Tom Brake interview: “Come a general election, its everything to play for”

The Liberal Democrats have witnessed something of a resurgence since the outcome of the 2016 EU referendum. With a clear policy of opposing Brexit – and now with the election of Jo Swinson – there is a clear feeling that the party is now primed to lead a new liberal movement in the UK.

It’s no wonder that Tom Brake, the Lib Dem Brexit spokesman, is confident that the party could fair well in an upcoming general election, saying that there “is everything to play for” and the idea that “Jo Swinson could be our future prime minister” is a perfectly “rational idea to set out”.

There is no doubting that the Liberal Democrats have grown dramatically in terms of popularity, compared to the 2017 general election. The party witnessed their London vote share increase by 20% in the 2019 European elections- a clear indicator of their anti-Brexit appeal.

According to Mr Brake, Brexit came at a time when the party faced an “existential threat” and enabled it to “clear the decks” by developing a “clear position” that would appeal to a broad “range of voters.”

When asked about the party’s stance on the EU Referendum itself, Mr Brake made reference to what he dubbed a “deliberate attempts” to exclude certain groups from “participation”, which he believes contributed to the narrow margin of victory for Leave.

As well as expressing doubt at the ability of the new prime minister to renegotiate a deal with the EU, the Brexit Spokesman defended Jo Swinson’s decision not to form a pact with the Labour Party, arguing that Jeremy Corbyn “has always been a Eurosceptic”.

The full interview can be found below:

The EU Referendum: Corruption on a Machiavellian scale

“Everyone sees what you appear to be, few experience what you really are”

Niccolo Machiavelli – ‘The Prince’

Famine, flood, fire, disease, conquer, and other tribulations are found to be among the fortunes that weaken or destroy a nation. Yet, none of these is as great a threat to maintaining an enduring state as corruption.

Albeit, a less often used concept; corruption appears in many different forms, but always as a foil to virtue and aid to fortune. Certainly, there is a form of unparalleled similarity between the “illegal practices” of the Vote Leave campaign and the Machiavellian thought.

It is fitting to think of the most recent revelations from the Electoral Commission’s investigation into campaigning as characterising Brexit as a force that ignited man’s propensity to vice or perversion.

“Whosoever desires constant success must change his conduct with the times”

Niccolo Machiavelli – ‘Republic’

“If politicians think they can walk all over us, then we’re going to march back and tell them they can’t”. This was the rallying cry of Nigel Farage as he signalled the beginning of the ‘Brexit Betrayal March’ in which Leave voters marched close to 300 miles to protest against the government’s failure to deliver Brexit. Yet, in what is undoubtedly a far greater ‘betrayal’ Farage announced that he would not actually be participating in the march.

The sense of false hope evoked by this shock announcement is a fitting metaphor for the lies and deceit that accompanied the referendum campaign: false promises, deception and the ironic dereliction of democracy in an exercise that was supposed to enhance it- allegedly.

But it is not just Farage- the self-appointed phoney ‘representative of the people’ that is at fault. Our own government are complicit in the erosion of UK democracy as we know it. Indeed, underlying the principal issue of the referendum today is not about who ‘won’. Rather, it is the disturbing reality of having to question whether or not a lawful, free and fair vote still remains one of the constitutional requirements of the UK; and whether the end really does justify the means.

The UK’s constitutional requirements include well-established principles which value and seek to preserve the integrity of democracy, including the voting process, as well as lawful decision-making. The right to vote is a fundamental constitutional right. The integrity of the democratic process is one of the common law’s fundamental values which underlie the UK’s constitutional requirements in this case. The principle of legality is a relevant constitutional requirement, in this case, protecting democratic values recognised by the common law and applying principles of constitutionality.

But, facts recently revealed since the Prime Minister exercised her power under Section 1 of the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Act 2017 to notify the EU of the UK’s intention to leave show that the 2016 referendum was significantly vitiated by unlawful misconduct. Of particular concern, the Electoral Commission recently found (to the criminal standard of proof) that offences were committed in breach of the legal framework established by Parliament for the referendum.

Vote Leave, the official designated campaign, was found on a standard of beyond reasonable doubt to have committed serious offences, including joint working between the lead campaigner, Vote Leave and another campaign group BeLeave. BeLeave was found to have spent £675,315.18 with Aggregate IQ under a common plan with Vote Leave. This spending should have been declared by Vote Leave. It means Vote Leave exceeded its legal spending limit of £7 million by £449,079, around 6%.

Leave.EU, a registered participant, failed to include at least £77,380 in its spending return, thereby exceeding its spending limit by more than 10%, being fees paid to the company Better for the Country Limited as its campaign organiser.

There is no reasonable doubt then, in logic or reason, that the illegality perpetrated by various ‘Leave’ campaigns disproportionately influenced the outcome of the referendum. In what was heralded by the then Conservative prime minister, David Cameron, as an opportunity to allow the ‘people to have their say on European Union members, the referendum was tainted by significant breaches, amounting to corrupt and illegal practices in electoral law

With the burden of proof having been sufficiently met, one has to ask: why does the prime minister insist on ‘respecting the result of the referendum’. How can the electorate, who are entitled to vote in a free and fair democratic exercise, be expected to respect an outcome that undermines the rule of law?

The term ‘Machiavellian’ is in common usage today, and is usually applied pejoratively in reference politicians. Such reluctance to give attention to the veracity of said illegalities is troubling. That a prime minister, who is now aware that the referendum result was procured by criminal conduct, still proceeds confidently on the basis that 51% of those who voted and 34% of the electorate were in favour of the UK leaving the EU is objectionable. Indeed, Theresa May has placed herself firmly into a Machiavellian dimension: how Brexit was achieved has been overlooked because the focus has been shifted to what has been achieved, namely, that ‘will of the people’ has prevailed- something she urges should be ‘respected’.

Even though Machiavelli acknowledged that appearances are arguably more important than actions, because “everyone sees what you appear to be,” “few experience what you really are,” in the end “the common people are always impressed by appearances and results”. May’s wilful neglect of evidence of illegality in the Referendum will matter more than any posturing before or after it.

By reason of this conduct, and if we are to hold out any hope of salvaging democracy, it must be recognised that it is wrong for the Prime Minister to treat as binding the result of a referendum which, had it been binding, would be void, the result of which may have been affected thereby. Furthermore, to do so is not lawful or in accordance with the UK’s constitutional requirements. Parliament should not be taken to have disapplied principles of legality and constitutionality in conferring the said power on the Prime Minister.

We might consider, then, how often the losers of war are found to be morally questionable, while the victors are seen as above reproach- the notion that history is written by the victors. Ultimately, Brexit leads us to examine the extent to which we are prepared to overlook the dubious machinations of our politicians if the outcome works in our favour.

May urges MPs to ‘reflect’ as she insists UK can exit EU by next month

Amid the anger from Tory MPs over the extension of article 50, Theresa May has used her statement to the House of Commons to encourage MPs to use the upcoming Easter recess to “reflect on the decisions that will have to be made swiftly on our return”.

The prime minister emphasised the importance of cross-party talks that have been taking place between ministers in the government and the Labour Party and remarked that she hoped that an agreement could be brokered within the next few days.

Her statement comes after returning from the EU27 summit in Brussels in which European leaders attempted to agree to an extension of article 50 until the end of October.

Mrs May used her statement to apportion blame to Tory Brexiteers’ failure to vote for her deal for the decision to ask for a further delay to article 50. Indeed, she suggested that if MPs could pass another withdrawal deal before 22 May, Britain could avoid participating in European elections and then leave the EU at the end of that month.

“However challenging it may be politically, I profoundly believe that in this unique situation where the house is deadlocked, it is incumbent on both frontbenches to seek to work together to deliver what the British people voted for. And I think that the British people expect their politicians to do just that when the national interest demands it.”

Theresa May

Nonetheless, members of the European Research Group lashed out against May’s further delay, with Conservative MP Bill Cash quoting May’s statement as an “abject surrender” and inquired whether she would resign.

In response to the prime minister, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn blamed the failure to “seek consensus” for the inability of any proposed Brexit deal to command a majority in Parliament.

May acknowledged that she had not wanted to ask for a second extension and cited the public’s increasing disenchantment with the impasse currently engulfing Parliament as a reason to reach an agreement by the end of the month

“…let us use the opportunity of the recess to reflect on the decisions that will have to be made swiftly on our return after Easter. And let us then resolve to find a way through this impasse.”

Theresa May

Analysis by Oliver Murphy – Editor

Yesterday’s statement from the prime minister has opened a Pandora’s Box in terms of the political ramifications of another Brexit delay. Today, as a seemingly spent Mrs May took to the despatch box, you’d be forgiven for believing that this was yet another desperate attempt from the PM to try and salvage her dwindling authority.

But for the time being Theresa May has succeeded in at least quelling the once unwavering sense of dread at the potential of a no deal Brexit. Yet, the question ultimately remains: what now?

Labour is willing to continue negotiations with the PM to try and seek compromise, but two factors threaten this prospect: the prime minister’s lack of authority and whether Labour feels it is within their interests to ‘make a deal with the devil.’

Today’s six-month extension to article 50 complicates matters further. With the urgency to avoid a no-deal scenario gone, those on the Labour benches who had thought of voting for May’s deal out of desperation are less likely to do so. As if this wasn’t enough, supporters of a second referendum will be feeling a renewed vigour to push Labour towards backing any legislation to allow a fresh poll during the period of extension.

Yet, perhaps the most pressing task facing the prime minister is facing off the majority of MPs within her own party who wish to see her gone. Indeed, even the most moderate Tories believe that May’s authority has reached its end. But even those within the cabinet concede that there is nothing that can be technically done to remove the PM before December when the party can try again to bring a no-confidence vote.

The sense of delirium within the Conservative party is overwhelming. With no apparent cliff edges on the horizon, many Tory MPs will relish the prospect of an Easter recess. But recent months suggests that a parliamentary break does not always result in cool heads. Indeed, this was the flawed calculation that Mrs May made when she cancelled the first Brexit vote before the Christmas recess, only to find that MPs were even more determined to vote her deal down.

Amid the uncertainty that continues to engulf Parliament, one prospect remains clear: Labour could capitalise on the general dissatisfaction with the Conservative Party in the upcoming local – and maybe even the EU elections.

Above all else, for the prime minister, this latest Brexit extension marks the beginning of the biggest fight for her political career.

May facing Tory unrest as Parliament approves further Brexit delay

The extent of Conservative dissatisfaction with Theresa May for requesting a further delay to Brexit was brought to the fore after most of her MPs, including four cabinet ministers, refused to vote in favour of requesting a further extension of article 50.

Highlighting the prime minister’s dwindling authority, nearly 100 Tory MPs voted against May’s decision to ask for a three-month extension with another 80 abstaining. Some of her most high-profile cabinet colleagues including Andrea Leadsom and Geoffrey Cox did not vote on the tabled motion to extend article 50 until 30 June.

May only won the vote after securing support from Labour and other opposition parties with only 31% of her backing coming from her own party.

Despite today’s vote underlining the intense divisions within the Tory Party, the prime minister will proceed with her request for a delay until 30 June at an EU summit on 10 April, but it is becoming increasingly clear that the EU27 will force her to accept a far longer extension of up to a year.

Analysis by Oliver Murphy – Editor

Despite securing a narrow victory for an extension of article 50, today’s vote was a major defeat for a prime minister desperately trying to hold not only her beloved party together but her own cabinet.

With her previous withdrawal deal being defeated last week, May is charting troubled water as she attempts to unite both her government and the country behind her.

Indeed, pro-Brexit MPs have translated today’s major party rebellion as evidence that she does not have the backing of her party to pursue a soft Brexit that involves a customs union. Even then, she will ultimately wield no parliamentary majority for that if only 100 Labour and other opposition MPs push for a confirmatory referendum.

Despite the non-existence of cabinet discipline, ministers are unlikely to resign as they will ultimately fear the potential of being replaced by pro-remain ministers at this crucial time.

While Parliament and the executive continue to be consumed by the Brexit deadlock, one thing is becoming increasingly clear: May’s future. Indeed, how can the prime minister realistically continue having previously promised not to extend article 50 beyond 30 June? And now, as May loses the support of most of her party, reaching out to Labour and becoming increasingly divorced from the cabinet, the question remains: how long can she last?

Has the death of May’s deal paved the way for a new Brexit approach?

It really is ironic, isn’t it? Despite a third successive Brexit defeat for Theresa May, it seems the fallout has at last paved the way for an alternative approach to the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union.

Friday’s Commons defeat was smaller than those which had come before it on 15 January and 12 March – the majority against Mrs May was 58 rather than 230 and 149. The vote was also confined to the so-called ‘Divorce’ rather than extending to the crucial political declaration. But, even so, the verdict was clear- the vote in its current form is dead and buried.

Given that her deal was likely to lose for a third time, the question has to be asked: why did the prime minister so willingly invite her own humiliation? For a prime minister who, since taking office has faced 35 cabinet resignations, conventional wisdom would surely prevent her from inflicting any more embarrassment upon her stricken premiership.

There are a host of reasons. Her obdurate character, her inept strategy and the seeping political authority. However, perhaps the most crucial reason was to appease the various party wings, and indeed the country, by showing that some kind of Brexit was on the road. But her systematic misjudgements and succumbing to partisanship meant she was unable to meet the deadline of leaving the EU in what she called “an orderly fashion” by 29 March. The prime minister was clearly trying to demonstrate to leave voters that it was everyone else apart from her that was getting in the way of Brexit. Indeed, Mrs May has, throughout the process, tried to turn the spotlight of blame on Labour. But they owed her nothing.

According to Geoffrey Cox, the attorney general, the reason for May trying again was purely a matter of procedure. The prime minister needed to get the deal through so that the latest Brexit deadline could be moved back from 12 April to 22 May which, in theory, would allow Parliament to force through the final furlong of withdrawal legislation and avoid the European parliament elections.

But the PM had more political reasons too. The revolt of MPs last Monday, in which they took control of the parliamentary timetable, opened the possibility that opposition MPs and pro-European Tories might force a soft-Brexit. Many panicked at this prospect, and with Mrs May promising to stand down if her deal was voted through, more than 40 MPs supported a deal they had once fiercely criticised. Even so, it was all to no avail, yet Downing Street seems to suggest that it can rely on those switchers in order to make things easier for the deal if May tries a fourth time.

But a fourth vote would be nonsensical. Instead, Mrs May’s defeat clears the way for an alternative approach. Indeed, this week’s indicative votes – whilst not producing an outright majority – proved that there is a majority for a customs union-orientated solution. With Theresa May having now extended the olive branch to Jeremy Corbyn in order to find common ground, the prospect of either a customs union or second referendum on the final deal are very much in play.

If the Commons can rally behind these then the EU summit – which commences on 10 April – can be asked to give the UK an extension of article 50 to formulate a different form of a withdrawal deal, potentially with a public vote at the end.

Whatever happens in the short-term, maybe, just maybe, Theresa May has kicked the can hard enough to create space for a belated, but much-needed compromise.

Breaking News – May faces second resignation in no-deal protest

Brexit minister Chris Heaton-Harris has resigned in protest over May’s refusal to embrace no-deal.

Heaton-Harris, a devout Brexiter resigned after a day of speculation that he might follow Nigel Adams, who resigned as a junior minister earlier today due to his belief that Theresa May was making a “grave error” in trying to reach out to Jeremy Corbyn.

He outlined in his resignation letter that he though the UK should have left the EU on 29 March, as planned, and that he cannot support any further extension.

One of his main responsibilities as a Brexit minister was no-deal planning. In his resignation letter, Chris Heaton-Harris, says he does not believe that the prime minister is aware of how much has been done within government to prepare the UK for a no-deal scenario

Analysis from Oliver Murphy – Editor

Today marks the thirty-sixth ministerial resignation since Theresa May took office in 2016, and most crucially the dwindling of the prime minister’s political authority.

But of course, charting a course for Brexit has never been a clear-cut exercise. Whether it be a no-deal or soft Brexit, each option risks potentially splitting the cabinet in two.

This latest resignation reaffirms the unrest currently striking the Conservative Party, and the tenuous position May holds as the Prime Minister, as well as further damaging the number of MP’s votes she can rely on to see her planned Brexit deal through Parliament for what could potentially be a fourth time in the coming weeks. Indeed, the warnings of the government chief whip resonates today, as the convention of collective responsibility is tested to its limit.