Sunday, June 04, 2017


Somehow I Doubt A Lib Dem Government Might Negotiate the Acceptable Face of Brexit

One of the many ways in which beloved husband is doing an amazing job right now as Liberal Democrat candidate for Macclesfield is answering approximately a gazillion emails a day. Some, by this stage, literally in his sleep.

I’m long past ever standing as a candidate again, not least with this year’s catastrophically unhelpful health getting in the way even of helping Richard anywhere near as practically as I’d like.

So imagine my surprise and delight on receiving my own email enquiring about an urgent issue of Liberal Democrat policy which must be worrying people up and down the land: with Lib Dems committed to a referendum on the terms of the Brexit deal, if we form the new government on Thursday, who would negotiate a deal we were bound to oppose?

To B and How To B, That Is the Question

Here’s the question I was asked:

“…if you propose a second referendum for people to decide on the deal, assuming a Lib Dem government was in office, how would this happen in practice? Considering the party’s historic support for EU membership, who would conduct the negotiations for a Brexit deal for us to vote on? Would the responsibility for negotiations be devolved to the Civil Service or some other external body?”

And here’s the main part of my reply:
“In practice, of course, whatever party is in government, the vast majority of negotiations are conducted by civil servants: they are huge and vastly complicated and require a vast team of people and a lot of hard work. Even if David Davis isn’t doing any of it.

“The answer is to be found in the first chapter of the Lib Dem Manifesto, in effect – that doesn’t just set out the party’s policy around a third EU referendum, this time on the terms of the deal, but the party’s priorities in Parliament for setting the terms for the negotiators. The primary one is of course to remain in the Single Market, which virtually all the leading No figures led people to believe before last year’s referendum and then swerved into such a damaging far right isolationist position afterwards.

“Should there be a massive political earthquake and the Lib Dems form a majority government next week, I would be delighted and I have to admit a little surprised. However, there’s no doubt that would mean Britain’s centre of gravity on Brexit would have shifted markedly, so I would expect to see a choice between remaining as a full member or an exit deal based on a much closer relationship than Theresa May, Jeremy Corbyn and Paul Nuttall’s – one, as the likes of Farage or Johnson said before the referendum rather than what they’ve said since, similar to the relationship the EU has with Norway or Switzerland. Ironically, that means that the Brexit deal would be much closer to the one voters were told about in advance.

“As I say, the party’s aims for mitigating the disaster of Brexit in negotiations are set out in detail as the first chapter in the Manifesto, which you can download for yourself here.”

With the election constantly framed as a ‘choice’ between two parties offering two identical destructive chaotic Brexits and neither offering to talk about any of the detail – because they’re dumb, but they’re not that dumb – and the Lib Dems mostly failing to get a word in edgeways, I wish the question of exactly how Foreign Secretary Nick Clegg would lead Brexit negotiations come the glorious Lib Dem landslide this week were one that was keeping me awake at night.

Still, in the happy daydream in which the Liberal Democrats sweep to power on Thursday, imagine the Lib Dem government, with painfully honest commitment to its manifesto pledge, negotiating a liberal Brexit. Come the day of the deal referendum, instead of being offered destructive chaos, loss of British power and influence, rights stripped away, food riots and catastrophic collapse in living standards by the Theresa May—Jeremy Corbyn—Paul Nuttall Brexit alliance, which the majority of Britons would be likely to look at go ‘No thanks,’ the Brexit choice is instead a middle way, keeping most of the goodies but being able to say we’re not quite in. And so only a Lib Dem Government’s positive negotiations could save Brexit by producing a deal which the majority could swallow and go on to win the deal referendum for (mostly) out!

What an irony, eh?

No, somehow I can see a few steps along the way that I don’t quite believe, either…

What Should Negotiations Try To Keep (but probably won’t)?

What certainly will happen after Thursday’s result, whatever it turns out to be, is that Liberal Democrats in Parliament will stand up for British voters to have the final say on the final Brexit deal. The Conservatives and Labour will both deny that. They’ve both already voted to stop people having a say. And as the negotiations proceed into the long and complicated reality and away from back of a fag packet insult your intelligence slogans, Liberal Democrats in Parliament will stand up for these priorities and more:

I really should’ve put these in my email, too. Sorry to the person who contacted me. Replying set my mind going, and it probably should have been the other way round.

The more Liberal Democrat MPs are elected this Thursday, the more votes there will be in Parliament to press for these priorities in the Brexit negotiations.

The more Conservative and Labour MPs are elected, with their Leaders’ identical commitment to a disastrous Brexit, the more certain it is that Parliament will throw all those priorities in the bin.

There probably won’t be any UKIP MPs elected on Thursday, but with Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn following UKIP Brexit policy to the letter, that won’t make any difference.

Lib Dem voices in Parliament will probably only be able to make things a bit better unless we romp home. But a bit better is better than nothing. Why vote for parties that have promised to make everything worse?

I have a terrible feeling that all those priorities and so much that’s good about Britain will be thrown in the bin. And that the scale of what – to pick only the latest prediction I’ve seen – Will Hutton calls “an epic act of national self-harm” will only become clear not even when the details have been published but only once it’s all actually happened, everything’s wrecked and it’s too late to go back.

Which means that only after the economy has crashed utterly and Britain’s divided and unhappy will a Liberal Democrat government be voted in as the last resort to do the impossible job of fitting the broken pieces together. Tried a bit of that seven years ago. Can’t say we enjoyed it and were greatly thanked for it…

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One moan about you article. The manifesto cost a tenner. The others put it out at £5.99. Do you think people would have bought ours? Thanks for the ability to download a bit.
If we were back in the days when people had to get them on the shelves in WH Smiths, I'd agree, but I doubt more than 1% of people getting a copy of the Manifesto for this election buy it: the pdf costs nothing to download. And not just a bit, but the whole thing, exactly the same as the printed version, and indeed much more besides.

And I'm also proud of the party for producing the costings - as I think Vince said, the only numbers in the Tory manifesto are the page numbers - plus making it accessible in easy-read version, audio, BSL and braille, all of which the party's paid for (and most parties haven't), and all of which you can download for free.

I don't see paying a tenner if you're a completist who wants a printed copy for their archives as such a great hardship, particularly if it helps make the Manifesto accessible in so many other forms 'for nothing' (to the reader).
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