Lib Dems upset over latest Brexit policy told to 'knuckle down and help rebuild'


Lib Dem members were urged not to flee the party tonight as the leadership braced for a major Brexit showdown with activists.

Deputy leader Daisy Cooper called on them to instead “hold tight” and “knuckle down and help rebuild” the battered party after its latest election disaster.

She said: “I for one will be speaking to people sympathetically and asking them to stay in the fold.”

The party’s annual conference takes place online this year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

After three consecutive general election calamities, loyal members now face seeing the party drift away from supporting EU membership.

Daisy Cooper was elected to Parliament last December

New leader Sir Ed Davey has signalled he would not campaign to rejoin the bloc – triggering dismay among Brussels-loving activists.

The issue is set to come to a head on Sunday when a key Brexit motion is debated.

Speaking exclusively to the Mirror, his deputy pleaded with members to “stick” by the party.

Ms Cooper, 39, said: “Our values haven’t changed, we are pro-European, we are pro-internationalists.

“We are still the most pro-European, UK-wide party, so if people are looking for a political home we are still that home.”

She added: “Stick with the Liberal Democrats.”

Sir Ed, who won his party’s leadership last month, later said the idea of campaigning to rejoin the EU was “for the birds”.

But that angered many members who joined the party specifically because it opposed Brexit.

She is now the party’s deputy leader

Some have already quit and others are threatening to leave.

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But, offering members an olive branch, Ms Cooper left the door open to another referendum.

“If there is an opportunity in future where we think it’s the right thing to do for the country, and if the country is behind it, then I think we need to make sure we are ready and able to capitalise on that moment and to lead that charge. But we are not there yet,” she said, stressing the planned motion kept all options open.

“I don’t think we need to tie our hands right now, we have got no idea what state this country is going to be in in six months’ time let alone four years.”

She urged members to “knuckle down and help us rebuild the party so that if there is an opportunity in future, and when there’s an opportunity, we can seize that moment”.

The Lib Dems have been mired in the political wilderness since 2015 when voters took revenge on the party for five years propping up the Tories in coalition government.

David Cameron, U.K. prime minister, left, and Nick Clegg, U.K. deputy prime minister, wave to the media from the steps of 10 Downing Street
Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg with Prime Minister David Cameron in happier days for the Lib Dems

It slumped from having 56 MPs to just eight, rising to 12 at the 2017 election but dipping again to 11 when voters went to the ballots in December.

The party believed opposing Brexit would spark a surge at the polls and rookie leader Jo Swinson, who took the helm last July, even claimed she could become Prime Minister.

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Twelve months ago members backed a move to scrap Brexit without a second referendum – despite warnings it was anti-democratic and would cost the party dearly.

The party overwhelmingly backed scrapping Brexit without a referendum – despite warnings it was a vote loser

The Lib Dems went onto Bournemouth’s sun-kissed beach as they prepared for government during the frenzy of last year’s conference

Jo Swinson told party members the party was surging

But the Lib Dems, riding a tide of Tory and ChangeUK MP defections and believing the hype generated by EU-flag waving activists, ploughed on regardless.

It led to a landslide Conservative victory, humiliated Ms Swinson quitting as leader after losing her own seat and the UK quitting the EU 51 days later.

Glum Ms Swinson had claimed she could become PM, but ceased to be an MP

Boris Johnson celebrates his election triumph

“When we adopted the revoke position at conference it seemed to make sense because at that time there was no-deal – but potentially, arguably, maybe we should have pivoted before the general election back to a People’s Vote campaign,” admitted Ms Cooper, who only became an MP in December.

“We have got a big job to do to reconnect with voters up and down the country, and that has to be our first priority.”

The party’s traditional heartlands have been in South West England.

But the region backed Brexit and there are no Lib Dem MPs in Cornwall, Devon or Dorset, and just one in Somerset.

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Instead, its new strongholds are in leafy South West London, which overwhelmingly backed Remain.

Three of its MPs hold seats in the capital’s outer boroughs.

Denying the party had to choose between the South West and South West London, Ms Cooper, MP for Remain-supporting St Albans, Herts, insisted: “I don’t think it has to be ‘either/or’.”

The Lib Dems believe their route to more MPs lies in beating Conservatives – paving the way for Labour leader Keir Starmer to enter No10.

Labour leader Keir Starmer could benefit from the Lib Dems’ plan to win Tory seats

Ms Cooper identified 80 seats where her party came second to the Tories.

Seizing “as many of those seats as possible at the next general election” would mean “we can pull down this terrible, incompetent, useless Conservative Government – that has to be our priority”, she said.

Asked whether she was hoping to build a “Yellow Wall”, she quipped: “There will certainly be some kind of gold constellation of seats we will definitely be looking to win.”





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