This is no SDP rerun, but a younger socialist could still take Labour to power.

Lord Owen writing in The Sunday Times, 24 February 2019.

Read the full article here: ST24Feb19


“…Disowning the largest democratic vote in our history, and commitments made as recently as the 2017 general election to deliver in parliament the referendum result, is, to put it mildly, an odd basis for starting a new centre grouping intended to destroy the other two parties, as the Independent Group of MPs did last week…

“…Of course, in the Independent Group MPs leaving their parties, there are some similarities to the creation of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in 1981. Yet 38 years ago the debate in the Labour Party turned on two vital policy issues.

“Michael Foot… refused point blank to promise a referendum before withdrawal from the common market, and reiterated his commitment to full unilateral nuclear disarmament involving Nato.

“In our Limehouse declaration… there was a specific disavowal of any intention of creating a centre party. We pledged to take the Marxist/Trotskyist, authoritarian, trade union-dominated, block vote, policy-making Labour Party head-on in a bare-knuckle fight to replace or transform it.

“…It was when Shirley Williams declined to stand in the Warrington by-election and Roy Jenkins did so instead (he went on to become party leader by beating me, not Shirley) that we became irretrievably linked with the Liberals as a centre party.

“If this Independent Group of MPs now goes down that same centrist route, it may well, like Nick Clegg, form a coalition with the Conservatives, but not with Labour.

“…All is not yet lost for the Labour Party if more of its MPs join the Independent Group.

“…It is imperative, however, that Corbyn agrees to step down as early as 2020, when he will be 71, for a younger leader not afraid of being called a socialist but able to present themselves as a modern prime minister not tarred by the past and ready to work with the Scottish National Party in government.

“There is a traditional Labour agenda out there, somewhat reminiscent of 1945’s, ready to be grasped in modern form…”

We must face up to that withdrawal agreement over the next few weeks – and the sooner, the better.

Lord Owen’s speech in the House of Lords debate to take note of the outcome of negotiations with the European Union, 29 January 2016

View Lord Owen’s speech here

Read the full text here: HL28.1.19


“I suggest that in the political declaration, we ask that if on 31 December 2020, the UK wishes, as a non-EU contracting party, to be a member of the European Economic Area, it would not stand in our way but would allow it to go through … This would lead to a number of different things.

“We would start to have some influence on trading matters; like Norway, Iceland and Lichtenstein, we would have a voice …

“We would be able to stand by our pledge to the fishing community to introduce UK management of fishing in our waters … (this) would also give some sustenance to those people in the peripheral parts of this country who are, by and large, overwhelmingly in favour of Britain leaving.

“This idea would also put us into an organisation where, if we wanted, we could apply to continue being in the customs union.

“…I speak as one who has had to be responsible for international treaties. At the end of the day, you must go into this with the belief that you will carry your country with you. I say to the people who advocate thrusting this aside as if it is a matter of no consequence: it is a matter of huge consequence if we do not live up to our commitments, not just to our electorate and the people who voted in the referendum and the 2017 election, but to those people from 27 countries with whom we went into negotiations.

“We cannot just shred the agreement and throw it away; it would be very hard to replace. We must face up to that withdrawal agreement over the next few weeks – and the sooner, the better.”

Lord Owen recommends: ‘Brexit is about sovereignty and Parliament must respect that’.

Lord Owen recommends a recent article in the UK’s Financial Times commenting “it is one of the best articles on the Brexit debate.” Brexit is about sovereignty and parliament must respect that | Financial Times

Lord Owen speaks in the House of Lords about establishing a UK-wide Constitutional Convention.

Lord Owen’s speech on 13 December 2018 in the Debate on the current constitutional challenges within the UK and the case for the establishment of a UK-wide Constitutional Convention to address issues of democratic accountability and devolution, particularly in England.

View the speech here: Constitutional Challenges

Read the text here: HL13.12.18



Lord Owen speaks in the House of Lords Debate to take note of the Withdrawal Agreement.

House of Lords Debate to take note of the Withdrawal Agreement on 5 December 2018 – view Lord Owen’s speech here: Lord Owen speaks in Lords Debate

The written text of his speech is available here: HL Speech 5.12.18
Within his speech Lord Owen refers to his position on the EEA being supported by legal experts.  Click here for the note that supports this: EEAcontinuity

On the eve of the Commons Debate on the Withdrawal Agreement, Lord Owen writes to all MPs suggesting an exit strategy that avoids a no deal

Original of Lord Owen’s LetterLettertoallMPs

The letter is supplemented by an Explanatory Note which can be viewed hereExplanatorynote


“Last week in the Sunday TimesTheresa May wrote a letter to the country and Tony Blair wrote to the EU.

Your votes on 11 December are your choice and yours alone. This is about what the Government and the UK should do if the House of Commons decides not to endorse the Withdrawal Agreement [WA].

You know well that after losing a major vote the House will expect a considered response from the Government. It will be vital that world financial markets know immediately how the UK intends to act. It will be damaging to wait even to early next day. That the Government should allow speculators and currency markets to dictate a repeat vote on the WA in the weeks following is disreputable and dangerous.

The Prime Minister has repeatedly said that the EU will not renegotiate the WA. Everyone in the EU says exactly the same. Nick Boles and it appears Michael Gove advocate you should first vote for the Withdrawal Agreement and then negotiate ‘Norway Plus’ to apply after 31 December 2020.

This proposal is different. It only concerns the situation if the Withdrawal Agreement has been rejected and is about continuing as a member of the EEA after 20 March 2019. This allows an independent fisheries policy to start immediately and ensures that we have, if we judge the time to be correct, a clear legal exit procedure in which the EU has no involvement.

The WA having been rejected the UK must seize the initiative and stop being a supplicant under Article 50 while paying strictly determined exit costs. We can thereby avert the other outcome of leaving without a deal in less than four months. It offers clarity and certainty.

Suggested Prime Minister’s Statement immediately after the WA vote is lost.

“As a consequence of tonight’s votes I am sending letters immediately to all other 31 parties to the European Economic Area Agreement [EEAA]: the EU itself, its 27 member states and the 3 Efta states.

“The letters will state our intention to continue in the European Economic Area as a non-EU member from n the end of March 2018. We intend to do this because we signed the EEA Agreement as the UK in 1992 and we have not as the UK given the twelve months notice in writing required to withdraw from the Agreement.

If Efta or the EU countries challenge our entitlement then we will take our case to arbitration under international law using the Permanent Court of Arbitration [PCA] which was endorsed by all EU members in the Withdrawal Agreement. I am writing to the Secretary-General of the PCA.

I hope this action will unite many different viewpoints in Parliament, it has the merit of being very simple:

We, like the three other non-EU members of the EEA, would not be starting out as part of the EU Customs Union, though we could pursue this. We could pursue our own EU-UK FTA on the lines of Canada +++ as President Tusk at one time proposed and we will immediately start with other FTA negotiations. There is no necessity for us to join Efta. We would not be fixing any time limit as to how long we stay in EEA. Like the other three non-EU countries, we would continue to be bound, as are all Parties to the EEAA, to give one year’s notice of leaving. We would not ask anything more form the EU than we are entitled to under the EEAA.

That will be a good achievement. Norway has significant rule influence for a country its size. The 3 non-EU states have achieved numerous rule-derogations and amendments. Liechtenstein even has strict immigration controls. The ECJ does not hold sway, and there are no mandatory contributions to the EU budget (only to an EEA-Efta programme to reduce economic and social disparities, likely to be around £1.5 billion per year).

We would also be in a position to agree with the EU before 29 March 2019 many issues on which genuine agreements were made during the negotiations over the WA and where appropriate we would be willing to pay for these.

Continuing in the EEA Agreement as a non-EU member requires no more than minor consequential legislative changes similar to those needed by Austria, Finland and Sweden in the opposite direction on leaving Efta to join the EU in 1995. Article 126, for instance, was not amended until 2004. In Ireland the border would become an EEA/EU land border like Norway/Sweden, but with no infrastructure rather than partial infrastructure.

Meanwhile we will urgently improve our transport links with the continent and keep in place the legislation to leave the EU on 29 March, already agreed by both Houses of Parliament though if we stay in the EEA we would have to adjust he EU Withdrawal Act 2018 a little.”

David Owen

The letter is supplemented by an Explanatory Note which can be viewed hereExplanatorynote

Interview. David Owen’s Brexit plan: move from transition through the EEA into Canada Plus Plus Plus – before the next election.

Published in Conservative Home, 09 October 2018

ConservativeHomeTB 9.10.18

Theresa May “has been badly advised and seems unaware” of “a complete error of a very serious kind”, as Number Ten tries to pretend we are not staying in the European Economic Area during her Brexit plan… “We are in the EEA now, we are going to be in it for the 21 months, and it would make a reasonable pathway for the further 15 months, and we’re out of it all before a June 2022 general election.”

Elsewhere in the interview Lord Owen comments:

“A staged Brexit should be built into the Withdrawal Agreement, which is a very substantial document already, and deals with almost all the immediate issues that we would otherwise face coming out without an agreement. ….part of that agreement has a 21-month pause…(in that period) we are technically assumed to be still members of the EU, although we are not, but we are given a very good standstill period which goes beyond EEA, it deals with banks and it deals with almost everything.

“So I think we should keep to the Withdrawal Agreement, we should negotiate everything we can within the framework of the Withdrawal Agreement, and we should try to, in the Withdrawal Agreement, timetable everything on the basis of achieving Canada plus plus plus.

“I do not accept – and nor should the UK Government – that Canada plus plus will take eight, ten years, six years, and I think it’s a farce to contemplate such a timescale.”

ConservativeHomeTB 9.10.18

David Owen highlights wrong advice being given to the Prime Minister on the details of the EEA Agreement

Full text of a letter from lord Owen to the Prime Minister Theresa May, 17 September 2018. Also available here: DOtoPM17.9.18

Lord Owen’s letter was triggered by a letter from the PM 6 September 2018 which is here: PMtoDO6.9.18

Dear Prime Minister

I have long been deeply puzzled why in our correspondence since 2 November 2106 you appeared to have closed your mind to the option of using our continued full membership of the EEA, including full participation in its governance, during the proposed 21 month implementation period starting at the end of March 2019. You know well from our correspondence that I have never suggested permanent membership of the EEA Agreement. All I have ever asked is that you do not ignore the EEA option and end up presenting to Parliament a false choice between your bespoke agreement and coming out without agreement under the WTO rules with all the serious temporary difficulties that that involves.

Having read your letter this weekend I now realise your firmly held position has been based on a deeply mistaken belief about the content of the EEA Agreement. In para 8 of your letter to me there is a very serious and alarming error. It reads:

“I should also add that the EEA would not provide a solution for the Irish border issue. It would deal with industrial goods but not checks on sanitary and phytosanitary standards for agrifood, nor with customs.”

The facts are that the very first Annex of the EEA Agreement is devoted to these issues of sanitary and phytosanitary standards [SPS] for agrifood. The Annex is for the most part a 269 page bibliography of the relevant legislative Acts concerning SPS matters which are contained in the EEA acquis. That is a lot of regulation. Yes, of course, you are right – SPS issues are central to the Irish Border Issues – they do require much more intensive checking efforts than customs and it is at the border at which agrifood movements account for a relatively high proportion of total movements. I would never have suggested to you using the EEA for the 21 month period and maybe a little more unless the EEA had covered SPS.

I cannot understand how you have come to be misled over this long period on this SPS issue. I am sure it was not deliberate but it may reflect a deeper problem you face in that you are not being advised by people of long experience of EU matters nor of negotiating with the EU. The lack of due diligence is quite extraordinary and may explain why Irish Border Issues have been allowed to appear more intractable than they are. I notice even last week the Taoiseach was talking about the EEA more positively than before. I have no doubt that during 21 months working together the UK as a non-EU member of the EEA and the Irish Government as a EU member we can come to satisfactory arrangements that will lead into the wording of a Canada-like EU/UK trade agreement.

Another reason for being a full member of the EEA during this period is that we would be operating under the EFTA Court not the ECJ and when we leave the EEA Agreement we could, I am sure, ‘dock alongside the EFTA Court’, wording which the EU has used when discussing the Swiss aversion to coming under the ECJ; an aversion which I believe is shared by the British people.

In your Future Relationship paper which you set out at Chequers in para 35, manufactured goods and agrifoods are put on the same level. A common-rule book is required for each (See your sentence “as for manufactured goods…”) in order to remove additional regulatory checks at the border. Annex 1, to which I have already referred and which deals with SPS issues, is, in effect, that common-rule book for agri-food, and is already written. It is readily available on the following link:
( agreement/Annexes%20to%20the%20Agreement/annex1.pdf). This can serve until such time as a new agreement can be reached. Hence there is no need for an Irish backstop for these regulatory measures – only customs needs to be sorted, which is much easier and is largely about a modest amount of money, not public health.

For all of these reasons I urge you to take one last opportunity preferably bringing in advisers who know about these issues in detail and would never have allowed you to be under such an important misapprehension about the EEA Agreement, and be ready to give Parliament a proper choice, not a false one based on fear. That has already been tried in the referendum and it failed. It will do so again. The people of this country do not like being bullied.

Yours sincerely

Download a copy of Lord Owen’s letter here: DOtoPM17.9.18

Download the letter from the Prime Minister triggering his response here: PMtoDO6.9.18