Brexit Deal Should Be Put to Referendum, Liberal Democrats Say


Tim Farron.

Photographer: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
  • Farron says vote needed to avoid ‘stitch-up’ over quitting EU
  • Liberal Democrats aim to emulate Canada’s Trudeau, leader says

Tim Farron, the leader of the opposition Liberal Democrat party, called for a second referendum on Britain quitting the European Union to ensure the deal negotiated by Prime Minister Theresa May has public support.

Farron, whose party governed in coalition with May’s Conservatives until last year’s general election, accused the premier of having “no clue” about Britain’s future outside the bloc.

“The absence of leadership from the prime minister is astonishing, the absence of clarity as to what will happen to our country is a disgrace,” Farron told delegates on Tuesday at the end of his party’s annual conference in Brighton on England’s south coast. “You’ve had three months. You are the prime minister. Stop dithering. What is your plan? When Theresa May does agree a deal with the EU, we want the people to decide.”

Negotiations on Britain’s departure from the EU are expected to start in early 2017 and be concluded two years later, but May and her senior ministers have so far given next to no detail about the sort of agreement they’re seeking.

“We can’t start this process with democracy and end it with a stitch-up,” he said. “If we trusted the people to vote for our departure then we must trust the people to vote for our destination.”

Canadian Example

Farron said the Liberal Democrats, who campaigned to remain in the EU, have a “duty” to establish themselves as the leading alternative to May’s government because the main opposition Labour Party is too riven by infighting and hobbled by ideology to be effective.

He called on his party to rebuild its representation on local councils electoral district by electoral district and emulate Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s achievement in bringing his Liberal Party back to power.

“Trudeau’s Liberals leaped over an inadequate official opposition to defeat a right-wing Conservative government. Do you fancy doing that? Because I do!” Farron said. “My challenge to you is to pick a ward and win it, and my commitment to you is that I choose to build our party’s revival on victories in every council in the country.”

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn refused to work with the Liberal Democrats during the EU referendum campaign despite claiming to be on the same side, Farron told delegates. Corbyn’s socialist ideology has left a gap in the center ground of British politics, creating an opportunity for the party, he said.

The Liberal Democrats were reduced to just eight lawmakers in the House of Commons in last year’s election. Their support in opinion polls remains consistently below 10 percent, trailing the third-placed U.K. Independence Party. Corbyn is favorite to remain Labour leader in a vote that concludes this week.

Labour is “hopelessly divided and patently unfit for government, with no plan for the economy or the country; led by a man who is obsessed with refighting the battles of the past and ignoring the damage the government is doing to our future,” Farron said. “There is a hole in the center of British politics right now; a huge opportunity for a party that will stand up for an open, tolerant and united Britain.”

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