PR/ image bo-bo i think.

  • Steve Trevethan 17th Jul '18 - 5:32pm

    Sometimes Parliamentary votes are lost and sometimes they are won. Always they are manifestations of intent and deeds of public relations.
    The no-show of our two most senior MPs on a vote of importance to our Nation and crucial to our party and its central policy, was a serious PR error.
    Why did they not decide to attend such a headline vote for themselves?
    How can we prevent such happening again?

  • Barry Smith 17th Jul '18 - 5:37pm

    A shame, and a bit embarrassing, but this hardly undoes two years of effective campaigning against Brexit. Hopefully next time Labour wants to pull a stunt like this they will work with us, though I’m not optimistic.

  • Note to the leadership, your opponent’s will make enough sticks to beat you with, you don’t have to provide them for them. Stupidity writ large and I’d encourage those responsible to think in future “How will this looks”.

  • Is this an opportunity to practice what we preach in terms of liberal values, democracy and participation and somehow make it clear to the wider world that the party is not (just about) its leadership and that the majority of its membership continue to opposite Brexit in the strongest terms possible. If the party membership stand firm, I wonder whether it could limit how much flogging the other parties can get away with.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 17th Jul '18 - 6:11pm

    @PJ Quite. There are much bigger mistakes being made at the moment…

  • Peter Watson 17th Jul '18 - 6:18pm

    Everybody seems to have been given the same script that says “redoubling my efforts”.
    This just makes it all a bit more farcical.

  • I think it’s quite refreshing to know that a current and past party leader both have to ask a man who is essentially a junior MP to them for clearance to be absent from a vote. It’s also perfectly reasonable to assume that someone other than a party leader is the one actually working on the maths for a vote. This isn’t The Vince Cable show. I know Alistair a tiny bit and think he is neither a fool nor a “fall guy”.

  • I just hope those advocates of the laughably titled “progressive alliance” will finally acknowledge the Labour Party for the illiberal mendacious tribal collective it really is.

    But I’m not holding my breath.

  • Melissa Marshall 17th Jul '18 - 8:14pm

    The article needs correcting – the Leader of the House is Andrea Leadsom not Andrew.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 17th Jul '18 - 8:25pm

    These mps are dedicated workhorses, not placemen. We must allow for human frailities amongst even politicians!!!

  • A regrettable error, and there will be some unfortunate fall out , however if we really do learn and adapt this will be for the good. Our MPs are stretched, given their small number so we must do all we can to give them the space and support to operate efficiently and effectively. Are we thinking about how to use staff and supporters to help. Also, could we have Tim Farron back to lead the last phase of the Brexit battle. He will be very effective and hard hitting.

  • David Becket 17th Jul '18 - 10:28pm

    I am now aware that grass root members of this party are most unhappy with our leadership.

    It is not good enough, we would not have seen failures in leadership like this from Paddy or Charles, and for many of us, disappointed at our static position in the polls, it calls into question the way this party is being led. It is not the only time we have failed in the House at critical moments.

  • Just in case anyone asks why Jo Swinson didn’t vote

    Jo Swinson
    ‏Verified account @joswinson
    3h3 hours ago

    Just how low will your govt stoop @theresa_may? When @andrealeadsom delayed proxy voting motions, she *assured* those of us who were pregnant that we would be paired when necessary. Today your govt broke that agreement – @BrandonLewis paired with me but voted. Desperate stuff.

  • frankie 17th Jul ’18 – 10:56pm……………………Just in case anyone asks why Jo Swinson didn’t vote………….
    Jo Swinson
    ‏Verified account @joswinson
    3h3 hours ago
    Just how low will your govt stoop @theresa_may? When @andrealeadsom delayed proxy voting motions, she *assured* those of us who were pregnant that we would be paired when necessary. Today your govt broke that agreement – @BrandonLewis paired with me but voted. Desperate stuff………………………………….

    If this is true, and I’d far rather trust Swinson than May, then this government has shown how little regard it has for honesty, integrity and parliamentary convention..

    However, what it also shows is that Vince and Tim’s absence was even more woeful.

  • In last night’s Council Meeting in Bradford our attempts to speak were regularly quashed by a Labour/Tory procedural alliance, even ignoring bits of the Constitution. Always remember what is within your own control and what isn’t!

  • Mike Falchikov 18th Jul '18 - 1:19pm

    Anyway, the way they vote at Westminster is so silly – traipsing through lobbies. A stupid “tradition” that should be replaced by electronic voting, as in the Scottish Parliament. That way it might be possible for someone to record a vote through an app. of
    some kind when not actually in the House, given that most MPs know how they’re going to vote anyway.

  • Denis Loretto 18th Jul '18 - 2:17pm

    This was undoubtedly a cock-up and I think the lesson is that no prior calculations should be made about the likely outcome of votes on brexit motions. As the clear leaders in the anti-brexit campaign not only should all our members be present for the vote but also more of them should contribute to the debates on such motions.

    Having said that, the disgraceful behaviour of the Tory Chairman – no less – in breaking the pairing arrangement with Jo Swinson on the following evening has probably overtaken the Lib Dem error in publicity terms.

  • Peter Watson 18th Jul '18 - 4:02pm

    @Denis Loretto “the disgraceful behaviour of the Tory Chairman – no less – in breaking the pairing arrangement with Jo Swinson on the following evening has probably overtaken the Lib Dem error in publicity terms.”
    Or at least it would have done if it had affected the result, but losing by three votes instead of one prevented that.

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