The changing of party political positions on leaving the EU


At the start of the political party conference season, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, Jo Swinson, stated that she did not forgive former Prime Minister David Cameron for calling a referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU. (See the video here.) Yet as many pointed out, the Liberal Democrats called for such a referendum as far back as 2008. The Green Party called for a referendum in 2013. And interim party leader Harriet Harman committed Labour to agree to a referendum in 2015.

Fast forward to 2019 

And “Bo-Jo-No-Show”

…while the musicians and satirists have been active:

This in reference to the ruling by the highest court in Scotland ruling the suspension of Parliament was unlawful (see here).

In the meantime, Captain Ska returned with an uncompromising message to Johnson with particular reference to the latter’s inflammatory articles on immigration and minority communities.

Captain Ska ft Rubi Dan above

There’s no going back to a pre-Brexit world

This point was powerfully put by Jess O’Brien, the Cambridge University Students’ Union’s Disabled Students’ Officer at a meeting in Cambridge last week. Her point – and I agree with her on this – is that people voted the way they did based on the information they had at the time and on the life experiences that they had experienced – in particular in relation to austerity.

Furthermore, Ms O’Brien made the case that the only options that were on the table were ‘Cameron’s Deal’ or leaving ‘with a deal’. There was no ‘left wing remain’ or ‘green remain’ alternatives. Stung by what happened to both Labour and the Liberal Democrats in Scotland, in the Independence Referendum the previous year, Mr Corbyn stayed well away from the official Remain campaign. Back in 2015 after the general election, the Liberal Democrats were a spent force, having lost all but eight of their MPs.

Much has changed since the EU Referendum

Whether it’s the revelations of who was doing what on social media with what money, through to the rapid rise of Extinction Rebellion and the very visible symptoms of the climate crisis, ecocide, and the tide of plastic waste, we are in a very different place collectively. I think it was Ms O’Brien who also commented that ‘Remain’ was also the wrong branding to use for those that wanted to stay in the European Union, as it implied no movement, no change, no improvements for those who had borne the brunt of austerity – many of the people living in those areas voting to leave because amongst other things it was the only thing that was ‘different’ to keeping on business as usual. And who could blame them?

Locally here in Cambridge things have changed. For a start, the MP for South Cambridgeshire Heidi Allen quit the Conservatives and for now stands alone as an independent MP. The district council – for decades officially Conservative or run by ‘independent’ councillors who were Conservative-leaning, is now run by the Liberal Democrats with 66% of the seats for the next few years. More sinisterly, the selection of Ms Allen’s replacement has caused more than a little concern in these parts – especially with his past record of inflammatory articles about immigration and people from minority ethnic backgrounds.

Finally, there has been a welcome rise in the number of people who are learning about and getting involved in politics and local democracy. On the flip side we saw this counter demo against a pro-EU rally in Parliament Square.

…which feels incredibly dangerous – and is a reason why I think twice about going down to London for political marches.

There has also been population and demographic changes – one that could affect the result of any ‘people’s vote’ or second referendum. The UK’s annual death rate is over 500,000 per year. That means around 1.5million people will have passed away since 2016, the vast majority over the age of 65 given the UK’s ageing population. At the same time, three cohorts of teenagers who could not vote in 2016 (aged 15-17) will be able to vote in such a second referendum that might happen in 2020. Given how politicised that generation has become not just through the EU referendum result but also the climate emergency, that demographic change alone could swing the result back the other way all other things being equal. That last bit being a ***very strong assumption*** because so many other things will affect how a person might vote in a second referendum.

Politicians need to be honest with the public about why they have changed their policies on leaving the EU.

That applies to both pro and anti-EU groups.

Ministers in Cameron’s past government need to account properly for why they did not commission the civil service to do any of the contingency planning, scenario planning or the hosting of public meetings across the country where the public could cross-examine politicians and experts in the field.

On the pro-EU side, politicians need to acknowledge, understand and empathise with those that voted leave where that vote was not driven by hatred and prejudice, but by things like austerity and/or the failure of public and political institutions. Furthermore they also need to explain what politicians tried to do to implement the decision of the electorate in 2016, and explain why Westminster has ended up in a place of political paralysis. Even if it means acknowledging that things politicians did not understand prior to the referendum have since emerged that makes leaving the EU much more difficult as a bureaucratic task, or much more expensive financially that it changes the assessment of the merits of leaving or staying in the EU.

So in the case of Jo Swinson MP and her Q&A session she needed to explain in that Q&A session. (See the link here that takes you to a video at the start of the full Q&A session). Note Mr Corbyn has been accused of changing his mind over triggering Article 50 – see the BBC Reality Check here. Then there is the disgraced former Defence Secretary stating how easy it would be to get a trade deal with the EU in an article from 2017.

And finally…

The current Home Secretary on capital punishment.

With the public now able to verify such things ***in real time*** (something I predicted as far back as 2011) it’s far better for politicians to explain why they have changed their mind on something rather than to pretend they have always had the same opinion come what may throughout their political lives. Otherwise everyone ends up going round in circles over who said what and when rather than getting to the root of problems in society – which is what we use the political processes and political institutions to resolve.