How the Lib Dems fared...

Mark Pack - head of innovations for the Liberal Democrats - reports a mixed picture for his party

It's the afternoon after and results are still coming through thick and fast, so - between now slightly drooping eyelids - how does it look for the Liberal Democrats so far?

Taking the four yardsticks I blogged about on Wednesday, the scorecard looks like this so far.

First - Scotland. It looks like our vote is up, but we won't be gaining seats, and there is also a similar picture in Wales. Some individually excellent results, including the mammoth vote increase (+20%) for Tavish Scott in Shetland, are mixed in with the less good.

Second - the key Westminster marginals. This is the very good news for the Liberal Democrats today - with gains from the Conservatives in seats like Winchester, Eastleigh, Westmorland and Lonsdale, Cheadle and Eastbourne. If the Conservatives were set to make major gains from the Liberal Democrats at the next general election, they should have been romping home in seats like this - but they weren't.

In some places there is clearly a very large difference between our results in key constituencies and the Liberal Democrat performance in other nearby areas. Where we have suffered badly, as in Bournemouth, it seems to have been on the back of particular local controversies, but as shown by the relatively good results in Bath - scene of numerous controversies over the spa baths - these can be turned around.

This high level of variation in results from area to area is not just good news for the Liberal Democrats but also in part reflects voters' increasing interest in local circumstances and policies - which causes more variation in voting from area to area. That is bound to be good for democracy, regardless of whether we benefit or suffer from such variation.

Third - how well have the Tories done? They will still be a long way short of the level of local government strength that Labour had after 1996 or the Conservatives had after 1978. And the BBC estimate of their national share of the vote is only up 1% on last year.

Fourth - the Labour / Liberal Democrat contest in the popular vote.
Labour look to have just edged the Liberal Democrats (this time round).

I wrote before that, "the result I'll be looking out for most closely [is] the one where I was involved in a last minute legal scramble to sort out problems with the nomination paperwork. Let's hope that hassle was worth it!" It was - chalk up one Liberal Democrat gain.

Mark Pack is the Head of Innovations for the Lib Dems. He previously worked in their Campaigns & Elections Department for seven years.
Photo: Getty
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What price would the UK pay to stop Brexit?

The EU could end Britain's budget rebate and demand that we join the euro and the Schengen zone.

Among any group of Remain politicians, discussion soon turns to the likelihood of stopping Brexit. After Theresa May's electoral humbling, and the troubled start to the negotiations, those who oppose EU withdrawal are increasingly optimistic.

“I’m beginning to think that Brexit may never happen,” Vince Cable, the new Liberal Democrat leader, said recently. A growing number, including those who refuse to comment publicly, are of the same view. 

But conversation rarely progresses to the potential consequences of halting Brexit. The assumption that the UK could simply retain the status quo is an unsafe one. Much hinges on whether Article 50 is unilaterally revocable (a matter Britain might have been wise to resolve before triggering withdrawal.) Should the UK require the approval of the EU27 to halt Brexit (as some lawyers believe), or be forced to reapply for membership, Brussels would extract a price. 

Guy Verhofstadt, the European parliament’s Brexit co-ordinator, recently echoed French president Emmanuel Macron's declaration that “there is always a chance to reopen the door”. But he added: “Like Alice in Wonderland, not all the doors are the same. It will be a brand new door, with a new Europe, a Europe without rebates, without complexity, with real powers and with unity.”

The UK's £5bn budget rebate, achieved by Margaret Thatcher in 1984, has long been in the EU's sights. A demand to halt Brexit would provide the perfect pretext for its removal. 

As Verhofstadt's reference to “unity” implied, the UK's current opt-outs would also be threatened. At present, Britain (like Denmark) enjoys the right to retain its own currency and (like Ireland) an exemption from the passport-free Schengen travel zone. Were the UK to reapply for membership under Article 49 of the Lisbon Treaty, it would be automatically required to join the euro and to open its borders.

During last year's Labour leadership election, Owen Smith was candid enough to admit as much. “Potentially,” he replied when asked whether he would accept membership of the euro and the Schengen zone as the price of continued EU membership (a stance that would not have served Labour well in the general election.)

But despite the daily discussion of thwarting Brexit, politicians are rarely confronted by such trade-offs. Remaining within or rejoining the EU, like leaving, is not a cost-free option (though it may be the best available.) Until anti-Brexiteers acknowledge as much, they are vulnerable to the very charge they level at their opponents: that they inhabit a fantasy world. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.