Ed Davey: We fought the good fight – now what next?

This is the text of the speech given by Ed Davey today in Manchester.

Good morning.

For the last four years, the Liberal Democrats fought to stop Brexit.

We held street stalls, town hall meetings and we marched in our millions.

Today we stand strong in the knowledge that we did everything we could.

Tens of thousands of people got involved with our campaign. People who had never campaigned before. And old hands, campaigning harder than they ever had before.

We fought with good humour and great energy. We fought because we love our country.

Our pro-Europeanism is built on our patriotism.

So I will always be proud of the campaigners, candidates, activists and members of our movement who had the courage to stand up for what we believe in.

And though ultimately we did not succeed in stopping Brexit, I am immensely proud of all that we did achieve.

We built the largest pro-European movement this country has ever seen.

Prevented a catastrophic no-deal Brexit – not once, not twice but three times.

Defended the rights of EU citizens, and forced the government to scrap the Settled Status fee.

And as I accept that tomorrow at 11pm our campaign to stop Brexit is over, I do so standing shoulder to shoulder with the millions of pro-Europeans I have campaigned with over the past four years.

Tomorrow will be a celebration for some, but for us it will be a heart-breaking day.

Whilst some may relish this Tory Brexit experiment, many will be anxious and upset.

Worried about what the future holds for them – their families, communities and businesses.

But as I share your sadness. And as I share your unease. My aim today is to offer some hope to all pro-Europeans. And to all who thirst for a fairer, greener country.

For I am determined that pro-Europeans can and must play a leading role in our country’s future.

Britain’s European story does not end tomorrow.

We may no longer be members of the European Union, but the UK will always be part of Europe.

Our futures, like our histories, inevitably intertwined.

And the Liberal Democrats will always be a pro-European, internationalist party.

We will never stop fighting for Britain to have the closest possible relationship with our European friends.

Here in Manchester, I’m reminded of the Manchester Liberals who fought the Tories in the 19th century. When Tory Corn Laws made food too expensive for working people.

That Liberal fight for free trade took years – but the Conservatives were eventually defeated.

And with that Liberal trade victory, came reduced food prices, more employment and a fairer society.

And in the 21st century, Liberal Democrats will never stop fighting for liberal, progressive ideals.

Liberal Democrats did not drop our values, our beliefs, our principles. Just because we lost the referendum in 2016. And we will not drop them now.

We believe the United Kingdom is stronger when we work closely with other nations. And when we work with other progressives across our own country.

We will work with anyone within our United Kingdom who shares our values, to re-unite our country.

For I am determined that the UK’s response to the huge challenges now before us must not be defined by Boris Johnson and the others who are responsible for Brexit, but by us: progressives, together.

Through pain comes wisdom, and the immense pain we feel tomorrow should at least remind us of one important truth:

That which unites us is far greater than that which divides us.

That is true whether “us” is the United Kingdom, Europe or humankind.

And it is also true of “us” as progressives.

We cannot let small disagreements or tribal labels stand in the way of our common values: Compassion. Fairness. Equality. Internationalism.

To defend these values – and to start winning again – we must regroup.

And as our movement regroups, remember we are larger than ever.

Our party was founded back in the 1980s, by people who left the safety of a large political party to put the national interest first.

In that same tradition, I was proud to stand with courageous MPs like Chuka, Angela, Luciana, Sam, Heidi, Sarah, Philip and Antoinette in the last Parliament.

They and thousands more joined the Liberal Democrats from the Conservatives and Labour.

And we’ve seen thousands more get active for the first time ever.

That’s why I’m delighted to be here in Manchester, where thousands of new members have joined our party and where Liberal Democrat councillors – led by the formidable John Leech – are the only opposition on Manchester City Council.

What John and his team have accomplished in the past four years has been remarkable, and I am confident that Liberal Democrats will win bigger than ever in Manchester this year.

This huge growth in members and supporters of the Liberal Democrats gives me hope.

For them and for so many of us, Brexit wasn’t just about Europe. Or the European Union.

It was about who we are. Who we aspire to be. What we want our country to become.

In talking to Liberal Democrat members from across the UK, one theme is clear. They want the UK to become fairer.

We must no longer be a country that is divided by leave and remain, but that means we must heal our country’s other divisions too.

For if Brexit has taught us anything, it is that there are many serious divisions to fix.

The UK is divided by inequality. Inequality of opportunity, of wealth, of power. Inequality of hope.

And the forces of English and Scottish nationalism unleashed by these divisions, cannot bring our fractured country together: by their very nature they seek to divide our family of nations even further.

Only progressive parties like the Liberal Democrats will fight to disperse power and wealth across our country, and to create opportunity for every child, in every community.

From our mission to overhaul Britain’s democracy, to our radical vision of a fairer, greener economy, Liberal Democrats offer real change that can truly unite our country.

So let me say this to those who voted to leave the EU.

If you voted for Brexit because your communities have been let down for decades.

Because Governments have ignored you.

Because too much wealth has stayed in the hands of the always wealthy.

And too much power has stayed in the hands of the already powerful.

Because you and your children have been denied the opportunities afforded those who were born into privilege

You are right. We agree.

We share your frustration – and your impatience for change.

But we have no faith in the Conservatives’ willingness to address your frustrations. Or to deliver that change.

And if your votes are instead used by this Government to feather their own nest.

To discriminate; To impoverish; To divide our communities with racism and hatred –

The Liberal Democrats will fight this Government every step of the way.

So today I have a special message for Boris Johnson.

From Johnson’s articles on straight bananas to make his name in journalism, to his last-minute decision to get on the Brexit bus to take himself to Downing Street. Our Prime Minister tops the long list of Conservatives who are responsible for tomorrow.

But if progressives don’t fight, I fear there may be even worse to come.

For when it comes to tough choices on taxation and spending, this Conservative Prime Minister looks set to protect the wealthy than the vulnerable.

Boris Johnson’s idea of reforming democracy is to attack the courts and make it more difficult for people to vote.

Boris Johnson’s idea of uniting the country has been to tell half of the country to give up their beliefs.

Boris Johnson’s idea of a new role for Britain in the world, is to ring the White House for his orders.

We cannot leave Britain’s future in the hands of a Prime Minister who only cares about himself, and has never once put the national interest ahead of his own career.

We must stand together as progressives against these forces that have done so much harm, to prevent them doing even more.

So as our country forges its future outside the European Union, we must campaign for a future that reflects the best of our United Kingdom.

Where those with the broadest shoulders bear the greatest burden.

Where workers are protected. And consumers and human rights are respected.

But this fight for a progressive Britain starts with our campaign to prevent a no-deal Brexit at the end of 2020.

And to secure a trading relationship that is based on fair rules and liberal values.

And to lead the fight against the forces that do not respect borders, from terrorism to the climate emergency.

So Liberal Democrats will work to maintain the UK’s position in crime-fighting networks such as Europol, Eurojust, and the European Arrest Warrant. To keep Britain safe.

Liberal Democrats will work to protect our place in the Emissions Trading Scheme and Horizon Europe. So that we can tackle the climate emergency together with our closest neighbours.

From saving the opportunity to study across Europe through Erasmus. To protecting free healthcare across Europe with the European Health Insurance Cards.

To accessing ground-breaking medicines through Euratom, and the European Medicines Regulatory Network.

Liberal Democrats will be on a damage limitation exercise to stop a hard Brexit hurting British people.

And likewise, we will continue to be the champions for EU citizens living in this country. We will work tirelessly so the country they have made their home does not turn its back on them.

In the hospital I and my family use – in Kingston Hospital – I’ve seen the amazing contributions doctors and nurses from the EU make to our NHS.

I’ve heard their anguish over Brexit.

My disabled son’s amazing progress against the odds has been partly down to the skills, dedication and commitment of Hungarian healthcare professionals.

So when I want to lift the cloud of uncertainty for them and the millions of other EU citizens who’ve been forced to live under that cloud. For me it’s personal.

As the Conservatives draw up plans to impose a new immigration system on our the country, it is for us to stand up and say unequivocally that this system must not separate children from their families; it must not lock people up indefinitely, and it must not slam the door in the faces of those fleeing unimaginable horror.

For these battles ahead, I take strength from our liberal victories of the past.

Let’s remember what progressive reformers have won in recent decades.

Strengthening human rights. Enlarging individual freedom. Reducing inequality.

From Beveridge to Keynes, Liberals have won so many important advances over the years, and I am proud of the Liberal Democrats’ role in building a fairer, more liberal society.

It was liberals who changed the law in Britain to give women control of their own bodies.

It was Liberal Democrats who led the opposition to the Iraq War.

Liberal Democrats who devised and championed the law for same-sex marriage.

Liberal Democrats who trebled renewable power, making the UK the world-leader in offshore wind.

It was a Liberal Democrat MP who moved the clause to abolish the discriminatory section 28.

And a Liberal Democrat MP who introduced the Bill to enshrine UK aid spending in law.

Every time, there were those who stood against us. Those who dismissed our fight. Those who laughed at our efforts.

And at times it felt like progress was out of reach. That swimming against the tide was futile.

But even in the face of relentless opposition, even after devastating setbacks, we kept going.

We stood up for what we believe in, and we won change.

So as I look ahead this year, I remember how Liberals won in the past – against the odds. Against the establishment. Against the Tories.

And that gives me hope.

Hope that we can save jobs and save businesses.

Hope that we can keep trading relationships free from barriers that harm jobs and business.

Hope that we can protect what we have won in Europe – some of the highest food, working and living standards anywhere in the world.

In our sadness tomorrow, we cannot lose sight of what is at stake over the next year. Or what’s at stake in the years and decades to come.

Tomorrow is not the end of our story with Europe. Far from it.

I do not ignore the gravity of what it means for the country we all love.

But that makes me all the more determined to fight for the liberal values we all cherish.

The Liberal Democrats have been, and will always be, the home for people who are liberal, pro-European and internationalist.

We know you can only create economic opportunity, achieve social justice and protect our environment by being open, inclusive, outward-looking and optimistic.

That is who we are. That is what we will be. And that is the future we will build.

* Ed Davey is the MP for Kingston & Surbiton and Leader of the Liberal Democrats

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  • “Did you really just try to take the credit for Peel repealing the Corn Laws?!
    Well, yes. The Corn Laws were Tory laws. It was three Liberal Whigs – Charles Villiers, John Bright and Richard Cobden – who set up and led the repeal movement in the 1830s and early 40s. It was they who built it till the popular momentum was un-stoppable.
    Peel was actually against repeal right up until 1845, before that momentum forced/allowed him to U-turn and back it. Big credit to him for that, but even then he couldn’t get his own party to support him and needed Whig votes to get it through Parliament (Tory MPs opposed repeal by more than 2 to 1).
    In his resignation speech, Peel himself said, “The name which ought to be and will be associated with the success of these measures is the name of Richard Cobden. Without scruple, Sir, I attribute the success of these measures to him.”
    So, yeah. I agree with Peel. Liberals had a massive role in the repeal of the Corn Laws, which is what Ed said today. It’s a part of our history and we are proud of it.

  • Graham Jeffs 31st Jan '20 - 8:19am

    Personally I find the presentation of this material unhelpful. It mirrors communications from HQ. I daresay we are all considered terribly dim by these people, but having particular sentences highlighted in bold type in case we don’t recognise their importance is somewhat patronising.

  • David Evershed 31st Jan '20 - 11:55am

    The repeal of the Corn Laws stopped the protectionist practice of keeping corn prices high.

    The Liberals at the time were in favour of repealing the Corn Laws and so in favour of free trade in corn, stopping protectionism, and thus lowering the price of bread.

    Surely the current equivalent to repealing the Corn Laws is to withdraw from the Common Agricultural Policy of the EU and allow the free trade of food imports from non EU countries and thus lower food prices?

    So if Liberals are aligned with the repeal of the Corn Laws as a good thing, on the same principle we should also be aligned with exiting the CAP as a good thing.

  • Matthew Huntbach 31st Jan '20 - 12:15pm

    Back in the 19th century, there were not the environmental issues there are now.

    The point of having an international agricultural policy now it to protect the environment.

    Saying that we will instead accept any food from any country means that countries will benefit from keeping costs down by ignoring environmental issues. So we end up with every country saying they agree with the need for environmental issues to be dealt with, but every country saying they don’t want to do it on their own as it just means they’ll lose out to other countries that don’t bother.

  • @ Graham Jeffs – I could be wrong but I suspect the bold type was intended for Ed’s eyes, to remind him to emphasise those particular points while making the speech, or to look at the camera or something. Every public speaker has a different style, but I think most find it helpful to have ‘delivery hints’ like this in the text, rather than just one big solid block. I’ve had some experience of speech-writing and I always do things like this, or he may even have done it himself, and then just sent the speech as it was to LDV.
    (As I say, I could be wrong).

  • Graham Jeffs 31st Jan '20 - 2:28pm

    RossMcL – I hope your explanation is the correct one, in those particular circumstances I could live with it.

    But I’m afraid the style emulates that which has often been used by HQ in contacting members. I don’t believe it adds anything to one’s ability to absorb what is being said – on the contrary, it makes reading it a ‘bumpy road’ and is somewhat irritating.

  • David Garlick 31st Jan '20 - 3:27pm

    A good message. Bold type or not, it is the message and not the presentation that is important. We have a good message, “put it on a piece of paper and shove it through a letter box”.

  • John Roffey 1st Feb '20 - 6:29am

    This seems to be a sensible approach to gradually improving the Party’s popularity. However, if the wish is to rapidly gain increased support – take this on:


    Not only will support increase significantly – but most of the mistakes of the past will soon be forgotten.

  • I’m not sure there’s much to sit behind the words. Corn Laws aside, it’s quite wrong to Wayne scottish nationalism was ‘unleashed’ by Brexit, and even worse to try to equate it with English nationalism. It’s also not true that we will work with anyone – we can’t even work with the pretty similar SNP. Our stance on scotland is illiberal and contrary to the preamble to our own constitution. The party is heavily against another IndyRef (because it is eking out a sort of present existence as the unionist party that can win where Tories can’t) but what will it say when NI has a referendum on its future? What is it saying in Wales, where it is down to 1 AM, no MPs and no councils?

    I am actually close to political despair – those who say the EU was undemocratic can use all the levers of a state with a hereditary head, unelected upper house and illegitimate lower house to give a ‘majority’ of seats to a party with 43% of votes cast. We threw away a parliament that was holding Johnson to account in our excitement to get a second euro referendum, but will do everything that the broken state permits to stifle a second IndyRef? Whither Liberalism, and how will we ever remove the Tory state ?

  • * equate, not ‘Wayne’ above

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