Clegg’s plan to stop Brexit

How to Stop Brexit (And Make Britain Great Again)
by Nick Clegg
Published by The Bodley Head, £8.99
(Buy at Amazon)

The last few years have not been good for Nick Clegg. After overseeing the decimation of his party, the Liberal Democrats, at the 2015 election, the former deputy prime minister lost his seat last June. Unbowed, Clegg has turned his attention to Britain’s relationship with Europe. His book is both an essay on why he believes it is in our interest to stay in the European Union (EU), and a blueprint detailing how those who feel the same way can work to oppose withdrawal.

Clegg argues that the referendum campaign was conducted under false pretences, with the Leave side making claims that they had no intention of honouring (such as the promise emblazoned on a bus of providing £350m a week for the NHS). That means the public are entitled to change their mind. That’s a familiar argument.

A more unusual one is his suggestion that, with German chancellor Angela Merkel and French president Emmanuel Macron both pushing for further EU integration, we are more likely to see a multi-tier Europe evolve, one that gives members more flexibility over what model to adopt. In short, if we stayed, we could indeed have our cake and eat it.

Perhaps the most eye-catching point is where Clegg advises opponents of Brexit to ignore the Lib Dems and join one of the two main parties, with the aim of pushing them in a more pro-EU direction. With Labour, this would mean forcing the party to oppose the government more vigorously; in the case of the Tories it would be to counter the efforts of those pushing for a hard Brexit. Pro-Europeans should look to none other than Nigel Farage as a role model of a man who persisted in fighting for a cause he was told was hopeless, says Clegg.

Clegg makes his argument well, but he has no suggestions about how to solve the economic and social problems that created Brexit. Moreover his premise is flawed – even the arguably poor handling of the Brexit talks doesn’t justify overturning the results of a referendum in which nearly 75% of the population voted. It would be better to push for the EEA option (membership of the single market without membership of the EU, which Clegg dismisses). This would honour the referendum while holding out the chance of an eventual reconciliation, when and if Brussels is willing to return more power to nation states.