My Speech on an Exit From Brexit to Lib Dem Autumn 2017 Conference


For context, the motion is to make our Brexit policy a simple revocation of Article 50. The amendment seeks to insert a referendum on the deal.

 

Good morning, conference

This year we had a general election. Our flagship policy going into it was essentially the one that the amendment tries to reassert: that if in government, we would carry on negotiating Brexit until at least March 2019, 2 years after the Article 50 invocation, while employers and jobs flee the country, while our friends and neighbours born in other EU countries suffer xenophobic hate and discrimination, while the pound crashes, and while talent flees our NHS, and then finally, when we’ve negotiated a deal we will hold a referendum and ask the electorate to reject that deal.

Bizarrely, the voters didn’t think this was very good, and as a result we got our lowest vote share in decades. What appeared to be an attempt to appease people who would never vote for us anyway made people who might have voted for us instead put their trust in Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour to defeat Brexit. Jeremy Corbyn, a man who could probably shoot EU migrants in Trafalgar Square and not loose a single one of his adoring voters, was seen as more credible on the EU than we were.

So let’s be clear, conference, the referendum policy has been tested in a general election, and found to be electorally toxic. It is a failed policy and we should abandon it.

What we should do now, and what we should have done in the first place, is stand on our principles. It was Charlie’s principled stand on Iraq that made me become a Liberal Democrat in the first place. I admired that. It’s time to stand on our principles again.

Instead we act as if the support for the European project, written into our constitution, is something we are vaguely embarrassed about, and we then wonder why nobody will vote for us.

Many of those representing us at Westminster still want to cling to this failed referendum policy. A policy that even Tom Brake suggested was foolish even while asking us to re-endorse it.

If I never see another referendum again, it will be too soon. They are where representative democracy goes to die. They are popularity contests for extremists and demagogues. They bring out the very worst in our politics. Things got so bad last time that an MP was assassinated. Our parliamentarians need to end their love affair with them and do their jobs.

The final deal referendum policy sounds like it was born in the Westminster bubble. It was only ever going to appeal to people who think inside the Westminster bubble.

Well today we’re a few hours train ride away from Westminster, and that’s where this referendum policy, our very own electoral suicide note, should be laid to rest, because if it isn’t, we will be.

We should be proud of who we are. We are Liberal Democrats. We believe in the European Union. Vote for us, and we will Exit from Brexit.

Reject Amendment One and pass the motion unamended. Let’s stand on our principles again.

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