Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 22 October 2019

Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson criticised over pledge to scrap Brexit

The party has promised to revoke Article 50 without a referendum

Jo Swinson became the Liberal Democrat leader in July 2019. EPA
Jo Swinson became the Liberal Democrat leader in July 2019. EPA

Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson faced a barrage of criticism on Monday after the party pledged to cancel Brexit if it wins the next general election.

At their party conference on Sunday, members voted overwhelmingly for the new policy, which would see Article 50 revoked without a referendum.

Ms Swinson, who became the leader of the Liberal Democrats in July, said the move would allow the party to be “straightforward with people in an election”.

“There is no form of Brexit that won’t cause people harm, and that’s why the Lib Dems would stop Brexit altogether,” she said in a Twitter post on Monday.

Chuka Umunna MP, who left the Labour Party to join the Liberal Democrats, said the policy would reinforce the party’s “unequivocal” stance on Brexit. But significant resistance has arisen to the move.

Niall Hodson, one of the party’s councillors from Sunderland, argued against its adoption.

“I think unequivocal statements are killing democracy in this country,” he said.

Fellow opposition leaders have also voiced some of the strongest criticism of the policy, with Caroline Lucas MP suggesting it “further imperils” democracy in the UK.

“You can’t turn back the clock. Nor ignore the 17 million who voted Leave,” the former leader of the Green Party wrote.

Anna Soubry MP, leader of the pro-European Union party the Independent Group for Change, said revoking Article 50 was “not the solution,” adding that the policy “will cause more division”.

In a television interview on ITV’s Good Morning Britain, Ms Swinson was accused of telling “seventeen and a half million people that your vote counted for nothing”.

Challenged to defend the policy, Ms Swinson said that the idea of the Liberal Democrats contesting a general election on a promise of stopping Brexit “should be a surprise to nobody”.

The election pledge was made at a party conference marked by optimism for the Liberal Democrats after a series of high-profile arrivals by former Conservative MPs ejected from the party for backing legislation aimed at preventing the UK from leaving the EU without a deal.

Former Tory universities minister Sam Gyimah dramatically defected from prime minister Boris Johnson’s government on Saturday, vowing to fight against the government’s “scorched earth” pursuit of a Brexit at any cost.

Despite a number of departures and setbacks, the Conservative Party remain ahead in opinion polls with 37 per cent of the vote.

By contrast, the Liberal Democrats have lost ground compared to their opposition rivals and are down one point in the latest polling by Opinium.

Updated: September 18, 2019 04:13 AM

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