WATCH: Lib Dem MPs challenge May on Brexit

Lib Dem MPs tackled the Prime Minister this afternoon as she made her Groundhog May “nothing has changed” statement. Christine Jardine, Jo Swinson, Vince Cable, Jamie Stone and Tom Brake challenged her on various aspects of her intransigence. Christine Jardine asked the Prime Minister to consider asking to extend the Article 50 period. The PM […]

Lib Dem MPs tackled the Prime Minister this afternoon as she made her Groundhog May “nothing has changed” statement. Christine Jardine, Jo Swinson, Vince Cable, Jamie Stone and Tom Brake challenged her on various aspects of her intransigence.

Christine Jardine asked the Prime Minister to consider asking to extend the Article 50 period.

The PM isn’t even willing to ask the EU the question – and we all know that if we don’t ask, we definitely don’t get.

Vince mentioned the troops put on standby over the Brexit period and asked how they would be carrying out their duties.

I, too, welcome the fee waiver and the Prime Minister’s willingness to engage in serious conversations, including about the merits and practicalities of a people’s vote. May I ask a specific question? At the end of last week, the Secretary of State for Defence put 3,500 troops on Brexit standby. Will she clarify what their rules of engagement would be in the event that they face angry and violent demonstrators, and would they be armed?

She wasn’t so clear in her response. Had she even thought about it?

Jo Swinson tackled her on the “massive game of chicken in the Tory Party” and expressed her incredulity at the prospect of the PM allowing a disastrous no deal Brexit:

I cannot believe in good conscience, knowing what the Prime Minister does about the devastating impact of no deal on our economy and on our security, that she is willing to let us leave the EU on that basis, yet she seems wedded to her red lines and still against a people’s vote, which would have majority support if she backed it. With 67 days to go, the country deserves better than a massive game of chicken in the Tory party. When will the Prime Minister recognise she needs to move?

Jamie asked what would replace the European Structural Funds which had benefitted the Highlands in recent years:

I am sure my views on this matter are well known to the House, so I choose my words with care. A week ago, I asked the Prime Minister what, in the event of the UK leaving the EU, Government fund would replace the European structural funds that have been such a benefit to the highlands for many years. In her answer, she said “the shared prosperity fund”. Will the Prime Minister give me an assurance today that the shared prosperity fund will find its way to the needy highlands and islands and not be—how shall I put it?—creamed off for cherished projects in the south of Scotland or near Edinburgh or Glasgow?

Tom Brake tackled her on why she wouldn’t go for a People’s Vote:

Why does the Prime Minister continue to claim that the only way to rule out no deal is either to vote for her deal or to revoke article 50? She know that that is not the case. A third way is to put her deal to the people in a people’s vote and let them choose between her deal and staying in the European Union. Why will she not admit that?

Theresa May rules out a second referendum and Article 50 revocation – and announces a fee waiver for settled status applications

Below is the text of Theresa May’s statement just delivered to the House of Commons Following last week’s vote it is clear that the Government’s approach had to change. And it has. Having established the confidence of Parliament in this government I have listened to colleagues across Parliament from different parties and with different views. Last week I […]

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Below is the text of Theresa May’s statement just delivered to the House of Commons

Following last week’s vote it is clear that the Government’s approach had to change. And it has. Having established the confidence of Parliament in this government I have listened to colleagues across Parliament from different parties and with different views. Last week I met the leader of the Liberal Democrats, the Westminster leaders of the DUP, SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Green Party, and backbench members from both sides of this House. My Right Honourable Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster [David Lidington] also had a number of such meetings.

The Government has approached these meetings in a constructive spirit, without preconditions, and I am pleased that everyone we met with took the same approach. I regret that the Right Honourable Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition [Jeremy Corbyn] has not chosen to take part so far. I hope he will reflect on that decision. Given the importance of this issue we should all be prepared to work together to find a way forward. And my Ministerial colleagues and I will continue with further meetings this week.

Let me set out the six key issues which have been at the centre of the talks to date. The first two relate to the process for moving forwards.

First, there is widespread concern about the possibility of the UK leaving without a deal. And there are those on both sides of the House who want the Government to rule this out. But we need to be honest with the British people about what that means.

The right way to rule out No Deal is for this House to approve a deal with the European Union. That is what this Government is seeking to achieve. The only other guaranteed way to avoid a No Deal Brexit is to revoke Article 50 – which would mean staying in the EU.

There are others who think that what we need is more time, so they say we should extend Article 50 to give longer for Parliament to debate how we should leave and what a deal should look like. This is not ruling out no deal, but simply deferring the point of decision. And the EU are very unlikely simply to agree to extend Article 50 without a plan for how we are going approve a deal.

So when people say “rule out No Deal” the consequences of what they are actually saying are that if we in Parliament can’t approve a deal we should revoke Article 50. I believe this would go against the referendum result and I do not believe that is a course of action that we should take, or which this House should support.

Second, all the Opposition parties that have engaged so far – and some backbenchers – have expressed their support for a Second Referendum. I have set out many times my deep concerns about returning to the British people for a Second Referendum. Our duty is to implement the decision of the first one.

I fear a Second Referendum would set a difficult precedent that could have significant implications for how we handle referendums in this country – not least, strengthening the hand of those campaigning to break up our United Kingdom. It would require an extension of Article 50. We would very likely have to return a new set of MEPs to the European Parliament in May.

And I also believe that there has not yet been enough recognition of the way that a Second Referendum could damage social cohesion by undermining faith in our democracy. We do not know what the Rt Hon Gentleman, the Leader of the Opposition, thinks about this, because he has not engaged. But I know there are Members who have already indicated that they wish to test the support of the House for this path.

I do not believe there is a majority for a Second Referendum. And if I am right, then just as the Government is having to think again about its approach going forwards, then so too do those Members who believe this is the answer.

The remaining issues raised in the discussions relate to the substance of the deal – and on these points I believe we can make progress.

Members of this House, predominantly but not only on the Government benches and the DUP, continue to express their concern on the issue of the Northern Ireland backstop. All of us agree that as we leave the European Union, we must fully respect the Belfast Agreement and not allow the creation of a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland – nor indeed a border down the Irish Sea.

And I want to be absolutely clear, in the light of media stories this morning, this Government will not reopen the Belfast Agreement. I have never even considered doing so – and neither would I.

With regard to the backstop, despite the changes we have previously agreed, there remain two core issues: the fear that we could be trapped in it permanently; and concerns over its potential impact on our Union if Northern Ireland is treated differently from the rest of the UK. So I will be talking further this week to colleagues – including in the DUP – to consider how we might meet our obligations to the people of Northern Ireland and Ireland in a way that can command the greatest possible support in the House. And I will then take the conclusions of those discussion back to the EU.

From other parts of this House concerns have also been raised over the Political Declaration. In particular, these have focused on a wish for further precision around the future relationship. The Political Declaration will provide the basis for developing our detailed negotiating mandate for the future.

And this new phase of negotiations will be different in a number of ways. It will cover a far broader range of issues in greater depth, and so will require us to build a negotiating team that draws on the widest expertise available – from trade negotiators to security experts and specialists in data and financial services.

And as we develop our mandate across each of these areas I want to provide reassurance to the House. Given the breadth of the negotiations we will seek input from a wide range of voices from outside Government. That must include ensuring Parliament has a proper say, and fuller involvement, in these decisions.

It is Government’s responsibility to negotiate, but it is also my responsibility to listen to the legitimate concerns of colleagues, both those who voted Leave and who voted Remain, in shaping our negotiating mandate for our future partnership with the EU. So the Government will consult this House on its negotiating mandate, to ensure that Members have the chance to make their views known, and that we harness the knowledge of all Select Committees, across the full range of expertise needed for this next phase negotiations – from security to trade.

This will also strengthen the Government’s hand in the negotiations, giving the EU confidence about our position and avoiding leaving the bulk of Parliamentary debate to a point when we are under huge time pressure to ratify.

I know that to date Parliament has not felt it has enough visibility of the Government’s position as it has been developed and negotiated. It has sought documents through Humble Addresses, but that mechanism cannot take into account the fact that some information when made public could weaken the UK’s negotiating hand. So as the negotiations progress, we will also look to deliver confidential committee sessions that can ensure Parliament has the most up-to-date information, while not undermining the negotiations. And we will regularly update the House – in particular before the six-monthly review points with the EU foreseen in the agreement.

While it will always be for Her Majesty’s Government to negotiate for the whole of the UK, we are also committed to giving the Devolved Administrations an enhanced role in the next phase, respecting their competence and vital interests in these negotiations. I hope to meet both first Ministers in the course of this week and will use the opportunity to discuss this further with them. We will also look for further ways to engage elected representatives from Northern Ireland and regional representatives in England. Finally, we will reach out beyond this House and engage more deeply with businesses, civil society and trade unions.

Fifth, Hon Members from across the House have raised strong views that our exit from the EU should not lead to a reduction in our social and environmental standards – and in particular workers’ rights. So I will ensure that we provide Parliament with a guarantee that not only will we not erode protections for workers’ rights and the environment but we will ensure this country leads the way.

To that end my Rt Hon Friend the Business Secretary [Greg Clark] indicated the Government’s support for the proposed amendment to the meaningful vote put down by the Hon Member for Bassetlaw [John Mann] – including that Parliament should be able to consider any changes made by the EU in these areas in future. My Rt Hon Friend and others will work with members across the House, businesses and Trade Unions, to develop proposals that give effect to this amendment, including looking at legislation where necessary.

Sixth, and crucially, a number of Members have made powerful representations about the anxieties facing EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in the EU who are waiting to have their status confirmed. We have already committed to ensuring that EU citizens in the UK will be able to stay, and to continue to access in-country benefits and services on broadly the same terms as now, in both a deal and a no deal scenario. Indeed, the next phase of testing of the scheme for EU nationals to confirm their status has launched today.

And having listened to concerns from Members – and organisations like the “The 3 Million” group – I can confirm today that when we roll out the scheme in full on 30th March, the Government will waive the application fee so that there is no financial barrier for any EU nationals who wish to stay. And anyone who has or will apply during the pilot phase will have their fee reimbursed. More details about how this will work will be made available in due course.

Some EU Member States have similarly guaranteed the rights of British nationals in a No Deal scenario – and we will step up our efforts to ensure that they all do so.

Let me briefly set out the process for the days ahead. In addition to this statement, today I will lay a Written Ministerial Statement, as required under section 13(4 and 5) of the EU Withdrawal Act – and table a motion in neutral terms on this statement, as required by section 13(6). This motion will be amendable and will be debated and voted on in this House on 29th January.  And I will provide a further update to the House during that debate. To be clear, this is not a re-run of the vote to ratify the agreement we have reached with the European Union, but the fulfilment of the process following the House’s decision to reject that motion.

The process of engagement is ongoing. In the next few days, my ministerial colleagues and I will continue to meet with Members on all sides of the House, and with representatives of the trades unions, business groups, civil society and others as we try to find the broadest possible consensus on a way forward.

Whilst I will disappoint those colleagues that hope to secure a second referendum, I do not believe that there is a majority in this house for such a path. And whilst I want to deliver a deal with the EU, I cannot support the only other way in which to take No Deal off the table, which is to revoke Article 50.

So my focus continues to be on what is needed to secure the support of this House in favour of a Brexit Deal with the EU.

My sense so far is that three key changes are needed.

First, we will be more flexible, open and inclusive in the future in how we engage Parliament in our approach to negotiating our future partnership with the European Union.

Second, we will embed the strongest possible protections on workers’ rights and the environment.

And third, we will work to identify how we can ensure that our commitment to no hard border in Northern Ireland and Ireland can be delivered in a way that commands the support of this House, and the European Union.

In doing so, we will honour the mandate of the British people and leave the European Union in a way which benefits every part of our United Kingdom and every citizen of our country.

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Vince Cable tells Theresa May, “the votes may be there for a People’s Vote”

Yesterday, Vince Cable wrote to Theresa May, offering her a way to solve her Brexit crisis… Prime Minister I appreciate the opportunity to have had a proper conversation with you about our views on the way forward on Brexit and my colleagues have had a useful discussion with yours about the practicalities of a referendum […]

Yesterday, Vince Cable wrote to Theresa May, offering her a way to solve her Brexit crisis…

Prime Minister

I appreciate the opportunity to have had a proper conversation with you about our views on the way forward on Brexit and my colleagues have had a useful discussion with yours about the practicalities of a referendum and its timing. We have followed up the discussions with a note to David Liddington setting out our views on how a People’s Vote could be organised quickly.

Our positions are, at first sight, far apart. But I reiterate the point that, as it currently stands, your plan has been emphatically rejected by parliament; but it would have a 50:50 chance of succeeding if put to the country against the option of remaining in the EU.

Moreover the most plausible way of introducing the option of a referendum would be in the form of a government resolution to parliament seeking approval of your plan, subject to a referendum. Opposition parties would be asked to vote with the government to break the deadlock and return the issue to the people. Providing a People’s Vote were built firmly into the resolution, the Liberal Democrats would respond positively.

If the government cooperates with the 150 plus declared supporters of a People’s Vote (and many more who are undeclared) there would be more than enough votes to succeed even if Mr Corbyn continues to sit on the fence or oppose.

The next step, sought by some of your colleagues as well as the opposition parties for a variety of reasons, is postponement of the departure date to consider other options and averting the dire prospect of a ‘no deal’ Brexit for which the country is patently unprepared. You have clearly not reached that point but will need to do so for serious discussions with opposition parties to make headway.

My party is ready to resume discussions at any time and communication can be maintained through the usual channels.

Yours sincerely,

Vince Cable

* Newshound: bringing you the best Lib Dem commentary published in print or online.

19-20 January 2019 – the weekend’s press releases

GP postcode lottery shows vital need for a national workforce strategy Lib Dems: Car insurance rise shows cost of Brexit Labour failing their duty as Official Opposition on Brexit Fox’s failure to sign trade deals shows Brexiters’ ‘Global Britain’ does not exist Corbyn isolated as over 100 Labour MPs set to back Lib Dem call […]

  • GP postcode lottery shows vital need for a national workforce strategy
  • Lib Dems: Car insurance rise shows cost of Brexit
  • Labour failing their duty as Official Opposition on Brexit
  • Fox’s failure to sign trade deals shows Brexiters’ ‘Global Britain’ does not exist
  • Corbyn isolated as over 100 Labour MPs set to back Lib Dem call for a people’s vote
  • GP postcode lottery shows vital need for a national workforce strategy

    Responding to the analysis done by the BBC which shows the huge variation in the availability of GPs in different parts of England, Liberal Democrat Health Spokesperson Judith Jolly said:

    Getting access to your GP should never be a postcode lottery. The clear shortage of GPs is leaving patients stranded, waiting weeks for appointments when they could have serious health issues.

    One of the key problems with the NHS ten year plan was that it was completely undermined by a lack of serious workforce planning. It is vital the Government produce a national workforce strategy, ensuring people can access GPs when they need them.

    The Government must look at the long term solutions in training more GPs and ensuring we retain the ones we have. Whilst there is inadequate planning for the NHS workforce, the NHS ten year plan will not be deliverable.

    Lib Dems: Car insurance rise shows cost of Brexit

    Responding to the reports that car insurance costs are climbing for the first time since 2017, which according to the AA is partly because of Brexit uncertainty, Liberal Democrat Brexit Spokesperson Tom Brake said:

    It is becoming clearer day by day how Brexit is making each and everyone one of us poorer.

    The uncertainty caused by the Conservative Government’s shambolic handling of Brexit is costing us jobs, damaging our businesses and driving up prices.

    The AA’s director of insurance is correct; no matter what Brexit you have, people will still be worse off. The only serious option to stop us careering off the cliff is a people’s vote, with the option to stay in the EU.

    Labour failing their duty as Official Opposition on Brexit

    This morning Keir Starmer, the shadow Brexit Secretary, refused to answer how any Brexit deal that Labour could negotiate could pass Labour’s ‘six tests’.

    Responding to the exchange on the Andrew Marr show, Liberal Democrat Brexit Spokesperson Tom Brake said:

    It is clear that Labour’s policy on Brexit is no closer to getting any clearer. After a week in which the Conservative Government’s deal was destroyed in an historic Parliamentary defeat, it is a dereliction of duty for the Opposition to continue without an alternative plan.

    The shadow Brexit secretary could not answer how any Brexit deal they negotiated would pass Labour’s six tests, the most crucial being to provide the exact same benefits we currently enjoy as EU members.

    The Liberal Democrats are clear; the best deal is the one we currently have. That is why we are continuing to fight for a people’s vote, with the option to remain in the EU.

    It is time the Labour Party joined us in holding this shambolic Conservative Government to account.

    Fox’s failure to sign trade deals shows Brexiters’ ‘Global Britain’ does not exist

    Today Liam Fox, the International Trade Secretary, has admitted the UK has yet to finalise agreements to replace the existing free trade deals that the EU has with 40 big economies if there is a no-deal Brexit.

    Responding, Liberal Democrat Brexit Spokesperson Tom Brake said:

    Liam Fox has confirmed that the tumult of trade deals that he promised would be signed, the day after Brexit, are stalled. There will not be, and never was going to be, any significant trade deals that could offset the loss of trade with our closest and largest partner.

    It is time Fox admitted his grand project is ideological, not economic, and will leave us all poorer. The Brexiters’ vision of ‘Global Britain’ does not exist.

    This Conservative Government has not only had two and half years worth of negotiating defeated this week in the House of Commons, but is completely unprepared for a no-deal scenario.

    The only serious option left on the table is a people’s vote, with the option to remain in the EU.

    Corbyn isolated as over 100 Labour MPs set to back Lib Dem call for a people’s vote

    The Leader of the Liberal Democrats Vince Cable has today written to the Prime Minister to alert her to the fact that the call for a people’s vote could have a majority in Parliament.

    In the letter, Vince Cable states:

    If the government cooperates with the 150 plus declared supporters of a people’s vote (and many more who are undeclared) there would be more than enough votes to succeed even if Mr Corbyn continues to sit on the fence or oppose.

    Responding to the reports that over a hundred Labour MPs are set to back the Liberal Democrat campaign, Vince Cable said:

    Jeremy Corbyn is looking increasingly isolated. Our numbers show that if the Conservative Government decided to put forward its plan, subject to a people’s vote, it would have a clear majority.

    It is the most plausible lifeline left for the Prime Minister’s deal.

Lib Dems vs Brexit: Tom Brake PM’s deal is a fiction, a chimera, a mirage

Tom Brake’s speech in the Brexit debate was a candid one in which he took responsibility for his part in creating the set of circumstances where so many people voted Leave. Brexit, and the way it is being handled, is a national embarrassment. Worse than that, it is a damaging international embarrassment. That great tactician, […]

Tom Brake’s speech in the Brexit debate was a candid one in which he took responsibility for his part in creating the set of circumstances where so many people voted Leave.

Brexit, and the way it is being handled, is a national embarrassment. Worse than that, it is a damaging international embarrassment. That great tactician, David Cameron, devised what he thought would be a cunning plan to staunch the decades-long Euro bloodletting in his party: a referendum. But the referendum, instead of acting as neat sutures to bind together the ideologically driven Brexiters and their more rational colleagues, has taken a scalpel to the Tory party’s jugular, and—critically, and far more significantly—to that of the country, too. Driving the country to the brink, and in some cases being willing to drive over it, is overwhelmingly the Tories’ responsibility.

Of course, the Leader of the Opposition has a cameo in all this, demonstrating the same aptitude for leadership during the Brexit campaign as he has since. However, as a long-standing Member of Parliament, I share some of the blame for not tackling the conditions that led to a majority voting for Brexit. That blame must be shared by successive Governments—not this one, not the one before, not the one before and, indeed, probably not the one before that either. I regret not being active enough in promoting the benefits of being in the EU for students, research, common standards, medicines, and investment in, for example, the hospital where the PM launched the NHS 10-year plan, which received £50 million in EU financing, or the potteries factory where she gave her speech yesterday, which received £400,000.

I was not outspoken enough in rebutting the ludicrous, infantile and mendacious claims that Brussels-based British newspaper correspondents made about the threat to British pink sausages or standardised condom sizes. Most importantly, I regret the failure to tackle deep-seated concerns in some towns and cities over the failure to invest in infrastructure and under- performing schools and to rebuild proud communities devastated by the loss of heavy industry. I regret that devolution was not pushed hard and fast enough and that responsibility, funding and accountability for delivering jobs, skills training, bus and train services was not vested in politicians closer to those reliant on such services. ​Those challenges remain, and we owe it to those who voted for Brexit and, indeed, to those who voted remain to address them.

Does anyone in this Chamber believe that Brexit and the PM’s so-called deal provide solutions? They do not. Nothing that leaves us poorer can. The PM’s deal is nothing of the sort. It is a fiction, a chimera, a mirage. The political declaration comes in at a measly 26 pages. Compare that with 1,598 pages in the Canada-EU trade deal. According to the PM’s statement yesterday, the real deal—our future relationship with the EU—may not be struck until as late as December 2022, and some consider that wildly optimistic. That is one of the reasons why her deal will be defeated today.

With the red lines that the Prime Minister chose for herself, I do not doubt that this is the best deal that she could secure. Unfortunately, it is a bad deal, so where next? We expect the PM’s deal to be defeated later, no deal has been rejected by Parliament, and a fresh round of negotiations with the EU is unlikely to be sanctioned by the EU. The Prime Minister is left with one option: put the deal to the people in a people’s vote and offer them the choice to stay in the EU.

Lib Dems vs Brexit: Wera Hobhouse Dangers of post Brexit deregulation

It was not until 12:40 am that Wera Hobhouse was called to give her speech in the Commons debate on the Brexit deal. She highlighted the uncertainties in the PM’s blind Brexit and talked about the dangers of a post-Brexit deregulation on the environment and trade. We have come a long way since June 2016. […]

It was not until 12:40 am that Wera Hobhouse was called to give her speech in the Commons debate on the Brexit deal. She highlighted the uncertainties in the PM’s blind Brexit and talked about the dangers of a post-Brexit deregulation on the environment and trade.

We have come a long way since June 2016. There is no more hiding from the fact that any Brexit will leave us worse off and that the best that any post-Brexit Government can do is damage limitation. If we go ahead with Brexit, we will have to find new ways of stimulating the economy. No longer bound by EU rules, those who argue for slashing regulations will quickly gain the upper hand. The race to the bottom will soon begin.

Among the first regulations on the bonfire will be those that protect the environment. The European Court of Justice, so hated by Brexit fanatics, has been an outstanding protector of environmental laws and ​regulations. The Government’s recent draft environment Bill does not include a watchdog with anything like the power of the ECJ, and climate action will lose out. There will be an increased incentive to support fossil fuel companies for short-term economic gain. Green energy projects are becoming increasingly affordable and promise long-term economic gain, but they still require up-front investment and will therefore be the first victims. Who would provide such investment in a struggling post-Brexit economy? Once more, climate action will lose out.

A post-Brexit Government will be under huge pressure to sign off new trade deals quickly, which will be a great opportunity for any country to take advantage of our weakened position. A trade deal with America, for example, will most likely involve opening up our economy to fracking companies. Even if we tried to build environmental protections into such deals, the reality is that commercial interests will be dominant. The case of Lone Pine Resources v. the Government of Canada shows what awaits us when we enter into trade deals with more powerful nations. The Government of Quebec put a moratorium on fracking in 2011, but Lone Pine Resources has sued for over $100 million of lost profits under the terms of the North American free trade agreement. Outside the EU, our power to protect ourselves against the interests of large global companies will be much diminished.

The European Union is an international heavyweight when it comes to striking trade deals, but it has not struck a trade deal with America precisely because it refuses to give up its own standards in areas such as environmental protections. Thanks to its power as the world’s largest and most successful trading bloc, the EU has the economic clout to walk away from trade negotiations that are not in its interest. On our own, we will have nothing near the same clout. Even if we tried to protect our environment, our resolve would quickly collapse as the urgency to find new trading partners would force our hand.

No form of Brexit will halt that race to the bottom—not the Prime Minister’s blind Brexit deal, which offers no legal guarantee against future deregulation, not a no-deal Brexit, and not even the softest-of-soft Norway-plus Brexit deals. Brexit is a fundamentally right-wing project. It seeks to deregulate our economy and hand the reins to powerful vested interests. It is political fantasy to think we can go ahead with Brexit and mitigate its worst effects. In the light of the right-wing Brexit agenda, the only option for all of us who are progressive is to oppose Brexit as a project. There is no point in tinkering with it.

Climate action has always been about social justice. In the 21st century, the battle to save our planet is inseparable from the battle to limit the power of big business and build a better world for all. I call on all progressive politicians in this House to see Brexit for the right-wing project it is. We can stop Brexit, and the democratic path to it is a people’s vote with the option to stay in the European Union.

Lib Dems vs Brexit: Malcolm Bruce – Time to modernise our democracy

My Lords, across the UK, Scotland and London voted most strongly for remain, which is somewhat ironic given the nationalists’ antipathy towards London and London-based government. ​Northern Ireland voted clearly for remain, only to find its hard-line Brexit party tweaking the tail of a Brexit-traumatised Conservative Government. A lot has been said, I think rightly, […]

My Lords, across the UK, Scotland and London voted most strongly for remain, which is somewhat ironic given the nationalists’ antipathy towards London and London-based government. ​Northern Ireland voted clearly for remain, only to find its hard-line Brexit party tweaking the tail of a Brexit-traumatised Conservative Government. A lot has been said, I think rightly, about Theresa May’s and Jeremy Corbyn’s cavalier disregard for those who voted remain. “You lost. Get over it”, they say, but they have been unable to come up with anything that can unite a majority. When the DUP is challenged for representing a minority in Northern Ireland, it asserts that remain voters are predominantly nationalists and can therefore apparently be discounted—second-class votes.

Membership of the EU resides with the United Kingdom and it is not possible for parts of the UK to be in and parts to be out. I suggest that raises the question as to whether we should ever have sought a simple binary majority, or one that was qualified by the views of the constituent parts of the United Kingdom as well.

During a recent visit to Derry, I was able to see and hear how differences already affect what is located on which side of the border and how people and services operate. Moderate unionists who voted remain are beginning to consider whether the complexities of Brexit might make the prospect of a united Ireland unexpectedly attractive, especially now they see a much more liberal Republic and a frozen conservative Province in the north. The polarisation of Northern Ireland politics has left the Province without a democratic voice. Disillusioned young people at an integrated school that I visited in Derry told me that they thought that violence would return to the Province. I was quite shocked that they were unanimous in their view.

For a long time—the noble Lord, Lord Lisvane, referred to this—many people thought that nationalism could be contained within the European Union or at least under its umbrella. That is kind of logical given that the raison d’être of the European Union was to find mechanisms to avoid conflicts getting out of control and leading to war—which has been one of its great achievements.

For many years, the SNP campaigned under the slogan, “Independence in Europe”, so leaving the EU is a problem for it. First, a significant proportion of its voters chose Brexit. Secondly, leaving the UK without the comfort of the EU umbrella could leave Scotland in a cold place, with no prospect of a quick re-entry into the EU. Campaigners in favour of remain have sometimes prayed in aid divergence with Scotland as a threat to the union in simplistic terms. The people of Scotland voted remain by a large margin. Theresa May’s dead deal, something similar or no deal would in many ways be a betrayal of Scotland, or at least an insensitive disregard for the concerns and preferences of its people. Of course, that is seized on by the SNP to make the case for a second independence referendum. “Let’s vote for independence and rejoin the EU”, it says, except it is not that simple. First, the UK is overwhelmingly Scotland’s biggest market. Secondly, however sympathetic the EU may be to Scotland’s warmth towards that Union—in contrast with the SNP’s hostility to this union—Scotland would have to take years and deep economic pain before it could accede to membership, during which time it would be outside both unions.​ Continue reading "Lib Dems vs Brexit: Malcolm Bruce – Time to modernise our democracy"

The truth about Layla Moran’s trip to Estonia

I saw on Facebook over the holidays that Layla was off to Estonia and just assumed that she was off on a jolly. Not so much, as her website reveals. She was actually in the Baltic state to take part training exercises with British troops. Layla, a former teacher, was part of a cross-party group […]

I saw on Facebook over the holidays that Layla was off to Estonia and just assumed that she was off on a jolly.

Not so much, as her website reveals.

She was actually in the Baltic state to take part training exercises with British troops.

Layla, a former teacher, was part of a cross-party group of 7 MPs that spent several days with armed forces personnel as they carried out training exercises and duties in Estonia.

More than 800 British personnel are currently stationed in the Baltic state as part of NATO’s ‘enhanced forward presence’ along with Danish, Canadian and Estonian forces. The scheme is designed to deter Russian aggression.

The visit was part of the Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme which sees MPs undergo military training and go on exercises alongside armed forces personnel to help inform better decision-making on defence issues in Parliament.

Layla Moran said:

“It was an honour to spend time with armed forces personnel from the Yorkshire Regiment and to find out more about their work in Estonia protecting us and our allies from Russian aggression.

“As well this visit, I’ve also been spending time at RAF bases and on exercise across the country to find out more about the outstanding work that our armed forces do serving our nation, including here in Oxfordshire.

“I hope that by getting a better understanding of day-to-day challenges of our armed forces, I will be able to contribute more usefully to the debate about whether we spend enough on our defence forces or not – and, crucially, what type of defence spending we need to meet the threats of the future.”

 

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

Lib Dems vs Brexit: Martin Thomas on how Brexit adds to instability

The text is below: My Lords, in my youth, the union was strong. Not only had the four nations survived two world wars side by side but there was a community of interest that bound people together. ​Coal miners faced the same hazards in pits across Britain. The Gresford hymn is still played and sung […]

The text is below:

My Lords, in my youth, the union was strong. Not only had the four nations survived two world wars side by side but there was a community of interest that bound people together. ​Coal miners faced the same hazards in pits across Britain. The Gresford hymn is still played and sung annually at the Durham Miners’ Gala to commemorate the 266 miners killed underground at the Gresford pit in 1934. Steelworkers from Merthyr to Shotton, Sheffield and Motherwell had common interests, and workers in the shipyards of Belfast and Glasgow, Liverpool and the Tyne shared common dangers.

However, as those great UK-wide industries declined and departed, the solidarity of the union weakened. Devastated communities were left isolated—high and dry. Then the European project got under way. European development funds underpinned the economies of areas in decline, and nowhere has benefited more than Wales. European structural funds have invested more than £4 billion in supporting many thousands of jobs and creating new enterprises. Europe helped to stabilise the union at a time of profound economic and social change.

Devolution has played an important part in creating stability. In Wales we regard Sir John Redwood not so much as the architect of devolution but as its cause. As Secretary of State between 1993 and 1995, two years before the 1997 referendum, he attacked the non-governmental organisations delivering services in Wales with Thatcherite zeal, halved public funding to the Welsh Development Agency and cut his own Welsh Office staff, outsourcing to the private sector. He banned the use of the Welsh dragon on a leaflet entitled Wales in Europe and refused to second staff to ensure a Welsh presence in Brussels. He boasted that he had returned £100 million of the funding allocated to Wales, unspent, to the Treasury. He travelled home to Wokingham every night to avoid staying in Wales, refused to sign documents in the Welsh language because he did not understand them, and his rendition of the Welsh national anthem remains a YouTube classic that is very dear to our hearts. Therefore, we thank him for ensuring for us the slim majority of 0.3% that brought devolution to Wales two years after his regime, and we wish him a similar outcome for his dreams in the ERG.

It is that same contempt—that imperial condescension, as the noble Lord, Lord Lisvane, put it, or colonial complacency, as the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, described it—which has been exhibited in the Brexit negotiations. As the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, pointed out, the devolved Administrations were not consulted. The Joint Ministerial Committee did not meet for eight months, the joint letter written by Mark Drakeford and Mike Russell in protest on behalf of Wales and Scotland was ignored and the recommendations by the committee chaired by the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, were put on the shelf. It is not surprising that the Government struggled and, in the case of Scotland, failed to get legislative consent to the withdrawal Bill.

Brexit involves abandoning EU mechanisms that have delivered the most generous regional assistance that Wales has ever seen in favour of a shared prosperity fund of indeterminate size and effect. This fund will be in the partisan political control of a UK Government, dominated by England, whose instincts are, as my noble friend Lord Wallace pointed out, incorrigibly centralist. I do not think Wales will get a fair deal. European funds have been distributed on the basis of ​need but I strongly suspect that this shadowy new fund will be distributed, like the Barnett formula, on a crude headcount.

In the last year we have observed the abandonment by the Westminster Government of exciting plans for the Swansea tidal lagoon and the electrification of the railway to Swansea. Japanese investment is under threat in the proposed new power station at Wylfa, as we discussed earlier today. Agricultural support is not guaranteed beyond 2020. Jaguar Land Rover, Ford, Vauxhall, Toyota and Airbus—all industries with vital outlets in Wales—have announced plans to move investment into Europe. As for steel, Anthony Taylor, the former mayor of Port Talbot and a steelworker for 39 years, told the Financial Times last March that a hard Brexit would be disastrous for the local economy:

“We are going to have to compete in markets that we are not big enough to compete in. It’s OK to say we will take back control, but control of what? It makes me a bit a nervous to see ministers going around the world trying to sign trade deals with anybody and everybody. It doesn’t look good”.

Independence has not been a strong sentiment in Wales. It was a passion that dared not speak its name. A recent analysis has shown that in the 20 years between 1997 and 2017 the word “independence” appeared 150 times in the SNP manifestos but only 15 times in the manifestos of Plaid Cymru. It was therefore a sign of these Brexit times that Adam Price, who recently defeated Leanne Wood for the leadership of Plaid, campaigned on an independence platform and wrested the leadership from her. Continue reading "Lib Dems vs Brexit: Martin Thomas on how Brexit adds to instability"

18 January 2019 – today’s press releases

As another week draws to a close, the opportunism of the Conservatives becomes more apparent, using the chaos of Brexit to disguise their true intent. And it isn’t to make life better for ordinary people, or to fulfil the promises of the Leave campaign… Lib Dems: Boris still peddling mistruths on Brexit Lib Dems fight […]

As another week draws to a close, the opportunism of the Conservatives becomes more apparent, using the chaos of Brexit to disguise their true intent. And it isn’t to make life better for ordinary people, or to fulfil the promises of the Leave campaign…

  • Lib Dems: Boris still peddling mistruths on Brexit
  • Lib Dems fight Tory threats to human rights
  • Lib Dems: Final fig leaf of leave campaign falls off with Fox

Lib Dems: Boris still peddling mistruths on Brexit

Responding to the speech Boris Johnson made today, Liberal Democrat Brexit Spokesperson Tom Brake said:

No one will take lessons from Boris Johnson on eroding trust in our democracy. The fact he is still peddling mistruths about money from Brexit going to our NHS is shameful. Brexit will make us poorer.

As exit day approaches, with Theresa May’s deal soundly defeated, extending Article 50 is the only responsible course of action left.

We can then hold a people’s vote with the option to remain in the EU. This could happen much sooner than has been suggested and dig the country out of the huge hole the Tories have excavated.

Lib Dems fight Tory threats to human rights

Responding to a letter suggesting that the Conservative Government will consider repealing the Human Rights Act after Brexit, the Liberal Democrats vowed to “continue to lead the fight to protect our human rights”.

The letter, from Justice Minister Edward Argar to the House of Lords’ EU Committee, states that the Government will not repeal or replace the Human Rights Act “while the process of EU exit is underway”, but will “wait until the process of leaving the EU concludes before considering the matter further”.

This follows concerns raised by Liberal Democrat Home Affairs Spokesperson Ed Davey over the lack of a proper commitment to the European Court of Human Rights in Theresa May’s Brexit deal. As Mr Davey pointed out in a letter to the Prime Minister dated 22nd November 2018:

The draft political declaration published today (22nd November) merely states that: ‘The future relationship should incorporate the United Kingdom’s continued commitment to respect the framework of the European Convention on Human Rights’.

In that letter, Mr Davey asked the Prime Minister to explain this weakened wording, and to commit to the UK remaining a party to the ECHR.

Commenting on the Government’s letter, Ed Davey said:

This new Conservative threat to repeal the Human Rights Act and withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights is a scandal, and will undermine the Prime Minister’s attempt to win consensus.

The European Convention is totally separate from the EU, so the Conservatives have no mandate to attack British freedoms, yet it seems if Brexit goes through, that is their plan.

The Liberal Democrats demand better. We will continue to lead the fight to protect our human rights against Conservative attempts to undermine them.

Lib Dems: Final fig leaf of leave campaign falls off with Fox

Commenting on Liam Fox’s admission that he hasn’t yet secured any trade deals in preparation for a no deal Brexit, Liberal Democrat Brexit Spokesperson Tom Brake said:

The final fig leaf of the leave campaign has finally fallen off as it turns out several trade deals Liam Fox said would be ready for Brexit will not be, perhaps not even one.

Not only has Liam Fox’s ‘easiest trade deal in history’ failed to materialise, so to have new trade deals disappeared from view.

This is why it is time to go back to the public with a people’s vote, with an option to remain.