Back in March of this year, an online petition went up on the parliament.uk website. Online petitions rarely gather that many signatures, partly because they often cover obscure topics, but also because most people have cottoned onto the fact that they are never taken seriously by parliament regardless of the numbers they attract. The one from this March that I reference now was about whether the government should revoke Article 50 immediately and remain in the European Union. It garnered six million signatures, an all-time record.
Remainers jumped on this as a huge victory – but as usual, I think they extracted the wrong lesson. Far from that many people being obsessed with staying in the European Union, I think there are a lot of people who just want Brexit to be finished somehow, one way or another; out of their lives, never to be talked about again. At the time, a lot of them saw Revoke as the way out. Yet since Boris Johnson became prime minister, the Leavers have gained the upper hand in this war. It is key for the Lib Dems, both for themselves politically and for the Remain cause, to counter-act this and get the initiative back. Here’s how messaging in a general election could achieve that.
I reckon about a quarter of the population is die-hard Brexiter, want it at all costs. About a third are die-hard Remain. The rest, a little over 40%, have varied opinions on Brexit, but mostly want it resolved in the quickest way possible. Remain, Leave, deal, no deal, who cares – can we just resolve this issue and move on as a nation? The Lib Dems need to attract as many of this 40% as they can. The way to do it is to play to what they are after and to demonstrate that Revoke is the only way to get there and further, that the Lib Dems are the only party who will do this.
First off, Lib Dem policy on Brexit should be that the Lib Dems want to revoke Article 50. If there is a Lib Dem majority, this is what will happen. Of course, if there is a hung parliament, the Lib Dems will work with whomever to Remain. A second referendum is fine, but not the Lib Dems first choice.
Spinning off from this policy comes the messaging. It is about ending the Brexit nightmare once and for all, with Revoke the only option. A lot of that 40% are being lured into thinking that no deal Brexit at least gets it all done and over with. The Lib Dems need to energetically attack this line, pointing out that if no deal Brexit happens, it won’t be the end of talking about Brexit but rather a whole new, awful phase of the Brexit nightmare. We will then have to go back to the EU in a weakened position. It could take five years; it could take ten to get a settlement. Do you want another ten years of Brexit dominating the headlines? Can you bear it? Vote Lib Dem and we will Make it Stop. Article 50 will be revoked and we can all go back to normal.
Of course, one can point out that if we revoked Article 50, there would be Farage and the ERG bunch going on and on about it for years. But they would do so to a diminishing audience as the vast majority of people would be happy that the whole thing was over. I know so many Leavers cling to this idea that the majority of people are still religiously attached to idea of leaving the European Union; most Tory members are, which is a very different thing indeed.
If the Lib Dems can paint themselves as the only party that can end the whole Brexit debate, and moreover do so quickly, I think the party can pick up a huge number of seats in a snap election. How many is impossible to guess, but I think Revoke and Make it Stop gives them the best shot at success. With the Tories the no deal party, Farage confused as to what to do given that, and Labour still with some sort of Labour Brexit deal plus referendum to follow, the Lib Dems could look inviting to well over half the voting population.