REMAINERS are facing a final defeat with the Liberal Democrats preparing to drop the party’s commitment to UK membership of the EU in a vote during its virtual annual conference next weekend.
A resolution at the first conference under the leadership of Sir Ed Davey will not make re-joining the EU a formal target, and will be agreed by the party’s federal policy committee, The Independent has reported. But the move will trigger a backlash from Remainer activists, who will table an amendment to insist on a commitment to re-join the EU. The motion will insist the Lib Dems “keep all options open” for the UK’s future relationship with the bloc.
This would include possibly re-joining “at an appropriate future date to be determined by political circumstances”.
The motion would also force the Lib Dems to obtain backing from voters – either via a referendum or after a general election – for any future application for membership.
This will be “subject to public assent” as well as “market and trade conditions and acceptable negotiated terms”.
The Lib Dems’ priorities in Europe would be to highlight the inefficiencies of the UK Government in its handling of the departure from the EU and also campaign against measures which would damage the country’s industry, agriculture and democracy.
The motion urges “the closest possible alignment between the UK and EU towards customs union, single market and freedom of movement”, but does not state whether the party would ever explicitly look to restore them.
It warns of “deep concern” of the Government’s insistence of completing a post-Brexit trade deal with the EU before the transition period deadline of December 31 – which Downing Street has refused to extend..
The motion further warns of Britain leaving the EU with a “rushed, bad deal” amid uncertainties over the continued coronavirus pandemic and growing rivalries between global superpowers.
It also references the Internal Market Bill, stating the Prime Minister’s plan to break international law by overriding elements of the Brexit withdrawal agreement signed with the EU last year “almost certainly precludes any chance of a free trade agreement with either the EU or the USA”.
But the resolution would mark a massive u-turn for the Lib Dems just months on from their manifesto commitment in the general election at the end of last year.
At that time, then-leader Jo Swinson, who stepped down after losing her own constituency seat, said if in power, she would stop Brexit without a second referendum.
The move would also mark an attempted change in image by new leader Sir Ed Davey, who is keen to shake off the perception the Lib Dems are a single-issue Remain party, while also maintaining a dominant pro-European position among other major national parties.
It also suggests he has quickly accepted the Lib Dems must focus on other pressing issues such as climate change as opposed to re-joining the EU, which could be several years away from happening if it ever does materialise.
Lib Dem Europe spokeswoman Christine Jardine told The Independent: “At this point, our priority is to make sure that we do everything we can to keep the pressure on the government to get a trade deal with the EU at the end of December and to make sure we have as positive a relationship as possible with the EU after the end of the Brexit transition.
“We are still hugely and proudly pro-European, but we have to accept and reflect the new reality that we have left the EU and its up to us now to build a fresh relationship with the remaining EU.”
But Ms Jardine remained tight-lipped on how long she expects the UK to be out of the EU, joking she would “need a crystal ball”.
She said: “It’s impossible now to know what the position will be.
“Our position over the next period will be that we stay as close to the EU as we can.”
When asked about a backlash from furious activists against the move from the Lib Dems, Ms Jardine replied: “Of course there will be a debate about it at conference.
“We have had a hearty debate many times on our position and I would be more worried if we weren’t talking about it this weekend.”
“We are not purely a Remain party. Far from it.
“I am not in the Liberal Democrats because I’m pro-European, I’m pro-European because I’m liberal, but being a liberal is about so much more than being in the EU.”