Saturday 27 May 2023

Embrace the Elephant!

 First published in LibDemVoice Sat 27th May 2023

The elephant is of course that big, and growing, elephant in the corner of the sitting room: Brexit. Now that Project Fear has become Project Here, it is time for us in the Lib Dems to be much more open about our belief that Britain’s place lies back at the heart of Europe.

Ever since the Brexit vote I’ve been reasonably sure this time would come. Voting to leave was a mistake, and its costs would sooner or later become apparent. The ideological nature of the vote was such that many people would cling stubbornly to their belief that it was right – for some years, I thought. But once it began to crumble, it would crumble quickly. I was right about the trajectory, wrong about the timing. I thought it would be at least another couple of years. (I didn’t allow for the damage to be so deep, or the government to be so negligent.)

As long as the bulk of Brexit voters held to their beliefs, and, equally, as long as the bulk of the British population continued to be hoodwinked by the idea that to campaign for our beliefs was somehow undemocratic, we were probably right to soft pedal on it. I have thought for a long time that the backlash would outweigh the potential gains; but I believed we only needed to be patient.

Our policy has become clear with  “Rebuilding Trade and Cooperation with Europe”, though the mainstream media have been, as usual, exceedingly quiet about it. Our leadership on the whole has remained reticent, but now the time for reticence has passed. There was some indication of this at the spring conference – the European passages of Ed’s speech were highly optimistic and were loudly and enthusiastically applauded. (Not reported in the mainstream press of course – maybe Ed was counting on that.)

That shows that popularity within the party is high, and now opinion polls are regularly showing solid majorities saying Brexit has failed, the costs are too high, it was the wrong choice. Opinion is with us. We have to contend with the right wing media and the Rees-Mogg Tendency: but we always will have to. But now is the time to make it bold. The time is now for us to embrace the elephant.

It remains a technically awkward policy to sell. It’s difficult to make a catchy slogan out of “repair, rebuild confidence, trade, single market”. And a great deal of prior work needs to be done in this country, as I’ve said before, to make us fit for them to accept us. Perhaps there is a slogan available: coined in an inspired moment by Sally Burnell: “from Brexit to Fixit”.