The Lib Dems are now the most extremist party in the UK. They might not look like extremists, being made up of mostly nice, middle-class people from the leafier bits of the nation. But they have just adopted a policy that is arguably more extreme, more corrosive of British values, more counter to the great traditions of this nation, than any other party policy of recent decades.
Yes, this is the new Lib Dem policy to cancel Brexit. At their party conference in Bournemouth the Lib Dems voted overwhelmingly in favour of a policy of ‘stopping Brexit altogether’, in Jo Swinson’s words. New member Chuka Umunna spelt it out: ‘This [policy] will stop this national embarrassment’ — he means Brexit — ‘and enable us to focus on the things that really matter.’
I often find myself wondering if politicians think before they speak. Have the Lib Dems thought through what their Stop Brexit policy means? It means they have devoted themselves to blocking the largest act of democracy in the history of this nation. It means they want to void — literally void — the votes of 17.4m people. It means they want to do something that no other party in the modern era has proposed: prevent the enactment of a free and fair democratic vote.
This is serious stuff. Certain members of the Remainer elite — Lib Dems included — will often condemn Brexiteers as ‘extremist’. But I have heard nothing from any leading Brexiteer that comes even close to the extremism of cancelling a democratic vote. That’s banana republic territory. What is this, Zimbabwe?
We really do have to challenge the idea that Remainers are the moderate force in UK politics. Because if you are a Remainer who wants to cancel the votes of millions of people and dash the hopes of the largest democratic majority in our history, I have some bad news for you: you are not a moderate. You pose a threat to the democratic values of this nation.
Let’s be honest about what cancelling Brexit means. It means cancelling the votes of eight million women. It means cancelling the votes of millions of working-class people. It means cancelling the votes of some of the poorest people in society, who often don’t vote but who did vote in the 2016 referendum.
It means reneging on promise after promise from the political class that our referendum votes would be respected and enforced. It means sending a message to the public that their vote is not the powerful thing they thought it was, and in fact it can be casually cast aside if the political establishment decides it was misused.
Politicians seem not to understand how thoroughly this approach would devastate democratic life in this country. It would ravage the right to vote itself. Because if our votes can be revoked, then the right to vote itself loses all meaning. It becomes conditional on the approval of the establishment. Voting would become pointless.
Jo Swinson, 2008 pic.twitter.com/NNcsxQdIqp
— Adam (@adam_heilbron) September 16, 2019
Lib Dems, like so many other wings of the political class, are on record arguing in favour of an EU referendum. ‘The Liberal Democrats would like to have a referendum on the major issue of in or out of Europe’, said Swinson herself in 2008. The 2010 Lib Dem manifesto supported a referendum. Vast numbers of MPs voted in favour of holding the referendum and voted to invoke Article 50 after the referendum. Most of them also won their seats on the basis of manifestos, in 2017, that promised to deliver Brexit. If they backtrack on all of this, then one question will hang over British public life like a shadow: why should we trust any member of this political generation ever again?
The vote is the only voice most people have. They don’t have seats in the Commons or the Lords, or access to BBC panel shows, or columns in newspapers. They only have the vote. Undermine that and you risk disenfranchising the people. With this extremist new policy, the Lib Dems are playing with fire.