Today the Liberal Democrats launched their manifesto for the 2017 general election.
While paying lip service to respecting the will of the people:
We acknowledge the result of the 2016 referendum, which gave the government a mandate to start negotiations to leave – but we believe the final decision should be made by the British people, not by politicians.
it is abundantly clear this is an attempt to reverse the referendum decision of 23 June last year. The heading of the Europe section of the manifesto Protect Britain’s place in Europe rather gives the game away.
Lim Dem policy is not just to hold a referendum on whether to accept the negotiated deal, where under the terms of Article 50 a no vote would mean leaving without a deal, they want a third option on the ballot paper: staying in the EU.
That’s why, when the terms of our future relationship with the EU have been negotiated (over the next two years on the Government’s timetable), we will put that deal to a vote of the British people in a referendum, with the alternative option of staying in the EU on the ballot paper.
Let’s be clear why this is such a bad idea. If there is the prospect of another referendum overturning the 2016 result then that gives everyone who wants the decision reversed a powerful incentive to make the deal offered in 2018 as poor as possible. That means not only the EU institutions (who are panicking not only about the precedent set by Brexit, but also by the huge hole that will be left in the EU budget), the Governments of the remaining 27 (who will either receive less or have to pay more), but also every remoaner in the UK including (one suspects) some senior civil servants and other establishment figures who need to be working to make Brexit a success. Remember, the Article 50 talks can’t be used to offer the UK a better deal to remain (even if such a thing were contemplated by either side, David Cameron tried that in 2015/16 and was sent home with nothing).
Under the circumstances of the EU offering the worst possible deal it is inevitable the talks will collapse.
One suspects that the EU institutions understood this perfectly well when Article 50 was drafted. A two-stage process of the kind the Lib Dems propose may look plausible at first sight but it is predestined to offer a choice between no exit at all and the hardest ‘cliff-edge’ exit with nothing agreed between the parties. That would be good for neither the EU nor any exiting country. That is one reason why Article 50 specifies a single point of decision.
Theresa May has said she wants the general election to unite the country and allow her to get the best possible deal. It is clear the Lib Dem strategy is to divide the country and wreck any possible deal in the hope of reversing the referendum result. The British people will have no truck with this.