Why revoke!

Revoke and put a stop to itIn an ideal world a referendum result would be annulled by a subsequent referendum, the symmetry is undeniable. This is why it has been and is Liberal Democrat policy to support a referendum in which the electorate can choose between a realistic Brexit agreement and revoking Article 50 to remain in the EU. Unfortunately. there is little chance this can happen for the simple reason that there is no Brexit agreement that Brexiters agree upon, nor anything they are likely to agree upon. Nonetheless if Johnson and his inner circle settle on a particular Brexit, it should be put to the electorate.

Three years on from the referendum Brexiters have manifestly failed to find a plan to implement the result. Instead Brexiters have boxed themselves in.  Mrs May. seemingly ignorant of the difference between the Court of Justice of the EU and the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, and with a nasty, obsessive fixation about immigrants, issued senseless red lines and quickly sunk herself into a hole. She vainly endeavoured to pander to the most fanatical Europhobes for whom she, nor anyone else, could ever be anti-EU enough.

This failure was unsurprising, the surprise is that anyone might have thought it possible to find agreement between Brexiters who dreamt of an unregulated global free market and Brexiters who dreamt of closed borders and protectionist policies.

May threw away a Conservative majority and Johnson’s purge of the moderates has rendered his putsch incapable of governing. An election beckons, but that too is in the hands of the opposition. 

We are preparing for an election; Party policy is to revoke Article 50, it is not hard to see why. A blind commitment to a new referendum would not pass scrutiny, it would be untenable. A referendum requires a choice, but there is no realistic option that Brexiters would accept; we certainly could not offer a fantasy, impossible to implement Brexit. We could offer a pointless Brexit in name only, but this would also be to offer a pointless referendum, almost as pointless to anti-Brexiters as it would be to Brexiters. We would merely proffer Brexiters the luxury of finding agreement in their denunciation of the Brexit on offer.

Worse, a commitment to a referendum would undermine our message; by dragging debate into arguments about the procedures and status of a referendum, it would play into the hands of Brexiters by detracting from the central issues of Brexit. Journalists who just love to tie us up in knots, would continually ask questions that have no adequate answers, diminishing our standing and distinctive focus in the public eye.

A revoke policy is honest and direct; it attracts attention to the key issues.  Were a political earthquake be sufficiently seismic to return a Liberal Democrat government, would anyone seriously suggest that such a government would lack a mandate? I think not.

In the event of a new coalition, one with a strong Liberal Democrat component, or a confidence and supply arrangement with another party (Labour?), we would of course support a referendum proposed by another party, but the onus would be on that party to frame the question, perhaps renegotiate and advocate the referendum. We would campaign whole heartedly to put an end to Brexit.

* Martin Bennett first campaigned in Cheltenham in 1974, was the Bermondsey Party press officer from 1981-3 but is presently resident in Luxembourg. He is Deputy Chair of Liberal Democrats Luxembourg.

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51 Comments

  • Today’s news suggests a possibility, maybe even a likelihood, of a deal the Brexiteers will agree on.

    Let’s see how it plays out, but what if it happens? Are there enough votes in the HoC to attach a confirmatory referendum to that deal, with the options being Johnson”s deal or remain?

    To get that majority, the Labour Party would have to be on side. Even then it would be close.

  • nigel hunter 11th Oct '19 - 2:04pm

    The polls for a few years have shown a stay in the EU. Yet Johnson and Brexiteers get ALL the publicity and the journo’s drool over them as if ‘the will of the people’ has not changed. The referendum result of 2016 has moved on Revoke A50 should now be widely published wherever possible.

  • Katharine Pindar 11th Oct '19 - 3:21pm

    I have rarely read an LDV article with which I am so utterly in disagreement. Martin, we are not actually at the mercy of Brexiteers, scrabbling about to pacify them! ” A revoke policy is honest.” Pardon? I have done my best to explain the new policy in a comment on my own thread, but “honesty” is the last quality I would put forward as explanation for our sidelining of our agreed policy of three years and commitment to a People’s Vote. And you write, “A blind commitment to a new referendum would not pass scrutiny…” Whose scrutiny, the Brexiteers’? I’m interested in the views of the general public, who it seems are more and more inclined to favour Remain, but lack a means of voting for it unless there is another referendum. Neither was there any “blind commitment”, just a policy seriously argued for and passed in Conference after Conference. Nor is there any genuine difficulty in working out the options for a vote, since the deliberations have become so detailed: a deal keeping the whole country in the customs union and the single market, vs. just remain, would seem likely options, but we shall see what is Johnson’s latest wheeze shortly.

    The Brexiteers are reeling, what they would lead us to increasingly plainly harmful for the country. Boris Johnson is in a hole, his proposed stance of People vs Parliament the risible notion of a man who does not understand the people of Britain, himself a danger to his own party which he has come close to shattering. This is the time for our own party to recognise our strength and stay cool, better prepared as we are than any of the others in this epic struggle.

  • Roger Billins 11th Oct '19 - 4:19pm

    I now believe it highly likely that Johnson will get a deal with the EU which with the support of Labour Brexiteers he will get through. At the following general election he will, according to You Gov today, obtain a majority in excess of 100. I hope the powers that be in our party are preparing for politics in a post Brexit world and putting forward a distinct Liberal message for a climate changed world.

  • Martin,
    Katharine is quite correct. This op-ed is a display of linguistic gymnastics and contortions which would make Olga Korbut gasp in admiration.
    Can you really not see that
    ” is Liberal Democrat policy to support a referendum ”
    and
    ” A blind commitment to a new referendum would not pass scrutiny,”
    only two paragraphs apart, in the same piece, betrays a very unjustified belief in your own eloquence?
    A policy of second referendum is fine, a policy of revoke without a referendum is also fine.
    A policy a both, simultaneously, is frankly bizarre.
    I predict that this will delight, and harden, support the party has in its 100% Remain base. But it had that already. It may well appear extremist to those nearer to the centre.

  • As usual, Katharine talks common sense, something the party has not overindulged in over the last nine years.

  • Martin,
    Then please stop calling for a referendum.

  • nigel hunter 11th Oct '19 - 6:10pm

    The Govnts ‘prepare for Brexit’ publicity! This informs people of what people/companies need to do to deal with its demands. The reverse way of looking at the info indicates what people will loose from Brexit. I would like to think that people are intelligent enough to realise the situation and with the party pointing this out Revoke A50 can receive further support.

  • Mick Taylor 11th Oct '19 - 6:46pm

    I did not support a referendum in 2016 and I don’t support one now.
    Political decisions in our democracy are made by Parliament not referenda. Our current parliament has spent over 2 years NOT making any decisions about Brexit. It ought to now lay the groundwork for ensuring ‘no deal’ is off the table and then having a General Election.
    If, and let’s face it it is a big if, our party, campaigning on a revoke manifesto, gets a majority then everyone would expect us to implement it. It would be nonsense not to do so. If, more likely, we have a solid block of LD MPs then no doubt we would attempt to persuade parliament to offer a referendum, perhaps in return for some kind of confidence and supply agreement.
    I disagree profoundly with my friend Katherine. Time has moved on and revoke is absolutely the correct policy

  • Dilettante Eye 11th Oct '19 - 8:26pm

    Mick Taylor
    “I did not support a referendum in 2016 and I don’t support one now.”

    “If, more likely, we have a solid block of LD MPs then no doubt we would attempt to persuade parliament to offer a referendum,..”

    So you support the idea of Lib Dems offering a referendum, which you’ve also declared that you don’t support? What’s it called when a person holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values.?

  • Alex Macfie 12th Oct '19 - 6:53am

    Roger Billins: Do you mean the YouGov/The Times poll conducted on 8–9 Oct?
    Con 35% Lab 22% LD 20% Green 4%
    Where does the 100+ majority figure come from? I don’t think a poll of 1,016 people can tell you that. That’s less than 2 per constituency. Uniform national swing is dead.

  • Alex Macfie 12th Oct '19 - 6:55am

    Sorry, actually 1,616, but the principle stands, it’s still <3 voters per constituency.

  • Peter Martin 12th Oct '19 - 8:42am

    ” We could offer a pointless Brexit in name only, but this would also be to offer a pointless referendum, almost as pointless to anti-Brexiters as it would be to Brexiters. We would merely proffer Brexiters the luxury of finding agreement in their denunciation of the Brexit on offer.”

    As a ” Brexiteer” or “Lexiteer” I have to say this is spot-on. If the referendum were to be a choice between Remain vs defacto Remain then I wouldn’t vote. I suspect that others would feel the same way and there would be a organised boycott of the poll.

    It wouldn’t solve anything. As you say, it would be a totally pointless exercise and waste of taxpayers’ money. Or a waste of the National resources in MMT terms!

  • Richard Underhill. 12th Oct '19 - 9:06am

    “Within six days of the 2016 referendum 4.1 million electors had signed a petition rejecting it and calling for a second vote. For the party the error was … immediate acceptance of the referendum result without any examination of its flawed processes.”
    A decision of this importance should have been put to federal conference.

  • People tend to be paniced into making bad decsions. I’d use the coalition process as a classic example of that, the press upped the pressure stating we are all doomed, we can’t exist without a government NOW and Clegg and Co throw principles to the wind as they got bounced into government. We can see the same process now, “We need a Brexit, or the country is doomed” cry the right wing press, the idiots and the scared will sign up to anything to get it. Principles out of the window, “friends” thrown under a bus no stupidity is out of bounds. Of cause the muttering of regret will start soon after, “If only we had know” and ” We have been betrayed” but the only statement that will hold any weight is ” It wasn’t me”.

  • Denis Loretto 12th Oct '19 - 9:28am

    While the debate in this thread continues I am anxious about turnout for the now more important than ever march in London next Saturday. Revoke only comes into the picture in the unlikely event of a general election returning a Lib Dem majority. Unless and until that happens a people’s vote must be our aim. Any attempt to boost “revoke” by arguing against the people’s vote is highly dangerous. It is clear that if the turnout on Saturday is not overwhelmingly large that will be deemed a victory for the brexiteers. I want our leadership to publicly encourage maximum support for this march.

  • ” 4.1 million ”
    That just leaves 63 million who didn’t.
    For all the reasons Martin articulates, a re-run of the referendum would be even more divisive and impractical than the original. It’s just taken three years of arguing the opposite to reach that point. As one of those of who realised that 2 years and 364 days ago I believe that revoke without a second one is now a clear, honest and fair position to adopt.
    But the
    “We demand the government hold a second referendum because that is the true democratic way out (p.s. unless we are the government when it isn’t)”.
    is as inexplicable as Creationism.
    How clever and cunning do you think you are? Do you think this word salad has a beneficial effect on any, apart from those who were devout, 100% remain, anyway?

  • Jayne Mansfield 12th Oct '19 - 10:25am

    @ Martin,

    It may be that Boris Johnson will serve up a rehashed, modified Theresa May deal. If so, I do not share your confidence that it will not pass through parliament. The DUP and ERG have now got a Prime Minister they can rally behind. Many of the Conservative ‘rebels’ supported Mrs May’s deal.

    One can hope that what we are reading in the newspapers is mostly PR , but I feel the time has come to face the possibility that a Johnson deal may be accepted. Do the Liberal Democrats have a plan for this eventuality if a possibility becomes a probability and then a reality?

  • Sadly it looks as if the Conservative party will do as they always do and get together and support Johnson’s false deal as they fear that they might at long last lose the power that money and privilege has given them for most of my life. It makes me so sad that the chance to break this undemocratic two party system has slipped through our hands once again, I am tempted to say the country gets what it deserves but that might be a bit synical.?? How can our country support a man like Boris Johnson?? I do hope I am wrong

  • There’s a lot to be said for the need for a referendum to overturn a referendum. But having a referendum on something that was not legislation or at the very least had the basic tenet of legislation is asking for chaos as to what it actually meant! I believe that if a subject is to be handed over to an exercise in direct democracy then it needs to be in its entirety including the questions to be voted on. Anything less is just manipulation by one side or other!

    Only a properly constituted Citizens’ Assembly can hear factual evidence and impact statements to legitimise the questions in a non-tribal manner and, I would say, establish the pros & cons “prospectus” behind those questions too. The Liberal Democrats should not accept another flawed referendum process! Three years on it will be harder to establish that Assembly on this subject but we do still have jury system for law so we shouldn’t give up on the concept!

    Cameron & co wanted to use the 2016 Referendum to sort out a party feud and expectant that if Leave was so amorphous it could be attacked from all angles. Sadly it also meant all things to all people hence why Leave could mean both Socialist paradise and rose-tinted Victoriana for hard left and right respectively!

  • Roger Billins 12th Oct '19 - 11:31am

    It is interesting that only Jayne has picked up my point. The noise about revoke or referendum looks to be irrelevant because there is now serious momentum towards a deal being done with the EU and approved by parliament by 31.10. 19. Corbyn has then committed us to an election in which Johnson will be anointed as the deliverer of Brexit with the largest Tory majority since 1983. What then ? I repeat, I hope the Party has a Plan B beyond Rejoin !

  • “How will you persuade Brexiters that a referendum between revoke/remain and a Brexit In Name Only is an acceptable referendum choice?”

    If we are to have a second referendum to choose between “Remain” and “Brexit”, then the “Brexit” option must be something that can certainly be delivered. Allowing “Leave” to represent a myriad of alternative conflicting proposals, most of them fantastical, was what was done wrong in 2016. It follows that the only Leave options which can be considered would be: (a) a deal with the EU which the EU have signed up to, so that – unlike, for example, the so-called “Chequers deal” – it can actually be delivered if the nation votes for it; and (b) a decision to leave without making a deal.

    Currently, the only available option (a) is May’s Deal. However, it may be that Johnson will reach agreement with the EU on an alternative deal. That, we should insist, must be a finalised deal that has been endorsed by the EU, not simply a preliminary agreement in principle. So an extension will almost certainly be needed. However, if that is pursued and a deal eventually struck, then I think we should concede that the latest agreement would supersede that made earlier. If there is no Johnson deal, then the relevant option (a) should revert to the May deal.

    What about option (b)? My suggestion there is that People’s Vote supporters should offer a major concession (if perhaps a rather barbed one) to the Prime Minister of the day. We should agree that the PM, who will have to implement any decision to Leave, should therefore be granted the choice as to which of the two options should be on the ballot paper. The PM can, if he so wishes, ask for No Deal to be the option that is put to the voters, rather than the most recent agreed deal with the EU. Whichever choice he makes, he will need to explain during the campaign how he would propose to implement it.

    “How will you persuade Brexiters that a referendum …is acceptable?” Oh, that’s simple. It’s like asking this week’s designated lottery winner if a re-draw would be acceptable. Of course they’ll say No. They’ll say No, irrespective of whether there might be a totally valid case or a totally invalid case for making a redraw. It follows that the views of a designated lottery winner in such circumstances should carry no weight. The same applies to Brexit partisans.

  • Of cause we have a plan Roger, we will campaign against the cuts and privatisation of the NHS. We will express regret as the Liberal Democrat Triple Lock is binned, we will react with horror as the NHS is dismantled, the poltical amongst us will even deliver kind words to the shell shocked Brexi’s and Lexi’s. I imagine they will say ” You where not to know, you are not to blame”, personally I won’t be joining that chorus.

  • Peter Martin 12th Oct '19 - 12:10pm

    @ David Allen,

    You guys never tire of thinking up the most dubious of analogies! Like:

    “It’s like asking this week’s designated lottery winner if a re-draw would be acceptable. Of course they’ll say No.”

    True. But the losers, unlike Remainers, would also say no too. They don’t want to waste their time and money on a lottery that isn’t going to pay out. Everyone knows that results have to be respected.

  • Denis Loretto 12th Oct '19 - 12:23pm

    If a deal is agreed by the EU and by parliament (without conceding a confirmatory referendum) we will leave the EU. However this will be a withdrawal agreement only. There will still be very much for Lib Dems to do in campaigning for the closest possible relationship with the EU – essential to protect industry and employment. This, combined with our range of attractive policies aside from the European issue, must form our manifesto.

    have a general election after a deal has

  • Denis Loretto 12th Oct '19 - 12:25pm

    Sorry for the redundant words I failed to delete above!

  • William Fowler 12th Oct '19 - 12:52pm

    Reading between the lines – though I am often wrong – I suspect that the deal that is agreed will have as part of its structure an agreement on a super-FTA that allows minimal customs in NI, therefore making a closer arrangement impossible as it will already have been signed off – if it gets through parliament. This will put the UK in a much more positive bargaining position during the interim period. Unfortunately, Boris has already covered most of Labour’s attack point with increased spending on the NHS etc, so not much room there, either – by the time it all turns out to be lies Boris will be back in Downing Street, probably with what will be regarded as a frightening majority. The upside is that Labour may end up as the third party and the LibDems as the major opposition.

  • David Allen 12th Oct '19 - 1:03pm

    “The noise about revoke or referendum looks to be irrelevant because there is now serious momentum towards a deal being done with the EU and approved by parliament by 31.10. 19.”

    Hold those horses! Johnson’s positive brinkmanship and bounce tactics now aren’t a lot better than the negative brinkmanship and bounce tactics he employed up until a few days ago. Who does he think he can bounce into a hasty agreement? Barnier didn’t get where he is now by being naive and gullible, nor did Arlene Foster.

    “Corbyn has then committed us to an election in which Johnson will be anointed as the deliverer of Brexit with the largest Tory majority since 1983.”

    Corbyn is being remarkably obtuse. Just about all his colleagues can see that a referendum before any election is much the better option from Labour’s point of view. With an election first, Labour will get hammered. With a referendum first, Labour will instead probably gain a fair amount of the credit for helping get Brexit cancelled. But – if (mind you, my bet is strongly against) Johnson can get a deal agreed by both Parliament and the EU before October 31st, then even Corbyn will surely recognise that the time for a VONC will have passed.

    Indeed, the smart thing to do in such circumstances would be to refuse the election, let Johnson carry on until 2022, and make sure he took the blame for his (bad) Brexit.

  • Barry Lofty 12th Oct '19 - 2:02pm

    @David Allen
    Exactly! Just do not give him what he and his entourage crave, an early election!!

  • Labour will not get hammered in an election. This is because they are not fixated on single issue politics and because they have a large electoral base. The same thing was being predicted with the same arguments in 2017. I suspect, a Johnson deal would help Labour because it would effectively kill the issue for most middle ground voters, whilst leaving enough disgruntled Conservatives to damage their vote.

  • Mick Taylor 12th Oct '19 - 3:50pm

    The fact that the party would supported a third EU referendum doesn’t mean I support it. I am not and never gave been a supporter of referenda and have spoken against them both on EU referenda and other referenda as well.
    So no hypocrisy or double think here

  • O Glen hope springs eternal, Brexit won’t end the debate it merely moves it into the next phase. As bad things happen you’ll continually be on the back foot trying to rationalise and explain why bad things are happening. The cry of it ” Tis nothing to do with Brexit” will ring from your and fellows for decades to come. As to Labour hopelessly split they are and hopelessly split they will remain, yesterday’s party for yesterday’s man; perhaps you should join them.

  • Paul Barker 12th Oct '19 - 5:20pm

    At the start of The 2017 Campaign Labour were 16% ahead of The Libdems, the current average gap is just 3% & has been falling in recent Weeks. In 2017 it was easy for everyone to spin The Election as a two horse race while Tory attacks on Corbyn felt overdone & implausable.
    This time it will be much harder to dismiss The Libdem challenge while Corbyn is no longer New & unknown.

  • Frankie
    Annoy someone else. I will not respond to idiots who use nasty anti-Semitic tropes(everybody’s friend, a bit exotic and so on) in personal attacks.

  • Alex Macfie 12th Oct '19 - 6:05pm

    Roger Billins: You make a lot of assumptions. A deal being passed would NOT mean the end of Brexit as an issue. It would just be the beginning, as all the talk would move onto the UK’s future relationship with the EU.
    Current opinion polls would not necessarily translate to a 1983-style Tory landslide, even if it was sustained through an election campaign (not a certainty — remember 2017?). You assume uniform national swing, which is emphatically not what is going to happen. The Lib Dems are attacking the Tories in traditionally safe Tory but remain-leaning seats. The Tories will need to win over a lot of Lexiteer voters in traditional Labour seats to counter this and have any hope of winning an overall majority.

  • Alex Macfie 12th Oct '19 - 6:13pm

    I think it’s completely inappropriate to compare a vote to a lottery. In a vote, the voter’s choice is PART of the result, whereas the result of a lottery is completely separate from each player’s choice. But if we must debase voting by comparing it to playing the lottery, the appropriate comparison for running a vote again is playing the lottery again next week.

  • Neil Sandison 13th Oct '19 - 12:04pm

    A general election dominated by Brexit is corrosive and will just entrench negative messages like” just get it done “. which is how the Brexiteers won last time with ” taking back control”. We need to push for a peoples vote on the 2 options Boris Johnsons package or remain with the good deal we already have . It should not be mixed up with a general election.

  • David Evershed 13th Oct '19 - 5:49pm

    Since we have already had a referendum which voted Leave, any further referendum should be between the Leave options.

  • Err David no. Remember

    When the facts change, I change my mind; What do you do?

    It would appear no matter how many hard facts arrive you are incapable of change.
    In future by the way could you when referring to “Brexit”, please specify whether you mean
    1. 2016 Brexit (sunlit uplands/easiest deal),
    2. 2017 Brexit (not a single job lost),
    3.2018 Brexit (there may be some short-term pain)
    4.2019 Brexit (body bags, medicine/food shortages, bye bye NI)
    5. A long ago Brexit for my little village for people like me

    (from an original idea by
    Anti-Brexit Alien
    ‏ @LennieMerrick1)

  • Jayne Mansfield 13th Oct '19 - 10:34pm

    @ David Evershed,

    I disagree.

    I am a recent convert to the idea of another referendum. I believe that parliament and our elected representatives should have reached an agreed position on Brexit. However, supporting remain or leave has become a matter of individual conscience for them, and they are clearly divided because the country is divided on the issue.

    My own view is that leave should be on any ballot paper. Those who are still firm in their view should be able to register that fact. However, those who have changed their mind since the 2016 referendum should also be able to register that fact.

    Our elected MPs really need to know what the current view of the public is in a direct way, rather than relying on polls or the biased reporting of some journalists.

    The 2016 referendum demonstrated that the electorate when offered, can become politically engaged, passionately so. But after three years and a deal crafted by Mrs May the electorate now has more information on which to make an informed choice.

    If the questions on any referendum offers a fair choice to all, it is in the best interests of all, including those who want to leave as well as those who want a deal or want to remain , that their view is shown to be the prevailing democratic one.

    It is not the behaviour of the remain side that has led to this drawn out process, now necessitating in my opinion, another referendum, it is the fact that the politicians who led the leave campaign, have shown themselves incapable of fulfilling the promises and obligations they made in 2016.

  • Nonconformistradical 14th Oct '19 - 8:22am

    @Jayne Mansfield
    “It is not the behaviour of the remain side that has led to this drawn out process, now necessitating in my opinion, another referendum, it is the fact that the politicians who led the leave campaign, have shown themselves incapable of fulfilling the promises and obligations they made in 2016.”

    Promises made without even a hint of a plan.

    Which makes any such promises meaningless.

    There are variations on the theme of proper planning preventing poor performance – see https://simmymart.blogspot.com/2012/07/5ps-6ps-7ps-10ps-and-12-ps.html

  • We’re unfortunately not the key player here. We must stick to our principles that ultimately there will need to be another referendum. If a General Election comes first we must stand for revoking along with a comprehensive plan for social, democratic and constitutional reform.

  • A always, I fully agree with Martin. Remainers who are against revoking in the case of an outright LibDem majority should put themselves in Jo’s shoes: which leave-option should she put on the ballot? None ever had parliamentary approval, so the LibDems would have to negotiate/formulate one and put it through the commons themselves against a combined Labour/Tory/… opposition. They would also have to force through all related legislation to render this referendum immediately effective. Absurd! The EU negotiators would be somewhat perplexed by this experience, to put it mildly. This ridiculous act of collective schizophrenia would be worse than Labour’s convoluted position: they at least have a group of MPs, including their leader, who are genuinely in favour of leaving. So the LibDems simply cannot carry out another referendum, but they can approve another party’s. These respective positions in two different scenarios are entirely consistent and defensible.

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