In the midst of a never-ending sea of uncertainty surrounding Brexit, parliamentary procedures and constitutional crises, you may be forgiven for missing the news that the Liberal Democrats announced their intention to make it official party policy to revoke Article 50.
Debates surrounding the democratic credentials of leaving the EU without a deal have come from many a senior Lib Dem voice. Yet, their plan to revoke Article 50 without a referendum represents as big a threat to democracy as a no-deal Brexit they so fear. Nonetheless, the Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson intends to write the scrapping of Brexit into the party’s next manifesto, if the proposal is approved at the annual Autumn Conference taking place 14-17 September.
The move sees the Lib Dems intensify their efforts to become the primary remain party in the eyes of the electorate and build on the gains they made in the local and European elections back in May. This is hardly surprising given that Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party have since officially backed a public vote on any future Brexit deal, including the option to remain.
Swinson has outlined her “clear and unequivocal position,” that a “majority Liberal Democrat government would not renegotiate Brexit, we would cancel it by revoking Article 50 and remaining in the European Union."
However, despite this endorsement by the party leader, other Liberal Democrat figures have voiced concern at the prospect of reversing the Brexit process without going back to the people in any second referendum. Former party leader Sir Vince Cable urged caution at the prospect of an immediate revocation, arguing that a further referendum would be a more satisfactory way of achieving the Lib Dems’ goal of remaining in the EU.
There are several reasons as to why revoking Article 50 without any say from the electorate would further deepen divisions in the UK, increase an already growing distrust in politicians, and shatter the already frail mantle of democracy in this country. By overturning the process of leaving the EU without a democratic mandate, the Liberal Democrats serve to further frustrate and anger the already large number of citizens who feel let down by Parliament’s failure to succeed on compromising on any possible Brexit deal.
This is not to say that the blame for this should lay solely at the Remainers’ door as the Brexiteers’ ever-shifting vision of leaving the EU has done more to block us from leaving in a somewhat orderly fashion. However, revoking Article 50 effectively tells those still passionate about Brexit that their concerns, directed in the right place or not, simply don’t matter.
The truth is that people voted for Brexit for many reasons and, although I may disagree with the way that their anger is directed towards the EU, revoking Article 50 and pretending that all was fine before June 2016 is not good enough. It further endorses the widely held belief that Westminster politicians are out of touch with their voters, and the severe distrust of our politicians will only grow, and divisions will continue to widen.
If progressive candidates from the centre and the left intend on succeeding in their Remain mission, they must do so in a way that addresses the everyday issues that are felt by those who voted for political upheaval in the summer of 2016.
By outlining her intention to revoke Article 50 in the absence of any further democratic referendum, Jo Swinson and the Liberal Democrats are solely aiming to outflank the Labour Party on the issue of remain, and in the process come across as both extreme and out of touch with the electorate.