Tim Farron’s speech to the Conference rally: I am the only UK party leader opposing Brexit

Here, in full, is Tim Farron’s speech to last night’s Conference rally. It went down very well in the hall with several bouts of spontaneous applause.

So, never let it be said that I don’t play fair.

My daughter Gracie went on Spanish exchange to Madrid last month to stay with her friend Alba, and her Parents took them to Real Madrid’s Bernabeu stadium.

This week it’s our turn to host Alba, and where have we taken her in return?

That’s right, we’ve brought her here to Liberal Democrat party conference.

We’re telling her its Wembley.

We told her the truth really. She is incognito, but she is here tonight…

So welcome to the only party in Britain that is unashamed to say that we actually like foreigners.

It is great to be here in York again. A city that exemplifies our liberal values. That the folks of York can – not just once, but two years running now – welcome a party led by a Lancastrian, just shows what a tolerant place this truly is.

And we gather here at the end of a week that will go down in history.

The week that our government won the right to trigger article 50 and throw our country out of the plane without a parachute

The week that Nicola Sturgeon chose to exploit Brexit to seek to divide our country

The week that 3 million EU citizens who have made our country their home were told that they did not count

Let that sink in. This is a time when you need to trust your gut instincts.

If those three events this week make you instinctively angry,

then the time for posting distressed statuses on facebook is over,

the time for crying into your coffee is over,

the time for throwing stuff at the TV is over.

The time has come for you to do something about it

You need to stand with the only party that stands for Britain in Europe;

that stands for Britain together,

that stands for a Britain that honours all who live and work here.

You need to stand with the only party that stands with you,

that stands for you,

that stands with the courage of our convictions that this not the Britain that we know.

This is not the Britain that we love.

Britain is better than this!

Nationalism rules the roost in Whitehall and in Holyrood. Those who demonise the other who put narrow ideology before the interests of the people, are running governments both north and south of the border.

And who opposes them, who officially holds them to account?

The official opposition of nationalists in Scotland is a puppet Tory party backing the hard Brexit chosen by the English Nationalists at Westminster.

And in Westminster those same English Nationalists who have hijacked the Conservative party are officially opposed by the Labour party.

A Labour party seeking to surpass itself. They are no longer content with merely not being fit for government, they are determined to prove they are not fit for opposition either.

The worst opposition leader in British history. The man who makes IDS look like JFK.

There was some controversy when Jeremy Corbyn forgot, on his tax submission, to declare his opposition leader’s salary.

But I don’t think there was any foul play there. It was an honest mistake. I think he genuinely forgot that he was leader of the opposition. He isn’t alone.

Or maybe he’s just decided to honestly implement performance related pay.

Or maybe Paul Nuttall’s been claiming it instead? Because apparently Paul Nutall is actually the leader of the Labour party? That’s what it says on his website

Well Dr Nuttall might as well be Labour leader now, as Labour go hand in hand with the Conservatives to force through a UKIP hard Brexit.

Labour is not an opposition, Labour is an accomplice.

A year ago, when I stood here on this stage, UKIP was the lone British political party that supported the UK leaving the EU.

Now I stand here as the leader of the only national party who doesn’t.

But lets give Paul Nuttall credit. He’s consistent. No one can take that away from him. And you can’t take away from him that he was the 4th man to walk on the surface of the Moon. That he invented lino. And played Keyboards in Kajagoogoo.

Even if you don’t believe what’s on his website, Paul Nuttall is consistent.

He was wrong in June and he’s still wrong now!

But Theresa May, Jeremy Corbyn, Philip Hammond, Keir Starmer. Where’s your backbone?

Don’t buy this guff that they are enacting the will of the people.

They are distorting the will of the people either by design or through utter weakness.

Who says that the will of the people is a hard Brexit, out of the single market, out of the customs union, into the pit of protectionism?

Well we will not roll over, we will not give up.

There are 2 forms of leadership.

One is where you see which way you think the people are going and you run round the front and shout ‘me too!’ That’s the easy path the others have chosen.

The other is where you boldly pin your colours to the mast and you inspire the people to turn and follow you.

That’s the leadership we have chosen to demonstrate.

And as a result of that leadership our membership is the highest it has been this century, we have overtaken Labour in donations and we continue to make astonishing gains in elections every week.

Because let me tell you this: leadership is a team game and that is why I am proud of every single one of you. You inspire me and you have given our country hope.

Our friend Guy Verhofstadt last week raised the possibility that British people could retain their EU passport if the UK left the EU.

Some people latched on to this as a possible means for us hanging on to the benefits of being a European citizen.

But for me, this wasn’t about practicalities, it was about identity.

Identity politics is dangerous, but identity is important, and I am proud of my identity.

I am a northerner, I am English, I am British, I am European, none of these is mutually exclusive, all of these reinforce the others, and I will not have nationalists telling me who I can and cannot be.

Prime Minister you can try to take Britain out of Europe but we will not let you take the Europeans out of Britain.

We are British, we are European – that is who we are and that is how we will stay!

Now the hard Brexit elite don’t like that.

Their commitment to democracy and the will of the people means seeking to silence everyone who has the audacity to suggest that their project is bad for Britain.

One of the many things that wasn’t on the ballot paper last year – but which apparently we now need to just accept without question – is that if you narrowly lost, you had to just shut up, dump your principles and become an accomplice to the new nationalism.

Now, Jeremy Corbyn and Keir Starmer clearly did get that memo! But I’m afraid I didn’t!

The emperor is wearing no clothes and I will keep on saying so.

But taking our bold position has had consequences… indeed, ladies and gentlemen, as a result, our friends over at Leave.EU very kindly decided to crown me 2016 Remoaner of the Year

Obviously I’m speechless, incredibly proud, and I couldn’t have done it without you.

And that title is obviously nothing compared to what I’m called on twitter. The foul-mouthed creativity is actually quite marvellous – especially when you consider that its mostly from a bunch of blokes sat at home in their pants.

Anyhow, if remoaning means standing up for EU citizens who have made their lives here in the UK.

If remoaning means demanding that the British people have the final say in this process

If remoaning means standing up for a family of nations that has healed the wounds of two world wars and a terrifying cold war

Then I am proud to be your remoaner in chief!

So no…I am not an enemy of the people, but I am the enemy of those people who seek to divide our country, to pervert the referendum result for their narrow ideology and trash our values by turning our backs on our neighbours.

And the more they come after us, the louder I will shout.

Despite what this government and their fanatical Brexit supporters in the press would like us all to believe, democracy did not end on the 24th of June.

It might be a political risk for us to speak out against the direction our country is going.

But it is the right thing to do.

Because what Britain does in the next two years will define us for the next one hundred.

So now is not the time to sit down and shut up.

Now is the time to stand up and fight.

There is only one thing worse than being a disappointment to your parents, and that is being a disappointment to your children.

In ten, twenty, thirty years from now, our children and our grandchildren will ask each of us what did we do to stop this senseless lurch into division, hardship and intolerance?

And while others will have to look away in numbing shame, we will look our children in the eye and say we did everything, we did everything.

And I’ll tell you what, I am determined that I will be able to look them in the eye and say that we did everything…. And that we won.

Because we are not in the business of just saying the right things, going on the right demonstrations, waving the right placards to make us feel better while the country collapses around us.

No, we are in the business of building a movement, so that we can win, so that we can turn our country around.

Winning is not a dirty word. Winning is what you need to do to make a difference and we are here this weekend because we are fed to the back teeth with defeat, we are here in York because Britain needs a progressive party with a vision, with a mission with a determination to win. We are here this weekend because Britain needs the Liberal Democrats.

There will be some who look at the division of our country, the damage to our economy, the dumping of Britain’s tolerant values.

And they will despair.

This week of all weeks, they will despair.

But we are here because we will have none of that.

This is the place for you if you have had it up to here with despair, if you are defiant, if you are determined that a bleak future of a closed, intolerant divided Britain is not inevitable.

This is the place for you if you believe that there is still a road to a Britain that is open, tolerant and united.

This is the place for you if you have the stomach for the fight of our lives for the country we love for the cause that is right.

Because if you believe that a better Britain is possible then the Liberal Democrats are your only vehicle for getting there, so don’t waste another minute, get on board because the future is as yet unwritten. We intend to write it.

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8 Comments

  • Colin Paine 18th Mar '17 - 5:49pm

    Brilliant stuff. Was chatting to some Labour activists who had a local stall this morning and they were full of praise for Tim for being the only leader to stand up against Brexit. They had nothing good to say about Jezza!

  • Michael Fletcher 19th Mar '17 - 1:47am

    You cannot protect the NHS or education by throwing money at them. Raising tax will be your failure. Instead deal with it in a way that works. Do what no politician has ever done, fix it. Fix PFI, procurement and waste, cut the drugs bill. Apply common sense. However this is not just about policy, it’s about competence.
    Do not drift into the trap of populist policies that are tactics and not a deep strategic and long term change to the status quo.

  • @ Michael Fletcher
    With all due respect – you obviously do not work in the NHS if you believe there is much ‘low hanging fruit’ left to cut. With another 22billion to save, five year forward reviews and 44 footprints trying to come up with sustainability and transformation plans that will attempt to balance the budgets, trusts deep in the red and patients (maybe yourself one day), spending hours on trolleys in A&E………. I could go on.

    Seriously, please be a little empathetic in your comments. There are many very hard working health care professionals at all levels, trying their best to ensure you, me and everyone else, do not come to any further harm when we all inevitably have to pass through the doors of the NHS, and entrust our lives in many cases to the dedicated individuals on the other side.

    Incidentally the total drugs budget is just shy of 10% of total NHS spend.
    Our generic prescribing rate is one of the highest in Europe, the Pharma industry is one of our biggest employers, R&D and Biotechnological spend ensures we have one of the best reputations for innovation in the world (not withstanding the need to negotiate a fair deal between industry and the NHS), and the development of new drugs over the last few decades particularly (PPI’s preventing surgery, antipsychotics literally giving patients their lives back, ace inhibitors increases life expectancy of cardiac victims and loved ones to name b ut a few), have resulted in a paradigm shift in the options available to clinicians to streamline care pathways and ensure better patient outcomes. So, please do not give people here the impression there are simple answers to extremely complex questions.

    Finally as an ex teacher, I’m not even going to go down this route as the post will get far too long, but the point is that the wider the curriculum, the greater exposure children will get to subjects that interest, inspire and motivate them. Finding the spark that ignites them is what education needs to do in order that they contribute fully to society. offering a broad curriculum and attracting talented teachers cost money!

  • BTW Apologies for in some ways highjacking this speech which should be the main thrust of the comments here.
    As I said on a parallel post yesterday, this is an excellent, inspired rallying speech.
    Great structure, pace and flow – the message and urgency comes through loud and clear.
    Hopefully some positive media coverage to come from the more empathetic parts of the press?

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 20th Mar '17 - 1:56pm

    I hesitated about whether to mention this, but it makes me uneasy to see our leader make a statement that he must know to be incorrect. In the quote that heads this article, he claims to be the only UK party leader opposing Brexit. But Caroline Lucas has also opposes Brexit, and has taken a very similar approach to Tim Farron, voting against article 50, and calling for a “referendum on the deal”. I don’t see how Tim Farron can fail to be aware of this. Sorry to strike a negative note, but we should not condone our leader making a statement that appears to be deliberately misleading.

  • he claims to be the only UK party leader opposing Brexit

    I don’t know the exact phrasing he used, but if he said the only national UK party then he would be correct: Caroline Lucas is the leader of the Green Party of England and Wales which, as the name suggests, is not a national party but only covers England and Wales (there is a separate, but affiliated, Green Party in Scotland).

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 20th Mar '17 - 3:31pm

    Dav, Yes, you’re right, although the heading says “only UK party leader”, the actual wording in the speech is “leader of the only national party…”. But I’m afraid it’s still misleading.

  • Malcolm Todd 20th Mar '17 - 4:24pm

    Michael Fletcher 19th Mar ’17 – 1:47am
    “You cannot protect the NHS or education by throwing money at them. … Do what no politician has ever done, fix it. … Apply common sense. …
    Do not drift into the trap of populist policies

    There’s nothing more populist than claiming that you can simply “fix” incredibly complex systems by applying “common sense” and not raising taxes to pay for it. (Compare D. Trump: “nobody knew healthcare was so complicated…”.)

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