Brexit, the Lib Dems and the Second Referendum

I joined the Liberal Democrats in 2015, before the Brexit referendum had been called. As a new member of the party at that point, I was proud of the party’s stance on the EU, and fervently supported the Remain campaign. I found it deeply frustrating that Jeremy Corbyn, the Leader of the Opposition, seemed satisfied to take a back seat in the defining issue of our generation, and when his lukewarm at best opposition to Brexit continued after the result was declared, I was more certain than ever that I had made the right choice in supporting the Liberal Democrats over Labour.

Tim Farron’s opposition to Brexit has been unwavering, and his work this past year towards the goal of a second referendum is inspiring. It’s a call that wasn’t well received at first, but as the devastating impact of Brexit and the lies of the Leave campaign have begun to unravel, support is steadily growing. Recent polls even suggest that a majority of the electorate back the Liberal Democrats’ campaign for us to have the final say on the deal. I’ll be frank; I would far rather that Parliament does what it is supposed to do and act as our elected representatives. An issue of this magnitude should never have been decided by an advisory referendum with such a small margin. Our MPs should stand up, acknowledge that Brexit would be an unmitigated disaster and withdraw Article 50. With that ticking timebomb out of the way, they could then work towards resolving the issues that brought us to this point in the first place.

Unfortunately, far too many of them are willing to hide behind the shield of ‘the will of the people’. With that being the case, though, the idea of a second referendum gives them the chance of the get-out clause they need to demonstrate that the said will has shifted since June 23rd, 2016. I am convinced Remain would win a second vote. In 2016, complacency and reasoning proved to be our undoing. Politicians and economists believed that logic would win the day. They failed to take into account the Leave campaign’s strident appeal to the emotions of the electorate – and, most importantly of all, they failed to understand that it is far easier to mobilise support for change than to bring people out to vote to maintain the status quo. That precise difficulty, though, would become an advantage for Remainers in a potential second referendum. Now Leave is the status quo, and the campaign to halt Brexit has gathered hundreds of thousands of passionate, vociferous supporters across society.

That is why I am so determined to see the Liberal Democrats keep up the pressure for the electorate to be allowed to have the final say on whether Brexit materialises. A significant number of new party members joined solely on the premise that we were the pro-EU party who would fight all the way to stop Brexit. To abandon that promise and instead moderate ourselves to support a soft Brexit instead would be an unmitigated disaster for the Liberal Democrats. Our membership would leave in droves, and the progress we have made in proving ourselves trustworthy again after the coalition would be entirely obliterated.

I was sorely disappointed when Tim Farron was forced to resign, but I hoped a stridently pro-EU MP would step up to continue his work. Thus far, that hasn’t happened. The only candidate to stand as of today is Vince Cable – a politician I greatly respect, but his reported views on Brexit and free movement have provoked concern about whether he will seek to lead the party away from the campaign to Remain. Fortunately, our party is in essence a democracy, and as such key policies are very much led by the membership, but after what happened to Tim Farron, it cannot be ignored that the media reporting of the leader’s views and comments can become far more prevalent than the party’s documented policies.

British politics and the electorate are crying out for a passionately pro-EU, centrist and liberal party to cut through the left/right arguments and the politics of division that both the Tories and Labour seek to promote. We need a party to unite us and lead us forward on an internationalist footing, and the Liberal Democrats have the potential to be that party – but if we abandon the 48%, we run the risk of total political annihilation. It’s time to stand up for what we believe in.

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