Today, I am announcing a plan to keep Britain at the heart of Europe. First and foremost, I believe the British people should be given the right to vote on the government’s negotiated Brexit deal.
Voting for a departure is not the same as voting for a destination. This is not an attempt to re-run the first referendum; we must respect the result. But the British people should be allowed to choose what comes next, to ensure it is right for them, their families, their jobs and our country. Our relationship with Europe affects our economy, our security, climate change, our influence in the world and so much more.
Until people get that choice, we will hold the Conservative Brexit Government to account and fight to make sure that Britain gets the best deal possible. So I am also setting out our approach on everything from the triggering of article 50 to the rights of EU citizens in the UK. While all the other parties are ducking these vital issues, we are tackling them head on. These questions are simply too important to ignore.
On that grim morning when we learned that Britain had voted to leave the European Union, I told the BBC that I remained as passionate about our European future then as I was before the vote. And that remains true today. If anything, as I see the Conservatives doing their best to turn the country I love into something of an isolated, international laughing stock, and I see an increase in hate crimes on our streets, my determination to see Britain remain outward-looking, open and generous at the heart of Europe has actually increased.
With the Conservative Brexit Government failing to set out its plan and explain to people what the consequences of Brexit will be, it is more vital than ever that passionate pro-Europeans hold their feet to the fire. Labour under Jeremy Corbyn has abandoned the field, offering no meaningful opposition whatsoever. And so it falls to the Liberal Democrats to provide the opposition to the Conservative Brexit government. We are the only party fighting to keep Britain open, tolerant and united.
So our policy on Europe is simple: we want to stay in the European Union. We wanted that the day before the referendum, we wanted it the day after and we want it today. We may have lost the referendum but that doesn’t change what we believe is right for the United Kingdom. So when the Conservatives do eventually present the country with a deal for life outside the European Union, we believe people have a right to have their say.
And let me be clear: I don’t believe there is any deal that Theresa May can do that will be better for Britain than being a member of the European Union. So when people are given that choice, I intend to make the case loudly and clearly that we believe Britain should stay in the European Union.
People have been let down for decades by short-termist politicians who put the needs of one part of society above the rest. Now, in the wake of the Brexit vote, those divisions are more exposed than ever. With our country facing huge challenges – from inequality and injustice to an NHS in crisis and an economy in jeopardy – we are left with a reckless, divisive and uncaring Conservative Government – and a Labour Party fighting with itself rather than doing its job as the official opposition.
This is why the Liberal Democrats are now the real opposition to the Conservative Brexit government – and the only party fighting to keep Britain open, tolerant and united.
* Tim Farron is Leader of the Liberal Democrats, MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale and a former President of the Liberal Democrats.