Andrew Duff shocked a regional party meeting by suggesting Brexit should go ahead. But his comments reveal a bigger problem with the EU debate—and a potential way forward for the UKby William Davison / October 18, 2017 / Leave a comment
Standing on a stage in the east of England next to an imposing blue “Exit from Brexit” placard, former Liberal Democrat MEP Andrew Duff’s message was not what the audience at the regional party meeting wanted to hear.
Duff, an authority on the European Union and advocate of further integration, had not come to explain how the process of the UK leaving the EU could be reversed. Instead, he poured cold water on the idea.
“Of course I regret its outcome, but I believe now that we’ve got to, as the mantra has it, to respect the outcome of the referendum. And what does that mean: Brexit,” he said on 14th October at the Millennium Centre in Red Lodge, Suffolk.
His stance stunned the audience. The Liberal Democrats were the only major UK party to fight for a second referendum during the June General Election. Many of his colleagues believe not just that the vote was a historic mistake, but that Brexit should and can be stopped. Duff demurs. For him, the referendum outcome was the culmination of a long, awkward partnership between the UK and the EU. Now, it is the time to establish a new one.
That means focusing on achieving a positive outcome from so far stuttering separation talks and then agreeing a new partnership involving extensive cooperation and reshaped economic integration.
“We can’t play at this. We have to get an agreement that is orderly, sincere and fair and which sets up the UK and the 27 to build up a more sustainable and successful partnering of the UK and the EU than we’ve had for a long time,” Duff argued.
This unusual position rests on his interpretation of two issues that have received relatively little attention in a UK debate that has instead focused on the government’s ineptitude.
The first is that with France’s President Emmanuel Macron and EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker setting out plans for deeper integration, the UK would fit as badly as ever into the supranational project. It appears highly unlikely that the UK would anytime soon embrace “ever closer union.”
However, Duff goes so far as to say that the UK will only be allowed to reverse the Brexit process if it agrees to do…