Who Needs a Referendum Most?

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Sometimes it’s difficult to detect when the wind has changed. Now may be one of those times.

For nearly three years we’ve been pushing for a referendum. We all know why. It was our only chance to get what we really want, remaining a full member of the EU.

Consider, though, where we are now. The Tory/Labour talks are going nowhere. Theresa May keeps threatening to put binding options before the House of Commons and accept the result, but her party probably won’t let her do that, and the House is unlikely to pass the procedural motion to allow those votes to happen.

Soft Brexit is going out of fashion. Nobody really wants it, and both sides agree it would be crazy to obey all the EU rules without having a vote or a say.

We are now close to the point where only two options remain on the table. We either crash out or remain.

It’s not impossible, but highly unlikely, that any UK decision will be made by the new end of October deadline. At that point, will the EU just let the UK have more time? I think that’s unlikely. Macron put down his marker last time and in October is likely to insist on getting his way.

That will leave Parliament with a straight choice of crashing out or Revoking Article 50. Even the pessimists among us must conclude that the available evidence strongly suggests it would vote to Revoke.

Therefore, we are more likely to get what we want without a referendum than the hard Brexiters are to get what they want without a referendum. But we’re still pushing for it with all we have, while the hard Brexiters can’t see that a referendum is their only chance of getting what they want.

In my view, it’s time to start shifting our focus. I’m not suggesting we drop the demand for a referendum, only that we begin to shift focus to what we really want by making the case for EU membership. The European Elections give us a great opportunity to do just that.

Whether we stay in the EU through a referendum or by revocation, we need to be putting the positive case for EU membership. Through the efforts of the Liberal Democrats, the Peoples’ Vote and others, we now have what we’ve never had before, a mass pro-European movement. We need to keep that thriving.

For us, a referendum was a means of achieving what we want. It was not the end itself. The hard Brexiters may eventually see the reality of their position and start supporting a referendum. If they do, we should graciously agree. If they don’t, they have a lot more to lose than we do.

* Chris Leeds is a member of Bromley Liberal Democrats

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  • Nigel Jones 26th Apr '19 - 7:22pm

    How can you say that in October MPs would vote to revoke Article 50 ? That surely depends on the success of your other point about putting the case to the public for us to remain in the EU. Much will depend on what MPs find in their constituencies.
    Some of us have been saying these past several months that our party should be putting the case for the EU and not just focus on a referendum. We must take this belated opportunity to argue in favour of remain, in spite of the need for change in the EU and change in our own political system.

  • John Chandler 26th Apr '19 - 8:07pm

    We should definitely be putting across the positive case for the EU. I would go so far as to say that more people are aware of what the EU does now than, say, in 2016 – but there are still a lot of lies and misinformation circulating. There is still a lot to do.

    All we need is some way to show that the UK is a major power in the EU, and that the EU is a democratic institution involving countries and political groups working collectively. Wouldn’t you know it, but we appear to have an EU election coming up! The perfect time to showcase the work our (non-UKIP) MEPs do, such as Catherine Bearder’s role in environmental policy, the UK’s pivotal role in Europe, and how parties like the Lib Dems work cross-country and cross-party through groupings like the ALDE.

  • Reginald Langman 26th Apr '19 - 8:16pm

    A good assessment…..but why are your comments so difficult to follow on Facebook. You make a statement, make the same statement sometimes shortened and direct the reader to “see more” . My guess is that many simply go to the next contributor.
    Why not crisp it up and not use the see more direction every time?

  • The coming European elections are likely have a huge influence on events.
    I have to admit that I have listened to Mr Farage a number of times on television. He is clear, articulate and has a simple message.
    Then we have a bewildering range of opinions from different parties. I struggle to make sense of what it is all about.
    The aim of Farage now is to change politics in our country.
    Where is the person who can be equally clear, articulate and give a simple message on the need to stay in the EU? Since the EU has been a success story for the U.K. where is the leadership we need?
    I voted the last two times that I had the chance in referendums for the U.K. to be a member of our European Union, and have not changed my opinion.
    I only wish there was a real campaign focussing on the real EU.

  • Peter Watson 26th Apr '19 - 10:07pm

    “For nearly three years we’ve been pushing for a referendum. We all know why. It was our only chance to get what we really want, remaining a full member of the EU.”
    Strangely, although that is obviously the case, in those three years this is perhaps the first time I’ve seen it admitted explicitly, and in his car crash pre-election interview with Andrew Neill in 2017, Tim Farron seemed to be doing his utmost to avoid saying it!

  • Ethics gradient 27th Apr '19 - 12:15am

    If, as seems likely Nigel Farage and his brexit party produce a huge win in the coming European elections fueled by the anger of a public wondering why we have not left yet.

    Then how could the current MP’s vote to revoke article 50? You might not want to hear this but all those leave voters have not changed their mind and would not be worried about leaving with no deal.

    Revoking article 50 would be seen clear attack on the basis of democracy.

    Even just having to hold European elections has convinced many that democracy is dead and their vote to leave has been ignored.

    Goodness me, the anger from a revocation would be many magnitudes higher. democracy and representation would be considered to possibly not exist in the UK anymore.

  • Could it be that ardent EU supporters suspect they face disappointment in the EU elections and that this will scupper calls for a people’s vote by proving that the supposed shift towards remain is not real ? All I would say is that in general elections people can undo anything parliament decides by voting. Revoking article 50 would have political consequences that would probably backfire.

  • Andrew McCaig 27th Apr '19 - 7:50am

    I agree with thoss who say revoke would be very risky, although “revoke in order to have a referendum” would be more acceptable if Theresa deliberately steers for the cliff edge yet again.
    The polls show there is now a majority for Remain. That battle is being won, despite the sound and fury from the strong Brexiteers. Labour members overwhelmingly want a People’s Vote but the leadership do not. The latest Yougov poll suggests the Tiggers are not getting traction. Our campaign needs to focus on “Show Labour you want a People’s Vote: vote Lib Dem”. This is the only thing that will make Corbyn change his mind. And we need to make the case that another referendum is perfectly democratic. By all means make a positive case for the EU, but we need to keep our eyes on the ball for the next 4 weeks and that is not it..

    The most important days of the EU campaign are those leading up to the postal votes being delivered. Just like in local elections close to half the votes cast will be postal votes. I am about to spend yet another weekend delivering local election letters, but this time next week will need to be active euro campaigning

  • William Fowler 27th Apr '19 - 8:06am

    Making a case for the EU may not be enough, the EU needs to come up with an improved offer on what they gave Cameron… and the most effective one would be a five year residence test before any access to social housing, benefits, tax credits etc – that would take the sting out of FOM for many of the people who voted leave. Whilst there would still be many hardcore Brexiteers they would be in the minority.

  • Chris Leeds 27th Apr '19 - 8:13am

    Thanks for the comments.

    Revoke would only happen when the alternative was crashing out. The House of Commons and many in the Cabinet recognise that crashing out would be a disaster. I agree that we should offer Revoke and Referendum at that point, but if others don’t want a Referendum so-be-it.

    I don’t believe we should buy into the “Brexit Party wins European Elections ” narrative. Around three-quarters of those voting are likely to have voted against them and most of that three-quarters are likely to have voted for explicitly Remain or anti crashing out parties. That would be no mandate for crashing out.

  • Chris
    Will 3/4s of the vote really go for explicitly Remain parties? You don’t think any will vote Conservative or for a Labour party that is not explicitly remain at all. I do not see the Greens, Change UK, Lib Dems and SNP getting anywhere close to 3/4s of the vote. I’m pretty sure the Remain spin afterwards will be that labour voters and tory voters were really voting for remain, rather than just being party loyalists.

  • Glenn
    No I don’t think 3/4 will vote for explicitly remain parties. The Labour Party isn’t one, but it is an anti crashing out party. That will matter if it gets to the point where crashing out or revoking are the only options left, and there’s a high chance that’s exactly where we’ll be at the end of October.

  • Meanwhile new EU polling showed 45 per cent of Brits would vote to remain in the UK in a second referendum, compared to 37 per cent who would want to leave.

    But 24% may vote for my new party the Brexit party cries Glen, well let them Glen. The majority have seen the damage leaving will do, the fact a minority still believe in “back to the future” a strange fantasy Lexit or “back to my my little village, a village for local people” is sad but not alas unexpected.

  • So Chris
    If a remain party was polling at 27% you would say that 3/4 of the vote were against them!

  • Young Francis
    48% voted remain first time and the polling before the referendum gave Remain a comfortable win. Further more lots of leave voters tend to be shy of telling pollster, nearly all commissioned by groups like open Britain, how they vote when faced with people calling them various shades of nasty. There were a lot of shy Leave voters last time.
    Personally, I think that a poor showing in the EU elections, if there is one, will kill a second referendum stone dead.

  • I refer to my article on Lib Dem Voice “Financialization – the reason why the vote was for Brexit” in July 2016.
    I don’t believe that voters will change their minds until London politicians finally admit that they have failed to manage the economy correctly over the last 40 years.

  • Richard Underhill 27th Apr '19 - 2:30pm

    frankie 27th Apr ’19 – 12:47pm
    “Meanwhile new EU polling showed 45 per cent of Brits would vote to remain in the UK”
    Or emigrate?

  • Dilettante Eye 27th Apr '19 - 6:12pm

    The EU election is your 2nd referendum.

    And under a PR system of voting, it will be a clear reflection of how much, or if, will of the people 2016 has moved to will of the people 2019.

  • William Fowler 28th Apr '19 - 7:49am

    Corbyn was supposed to be about new politics but he is just as evasive as you would normally expect from politicians, Tuesday, Labour has a big meeting to decide on their stance. At least Sir Vince had some decent airtime at the LibDem euro launch flanked by a large banner saying Stop Brexit, can’t get much clearer than that. Good local elections might give some momentum for the MEP elections, all depends what Labour put on their manifesto – if they are clear that they support a second vote then might end up with a repeat of 2017 when most of the support for the left-wing went Labour’s way.

  • A referéndum should be a very last resort; an exit route from Parliamentary deadlock.

    It’s up to politicians to compromise and find a way through that minimizes Brexit damage.

  • Frankie
    I am a Lib Dem voter. The Brexit Party is not my new party. I will not be voting for them or anyone else in any European parliamentary elections. I ‘ve told you this before.

  • Peter Martin 28th Apr '19 - 1:15pm

    @ Chris Leeds,

    I can understand your preference for the perjorative term “crashing out” rather than, for example, a more neutral ‘trading under WTO terms’ but maybe you’ve overused it?

    Aren’t there any other options?

  • @Peter – If we leave without a deal, we do “crash out”, yes WTO terms may apply – just not the terms that Brexiteers like to go on about… The only way to smoothly go from being an EU member under EU WTO rules to being under UK WTO rules is with a withdrawal agreement and a period of transition.

    >Aren’t there any other options?
    Yes, its called Revoke Article 50 and actually use our membership to work to create an EU more to our liking, however that, as Mogg et al are discovering, will involve holding substantive negotiations with those of a differing persuasion…

  • Dilettante Eye 28th Apr '19 - 1:50pm


    “How will you be counting Labour votes?”

    On one hand I guess.

    Polls have a margin of error, but if the latest You Gov poll is anything to go by then the Brexit Party at 28%, is better than a Green, CHUK, and Lib Dem potential votes combined.
    That is your answer to the Will of the People right there? People want to leave the EU.
    They (17.4 to 16.1 million), told you that in 2016, and it’s time Westminster listened, instead of plotting to sabotage Brexit.

  • David Evans 28th Apr '19 - 2:38pm

    Dilettante Eye – the problem isn’t sabotaging Brexit, leaving the EU is easy. The difficult bit is what do you do the second after you have left. Thankfully almost all politicians, do have a concern about what that second, unlike many Brexiteers. And it is so difficult and complex that there are at least 6 different options none of which give you any degree of certainty.

    You should be thankful there are politicians out there who are prepared to do some really hard thinking for you.

  • Innocent Bystander 28th Apr '19 - 2:45pm

    “You should be thankful there are politicians out there who are prepared to do some really hard thinking for you.”

    Quite so. The lower orders should leave democracy to those who are obviously more intelligent.

  • Dilettante Eye 28th Apr '19 - 3:34pm

    David Evans
    I’m far more appreciative of politicians who realise that they are servants to their constituency, and do what they promised they would.

  • It’s a question of means and ends. To some a confirmatory referendum is an end in itself. To others it a means so if there is a clearer means we should take it. Then there is the uncertainty to both. We should focus on remaining in the EU though realise that to help unite the country and improve our democracy we will need a confirmatory referendum at some stage as long as the process builds on the 2016 one.

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