Lib Dem conference: Demand for clear promise to halt Brexit
Leading Camden member warns from main hall stage that a vote on final deal is not enough
22 September, 2017 — By Richard Osley
Stephen Crosher addressing the conference in Bournemouth
A LEADING figure in Camden’s Liberal Democrats was this week in the thick of a push to convince his party to produce a manifesto promise to halt Britain’s divorce from the European Union.
Stephen Crosher, a beaten candidate in Holborn and St Pancras at June’s general election, urged delegates to give people an alternative to Brexit as he delivered a speech from the main stage at the Lib Dem conference in Bournemouth.
He said the promise of simply giving people a vote on the final Brexit deal had not resonated enough and the party needed to take a firmer pledge to reverse the triggering of Article 50 – the mechanism for leaving Europe – at the next general election.
Mr Crosher and supporters of an “opposing Brexit” motion he had led on the conference floor, however, found themselves opposed by some of the party’s top brass and outflanked in a vote of delegates. An amendment – approved at the conference – deleted an all-out promise to stop the process and equivocally keep Britain in the union, and instead retained the Lib Dems’ offer of a second vote, post-negotiations – the so-called “exit from Brexit” vote.
Senior Lib Dems are concerned going further would be seen as a challenge to democracy. While areas such as north London voted heavily to remain in the EU at the referendum last year, some members at conference this week warned it must not lose touch with Leave-voting areas where the party once polled well, such as the south-west of England, where the Lib Dems hope for a revival. Mr Crosher had warned in his speech on Saturday, however, that watering down its tactics on stopping Brexit would “take us nowhere”.
He said: “This year Liberal Democrats outlined a commitment to offering the public the chance to vote on the terms of any deal. with Europe while the Conservatives spelled out a vision of a chaotic Brexit on the basis that no deal is better than a bad deal – and Labour struggled to define any position on Brexit. The Liberal Democrats offered an alternative choice but it failed to resonate.” T
he Lib Dems returned to third place in Holborn and St Pancras in June but Keir Starmer’s majority was expanded to beyond 30,000. Mr Crosher said future governments should not be bound by the referendum result if they were elected on a clear manifesto to stop Brexit altogether. “I stood in Holborn and St Pancras against Sir Keir Starmer,” he said from the stage. “He was a staunch Remainer, but now sometimes advocates the single market and the customs union, sometimes not. It is said in politics that there are signposts and there are weather vanes. “Weather vanes spin off in all directions with the winds of public opinion, whilst signposts remain true to their beliefs.”
He added: “I’m calling on conference to make Lib Dems that signpost. I ask you to look outside, peer into the landscape of politics in Britain. The wind is blowing and the Labour weather vane is spinning, fanned by bitter division within the shadow cabinet.” A majority show of voting cards inside the hall, however, saw the “wrecking” amendment introduced by Tom Brake, an MP in Carshalton, approved.
The switch in words was also supported from the stage by former party leader Tim Farron. A change in direction for the country on Brexit could only happen with the “seal of approval” of another referendum, said Mr Brake, adding: “If we don’t follow this path, then we open ourselves to the charge of seeking to deny democracy – the enemies of the people, in the words of the Daily Mail.”