Yesterday, the Independent Group put out a joint statement with the four other anti-Brexit opposition parties—the Liberal Democrats, SNP, Plaid Cymru and Greens—calling for a second referendum.
“We are in agreement that there is no such thing as a good Brexit and that people across the UK face being worse off,” they said in unison. “We have shown over the past three years we are willing to find a compromise position to end the impasse.”
It’s an important milestone in what has been a gradual shift in TIG’s strategy. At the group’s launch, its seven founders tarred the Lib Dems with the same brush as Labour and the Tories. Angela Smith said the “Lib Dems lost the trust of voters years ago as we all know. We are now in a position where we feel a responsibility to break away from all of that and play our part in rebuilding our trust in politics.”
Chuka Umunna added that “you can’t change the status quo if you’re going to, if you like, rejoin it. So there are going to be no mergers. We are not going to go and join the Liberal Democrats, let’s be absolutely clear about that. We are saying there needs to be a new offer and a new alternative.”
For weeks, TIG took great pains to set themselves apart from the UK’s other centrist party, and stressed they were offering something new and fresh. Lib Dems have raised their eyebrows at TIG taking credit online for amendments drafted by MPs across parties. On 25 March, TIG and the Lib Dems tabled two near-identical second referendum amendments and went on to sign each other’s, rather than agreeing on a single joint one.
“An instinct to suppress the role of other parties rather than celebrate it is concerning,” a Lib Dem source said. “It was quite jarring when they first launched. But now they’re learning to talk more about working together with other parties, there’s been a small shift in tone.”
That more collaborative spirit has come across clearly this week. TIG and the other four anti-Brexit parties are coordinating their media strategies and throwing their weight collectively behind a second referendum.
That doesn’t mean the TIG and the Lib Dems are fully aligned. Just as TIG has been reluctant to get lumped in with the Lib Dems, many Lib Dems have private reservations about TIG, pointing out that several of its members cannot be considered liberals. But there’s no doubt that it’s in the small parties’ best interests to work together given the realities of the UK’s first-past-the-post electoral system.