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Lib Dems pledge to block Brexit

James Gurling

If, through Conservative obfuscation and Labour indecision, a referendum is not delivered before a general election, revocation of Article 50 is effectively the Liberal Democrats’ own ‘Stop Brexit backstop’.

The national debate on Brexit took a new turn yesterday as the Liberal Democrat conference committed itself to revoking Article 50 in the event that they were elected as a majority government.

The decision is designed to be a natural next step in the party’s overall ‘Stop Brexit’ position. If, through Conservative obfuscation and Labour indecision, a referendum is not delivered before a general election, revocation of Article 50 is effectively the Liberal Democrats’ own ‘Stop Brexit backstop’. They would have a clear mandate to back their position and, if not in government on their own, a clear mandate to ensure that ‘Remain’ would be part of any subsequent referendum.

Although carried by an overwhelming majority on the conference floor, the decision has not been without some controversy elsewhere. Former MP Simon Hughes and current MEP Chris Davies unsuccessfully backed a move to take out references to revocation. They were comprehensively beaten. While notable Liberal Democrats with Leave-heavy constituencies (like Andrew George in St Ives and Norman Lamb in North Norfolk) have continued to criticise the move and their concerns have received a fair hearing in the media. Alighting on the possibility that a Lib Dem government could be elected on a 35% vote share, the argument is made that revocation would have far less legitimacy than the 52% support that Leave received in 2016. Setting aside the damascene conversion to proportionality this position rather overlooks the fact that the current ‘no-deal’ crisis is presided over by a minority government lacking its own legitimacy.

The Liberal Democrats have established themselves as the leading party of Remain – reaping the electoral benefits in both local and European elections this year. Meanwhile, Labour continues to equivocate, resulting in an unclear position on the major issue of the day. A recent YouGov poll revealed that 41% of people think it would be legitimate for a party to keep the UK in the EU. But in the core voter segments that will matter most to Jo Swinson as her election campaign gathers pace, the strength of support is pronounced: 58% of Labour voters, 66% of Lib Dem voters, 70% of Remain voters. This could well be a move which surprises the nay-sayers and secures the revival of the party’s fortunes.

James Gurling is Managing Director and Joint Head of Public Affairs at MHP

He is also Chair of the Liberal Democrats’ Federal Communications and Elections Committee, and Chaired the party’s 2017 General Election and 2019 European Parliament Election campaigns.