That the Brexit project is not inevitable was the central message of a talk given by Lord Richard Newby, leader of the Liberal Democrats in the Lords, to Richmond (Yorks) constituency Liberal Democrats on Friday July 6. Lord Newby, a Yorkshireman, has recently returned to live in his native county.
Lord Newby deplored the fact that the Brexit negotiations were consuming the energies of all government departments while public services and education in particular were in crisis. The government had recently made a limited commitment for more money for the NHS but still with no idea of where the money would come from. The “Brexit dividend” was a fantasy.
Despite this situation, the government had had virtually no direct talks with the EU as the cabinet and the Conservative party were totally divided. The internal discussions in cabinet were on the two central questions of “control”, the Brexiteers mantra, and “access”, so necessary in practical terms for the economy. You could not have both. “Having cake and eating it” was impossible. He went on to say that what Teresa May wants is unworkable and will inevitably be rejected by the EU.
Lord Newby said it was perfectly feasible to envisage the situation where a cross party coalition of Members of Parliament voted for the public to have a referendum on the deal negotiated by the government, rejection of which would mean the UK remaining in the EU. Far from being undemocratic, as Brexiteers would claim, this would give voters the chance to vote on the deal rather than the misleading fantasies they had been led to believe before the referendum two years ago. Liberal Democrats were united in this goal and should not hold back in proclaiming this message. He believed that the Remain argument would prevail and this was supported by recent opinion polls.
Lord Newby said that Liberal Democrats should confidently challenge the Brexiteers. “Our party knows where it stands and can go for it”.
Lord Newby was speaking while the discussions at Chequers was taking place and commented afterwards “The cabinet agreement means that for goods we will have simply to follow any rules which the EU imposes and be subject to the European Court. It ignores services – some 80% of the economy – altogether. It has bought short term Cabinet harmony but would bring long term harm to the British economy”