The former leader of the Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg, has joined his successor in calling for a general election before the British exit from the European Union (EU), potentially to allow the result of the referendum on British membership to be overturned.
Eleven days on from the historic referendum which saw 17,410,742 people vote to leave the EU, a clear plan for fulfilling the mandate has still not been laid out to the British public, as both the main British political parties – the Conservatives and Labour – are mired in leadership contests.
The Liberal Democrats, the third largest British party until the 2015 General Election when it saw its number of MPs slashed from 57 to just eight, have taken advantage of this vacuum to pitch for a new general election, in which it intends to gain the backing of the 48 percent of people who voted to remain within the EU on a mandate of overturning the referendum result.
Writing for The Guardian, Nick Clegg has made a case for holding an election before Article 50 is invoked, therefore leaving the door open for a government to ignore the mandate to leave the EU.
He argues that the Conservative Party’s leadership election is “self-indulgence” at a time when “anxiety” has gripped “millions of families” nationwide and insists that the party had no mandate for how to steer the country following Brexit, only for the referendum that proceeded it.
“Somehow we must navigate the country through the months ahead,” he says. “The government not only finds itself without leadership, it has no plan, no consensus and no clue about what it wants to do in the future. The only thing it agrees on is that the UK should leave the EU. But how, when and to what end all remain unanswered. It enjoys a mandate to quit, but no mandate as to how this should be done.”
Insisting that the Brexit campaign which successfully persuaded the majority of British voters to tick the box to leave the European Union is a “mass of contradictions,” Clegg says that the only way forward is for the prospective leaders to lay out their post Brexit plans, and that the winner of the leadership election should then test their plan in a General Election.
“This is what we should do,” he says.
“First, each Conservative leadership candidate must set out, in detail, what they think our future relationship with Europe should be. Second, the new prime minister, to be announced on 9 September, should immediately publish a white paper setting out a full plan. And third, he or she must then seek a democratic mandate for their plan in an early general election.
“The notion that it should be left to Conservative members to handpick a new prime minister for what in effect will be a new government pursuing new priorities is absurd.
Crucially, he adds: “This election would also give all parties the opportunity to set out their stalls on what our new relationship with Europe should be … Importantly, the election must be held before any attempt is made to activate article 50, the legal mechanism triggering the negotiations for EU exit.”
Clegg’s successor as leader of the Liberal Democrats has already made it clear that he plans to fight the next General Election on a platform of ignoring the Brexit vote and keeping Britain within the European Union, something that can only happen if the election comes before Britain exits the EU by invoking Article 50.
Speaking two days after the referendum result was announced, Mr Farron said: “For many millions of people, this was not just a vote about Europe.
It was a howl of anger at politicians and institutions who they felt were out of touch and had let them down.
“The British people deserve the chance not to be stuck with the appalling consequences of a leave campaign that stoked that anger with the lies of Farage, Johnson and Gove.
“The Liberal Democrats will fight the next election on a clear and unequivocal promise to restore British prosperity and role in the world, with the United Kingdom in the European Union, not out.”
Mr Clegg continues this theme, saying that after the election “The baton then moves to the newly elected parliament. It will have two tasks: MPs must scrutinise the government’s specific plan to ensure it is legal and workable, and, crucially, article 50 should only be triggered following a vote of consent from MPs.
“If a vote at the beginning and the end of a negotiation was good enough for a specific area of EU policy, it should also be good enough for the complete decoupling of the UK from the EU.”