[RETRACTION: I am leaving this post here as a record as it did happen, but as of now (December 2016) the Liberal Democrats’ position is clear that they will vote against any Article 50 Bill that does not include provision for a second referendum on exit terms that includes the option not to leave. I still have some issues with the value of that promise in reality, but there is now no doubt that the LibDems are an Anti-Brexit party, and not just Anti-Hard Brexit. For their own good though, they should, as this post demonstrates, get their policy and communications operations into a better shape to avoid stuff like this happening. If that is the only criticism of a party though, that is not a bad thing.]
Being unwilling to vote against invoking Article 50 if given the chance in Parliament means that an MP is, effectively, in favour of the UK leaving the EU at this point.
In light of Nick Clegg and other LibDems having signed up to pro-Article 50 Open Britain, here is the correspondence I had with the party when I was thinking of joining in July. There’s clearly been some serious internal wrangling about this. It’s with real regret that I publish this, as I was very much hoping they would come down on the side of the anti-Art.50 policy that their leader stated after immediately after the referendum.
As their email to me says, over 16,000 people joined the LibDems after the referendum, and I think many of them did so on the basis of Farron’s pledge to continue to oppose Brexit. Turns out they were [may have been – see update] sold a wrong ‘un. It’s clear that at least 1/8 of their MPs, and possibly 2/8 will not commit to voting against invoking Article 50 if given the opportunity in Parliament [see latest update]
Update, 1st September – FFS!
[This was posted by John Coates in the 48% group and is used with permission]
I recently joined the Liberal Democrat Party under the impression that they were fairly solidly pro-EU.
This evening I attended a local party meeting in a North Norfolk village. The purpose of the meeting was to help to re-select Norman Lamb MP as the LibDem parliamentary candidate for North Norfolk at the next General Election. I had some misgivings from the start because Lamb is now associated with the spineless ‘Open Britain’ rebrand of StrongerIN.
Lamb himself attended the meeting and made a brief speech after which a limited number of questions were permitted from ‘the floor’. During his speech he said several times that the ‘democratic’ result of the recent EU Referendum in the UK must be ‘respected’.
I was fortunate enough to be allowed to ask the final question of the evening.
I reminded NL that there are currently at least two separate legal challenges to the Government’s ability to invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty simply by Royal Prerogative – without Parliament’s involvement and approval. My question to him was whether (in view of what he had said) he and his fellow LibDem MPs would vote with the Government to invoke Article 50, if the judiciary determined that Parliament’s consent WAS necessary.
He looked shifty and replied with his usual mantra that the ‘democratic’ result of the referendum must be ‘respected’. He went on to say that, if Parliament were to thwart ‘the will of the people’ by a legalistic manoeuvre, he feared that right-wing civil unrest might erupt.
What cowardice! He and the other LibDem MPs clearly mean to allow Article 50 to be invoked.
The outcome of the ‘referendum’ had nothing whatever to do with democracy. It was a direct result of an unlikely alliance between ochlocracy and gerontocracy.
Tomorrow morning Norman Lamb is holding a constituency ‘surgery’ on the village green near my house. I shall take my Lib Dem membership card and hand it back to him in disgust.
It is becoming increasingly clear that there is no existing mainstream political party that will speak for the 48%. I and some associates are therefore reviving the Progressive European Party (PEP).
Update: 31st August – more hope
This article,”Liberal democrats must enthusiastically occupy the clear pro-EU space – Nobody else will” appeared on the Liberal Democrat Voice site yesterday, so there may still be hope. I genuinely hope there is.
Update 1: 30th August – Is there hope?
This was posted as a comment in the 48% group in response to my post:
From Rebecca Elisabeth Taylor:
I am a member of LibDem Federal Policy Committee. The question of our precise EU policy is up for debate at our Autumn conference. The LibDems make policy through members debating motions at conference, not by unilateral decisions of the party leader.So the reason you haven’t got a more precise answer is because conference has to approve party policy.Please email me if you want to know more
And my reply:
Rebecca, thanks very much for replying. I quite understand the internal mechanisms of the party which are, in my view, scrupulously democratic, However this creates a serious problem. I think it is an untenable position for a party leader to make unequivocal policy announcements, and for party spokespeople too announce endorsements of campaigns, and for it then to turn out that they were, really, doing this in a personal capacity rather than as the holders of their respective party offices.
What’s more, if it does turn out, and I very much hope it does, that the party’s official line becomes to oppose the invoking of article 50, then you will have lost more than 2 months of campaigning time on what is still potentially an extremely pressing issue. For example, it may have impacted on the legal cases regarding Parliament’s role. It may have led to Nick Clegg and Norman Lamb not endorsing Open Britain, which is a pro-Brexit, albeit a soft Brexit, campaign.
Finally, it is likely that many of those who joined the LibDems since the referendum did so because of your leader’s unequivocal pledge to attempt to block Brexit that was made the day after the referendum and widely publicised. That’s certainly the reason I was looking to join, and I know other people who did join as a result of this. If this is not the party’s policy, this should have been made clear. Similarly, if it is not the party’s policy to endorse Open Britain, even though 1/4 of your MPs and your official spokesman on Brexit have done so, this should be made clear as well. To not do so is to mislead, even if it is unintentional, and it is people being misled that got us into this dire situation in the first place.
Note I didn’t receive a reply to my second email.
Subject: Clarification on policy towards invoking Article 50
I am a UK citizen living in Brussels and am considering joining the Lib Dems. However, before doing so, I would like clarification on the Party’s policy on invoking Article 50. It was reported (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/brexit-eu-referendum-result-lib-dems-remain-liberal-democrats-live-policy-stay-leave-a7103186.html
) that Tim Farron had pledged that he would derail the UK exit procedure if there was an election in the autumn and if the Lib Dems won it. I take this to mean that, were the Lib Dems to form a government, or be in a coalition in a government, before Article 50 has been triggered, it would be policy not to trigger Article 50. I would also take this to mean that, if there were a vote in Parliament on triggering Article 50, Lib Dem MPs would be whipped to vote against it.
I ask because the news piece on your own site seems to be somewhat more equivocal than the reporting elsewhere on this, and refers not to keeping the UK in the EU, but to pledging to make sure it rejoins it.
Grateful for a clarification before submitting my membership application.
Thank you for your email.
Rest assured the Lib Dems have pledged to fight the next General Election on a platform of taking Britain back into the EU. And since the vote for Brexit thousands of people have joined this Party because we’re the only ones standing up for the national interest. The economic uncertainty is affecting jobs, peoples homes and livelihoods. We accept the result of the referendum, but plan to make the case for us to rejoin the EU because our principles of being a proud internationalist party won’t change, and this is completely in step with that. More importantly, we believe the Single Market is vital to the UK’s ongoing economic prosperity.
Currently there’s been no mention of triggering Article 50, but the fast moving political landscape can change very easily. When it does the Lib Dems will take a measured approach whilst staying true to our internationalist, outward looking stance. It’s also important to note that given the political/economic uncertainty, and with the new PM filling her cabinet with staunch Eurosceptics like Boris Johnson and Liam Fox we’ll ensure that we remain steadfast in keeping the government in check. This is why over 16000 people have joined the Lib Dems since the referendum, and why your support is even more vital.
We’d love to have you as a member. Please call us on 02070220988 at your convenience to sign up. We’re open 9am-9pm Monday to Friday.
Member and Supporter Services Team
02070220988 / email@example.com
8-10 Great George Street, London, SW1P 3AE
Is this still the case? I’d be grateful for a yes or no answer.
This is what I and many others have been telling people who are campaigning against the result and considering joining other parties. It would be deeply, deeply disappointing if this policy has been watered down, as Mr Farron said that he wanted to be “clear and unequivocal” on it.
On re-joining the EU once the UK has left, you must surely see that there is approaching zero chance that each of the 27 member states would agree to this any time in the next 20 years. I worked for nearly ten years for, first the European Commission, and then UKRep and it is absolutely clear that re-admission, even with a pro-Europe government in place, will not be a possibility after the instability and cost caused to the 27 by Brexit.