Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
  2. Brexit
16 September 2019

What do the Lib Dems gain by pledging to revoke Article 50?

A minority of members fear that the party has already sent an unquestionable message to Remainers and has nothing to gain by repeating itself.

By Stephen Bush

The Liberal Democrats have voted to change their Brexit policy: moving from support for a second referendum to one in which they would simply revoke Article 50 without a public vote – provided, that is, that the party wins a parliamentary majority. 

Of course, in practice, while there is an outside chance that the Liberal Democrats will win a majority, it’s not particularly likely. What really matters is the signal that the party is trying to send. Jo Swinson’s big bet is that politics around the democratic world is rearranging itself on open vs closed lines, and the new Article 50 position is designed around loudly and proudly proclaiming that the Liberal Democrats are the natural home of the open.

Not everyone at Liberal Democrat conference thinks they’ve made the right decision, however. A minority fear that they are alienating Leave voters to no good end, that the party has already sent an explicit and unquestionable message to Remainers and they have nothing to gain by repeating themselves.

I’m inclined to think that the practical effect will be non-existent: the Liberal Democrats have already established themselves as the way to send a pro-Remain message. That will either transform their position – or their much-discussed revival will dissipate come election day.

What it means is that the party is betting heavily on the idea that Brexit will reshape British politics, but that’s been true since Tim Farron decided to stake his leadership on opposing the referendum result.

Select and enter your email address Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.

That decision was greeted with horror even in parts of his party. Jo Swinson will hope that just as Farron’s gamble paid dividends in the local and European elections, her gambit will leave the party smiling come election time.

Topics in this article :