At their annual party conference in Bournemouth this week, the Lib Dems voted to change policy and revoke Article 50 if they win the next General Election. Andy Martin explains why, as a Leave voter who changed his mind, he supports the idea.
First published in September 2019.
The policy in question is, of course, the party’s stance on Brexit. They have been absolutely of the opinion that what is in the best interests of the country is to stop Brexit altogether as the best deal we could have is clearly the one we already have.
The party’s position on this has been, for quite some time now, to try and win a second referendum on the issue and put the choice back to the country. And why not? This whole situation started with a referendum, so maybe the best way to solve it is with a referendum. Only, of course, this time there would need to be a clear and defined definition of what Brexit actually means to every man, woman and child in the country.
However, at their conference, the Liberal Democrats voted to change their Brexit policy from calling for a referendum to simply revoking Article 50 should they win an outright majority at the next election. Furthermore, Jo Swinson announced that should they actually win an election, this would happen “on day one.”
The level of outrage from certain sections of the public over this change of policy has been nothing short of dramatic with many people stating that the policy would be wholly anti-democratic as it would completely disregard the result of the 2016 Referendum, and people angry that their vote to leave, back then, would be completely ignored.
The press has also been quick to leap on this notion with journalists ranging from Beth Rigby to Piers Morgan putting this point very firmly to Jo Swinson on Sky News and Good Morning Britain.
But are they right? Is it anti-democratic to implement this policy should she find herself with the keys to Number 10 in her hand, possibly before this year is out?
As a Leave voter myself I assume that I would typically be immediately jumping on the bandwaggon, and also accuse her and her party of being anti-democratic, but I couldn’t disagree more with these angry people.
Now, I should point out that as well as being a Leave voter, I am also a member of the Liberal Democrats. Brexit may sound like an absurdity to many people I know, but those who know me are well aware of my change of mind on the Brexit issue and my desire to settle this issue by putting it back to the people.
In 2017 the then-Prime Minister Theresa May called a General Election. She called the snap election in an attempt to increase her majority to shore up support for her stance on delivering Brexit. Now, this one simple act does, in my opinion, confirms that a political party that receives a majority by being elected by the people of this country has a mandate to enact their policy. Granted, she actually lost her majority and that, coupled with failing to get sufficient support from within her own party, meant that she couldn’t deliver the Brexit she negotiated with the EU.
She didn’t get the support she needed because Brexit itself means many different things to different people. I mean, there are so many versions of Brexit that it makes it extremely hard to find a version that not only satisfies Members of Parliament but that also satisfies the people who voted for, and still want, Brexit in the first place. So, in order to deliver it, any party in power has to be elected to that position with a very clear position on what their version of Brexit is.
The Brexit Party, for example, already announced they will be campaigning for a no-deal Brexit at the next General Election. Now, this is a nuclear option and one which most people certainly didn’t vote for in 2016, although many people claim they did. So, they would, in effect, by the same logic, be anti-democratic by ignoring the votes of the people who voted to leave but voted that way on the assumption we would be leaving with a negotiated deal. If, however, they were elected to power by the voting public, they would surely have a mandate to deliver just what they promise.
The policy to revoke article 50 is no different. It is a clear and concise, and far more sensible, way of resolving this mess, and if the Liberal Democrats get elected with an overall majority at the next election then they will also have a mandate to deliver just what they are promising.
I know that people voted in 2016 and that many people voted for the first time in that referendum, but we are, first and foremost, a parliamentary democracy and not a direct democracy. The EU referendum was an example of direct democracy, and a general election is an example of parliamentary democracy. If a party comes to power with a promise to deliver policies and all their MPs are united on the manner to achieve that, then they have the authority from the electorate to deliver their policies, whatever they may be.
The Conservatives couldn’t agree on Brexit; it would have been delivered by now otherwise. The Liberal Democrats do agree, and will have the democratic right to revoke article 50 if the British voters allow them to do so by voting them to power.🔷
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