Today, I launched the Liberal Democrats’ European Election campaign with one simple message. A vote for the Liberal Democrats is a vote to stop Brexit.
The fact European elections are happening at all is testament to the dismal failure of Brexiteers to have any common plan about what Brexit should mean. What we know is that Brexit of any kind puts our country at risk – the NHS, our public services, jobs across the country, and peace in Northern Ireland.
Rather than oppose this damaging course for our country, Jeremy Corbyn is even now trying to find a form of Brexit which he can stitch up with the Conservatives. In the coming local and European elections, Labour voters are rightly turning away from their party. Many now find their natural home – a progressive, liberal, pro-European home – in the Liberal Democrats.
When I first came into the Lib Dem leadership, I coined a phrase which some people regarded as a bit wacky at the time – I said Britain needed to find an exit from Brexit. That argument is now mainstream. Just as Liberal Democrats argued alone in the House of Commons that war in Iraq was wrong and misguided, and were later vindicated, I believe history will judge that we took the right position on Brexit too.
We have been winning the argument because of the tireless work of more than 250,000 anti-Brexit campaign supporters and 100,000 members. While others have brought a certain media shine to the campaign of late, we have always brought a determined band of volunteers to fight the ground war in elections. If we win the battle to stop Brexit, it will in no small part be because of their tenacity and dedication to the cause.
Next week we hope to see our local base of nearly 2,000 councillors expand, with more Liberal Democrats elected all round the country to make a difference in their communities. As a party, we take local government seriously and we’re good at it, so we regard the elections on 2 May as very important. Our councillors’ success should be a springboard for sending a new group of Liberal Democrat Members of the European Parliament to Brussels on 23 May, influencing Europe for years to come.
Meeting Greta Thunberg this week in parliament brought one of the most crucial issues for international co-operation into sharp focus. She rightly pointed out that the EU has held three emergency summits on Brexit, but none on the climate emergency. By stopping Brexit, we can reassert British leadership on climate change. In government, Liberal Democrat ministers worked to agree ambitious emissions targets across Europe, as well as setting up the Green Investment Bank, tripling the production of clean electricity and creating thousands of green jobs in supply chains for renewables. If Brexit proceeds, all our successors would not only be disqualified from leading the European discussion, they would be shut out of the room altogether.
With the European Union economy some $2 trillion larger than that of the US, we can challenge the Trumps and the Putins of this world on security and on free trade too. While Trump’s protectionism threatens trade war with China. But a British liberal voice in the EU offers the chance to bring that vast newly developed economy into line with international trading standards, providing new competition and innovation particularly in technology. We should not forget, either, that Trump has his sights set on trade wars with European countries, nullifying Brexiteer ambitions for the US to be a key partner with “Global Britain” and reinforcing the need for Europe to act in concert.
British leadership could also see the EU reform its own practices. This set of European elections can scarcely avoid being about Britain’s domestic “Europe policy”, but future elections to the European Parliament – all across the continent – should be more about the policy of the European Union. The parliament should in future play a greater role in holding the Commission to account, bridging the democratic deficit and the present circus which sees it shuttle every few weeks from Brussels to Strasbourg should be brought to an end.
There is much for Britain to achieve on the international stage. A vote for the Liberal Democrats in the coming elections will send a clear signal that our country can shape the future of the continent, rather than turning our backs on it. We do that best with full membership of the European Union.
- Liberal Democrats unveil manifesto pledges to immediately stop Brexit by revoking Article 50, legalise cannabis and spend a £50bn 'Remain Bonus' on public services as Jo Swinson tries to stop party's sliding poll ratings
- General election 2019: Lib Dems promise £50bn 'windfall' from stopping Brexit
- ‘When I say Bollocks to Brexit, I Mean it’: New Leader of Liberal Democrats Vows to Keep Britain In EU
- DAN HODGES: How Jo Swinson is the Liberal Democrats' fatal flaw in a knife-edge Cornish vote
- For all their bravado, the Liberal Democrats are floundering
- Liberal Democrat manifesto: key policies explained
- Nick Clegg appeals to youth vote as Liberal Democrats maintain poll surge
- Liberal Democrats suspend general election candidate who posted 'clearly and unambiguously anti-Semitic' remarks online as Jo Swinson launches the party's 2019 manifesto
- Liberal Democrats Manifesto Pledges to Legalise and 'Regulate' Cannabis
- What are Britain's pro-EU Liberal Democrats promising in election?