Tonight the Liberal Democrat leader, Tim Farron, announced in a statement to party members that despite the referendum result on Thursday returning a 4% majority in favour of leaving the European Union, the Liberal Democrats will campaign the next General Election (which could be in a matter of months) on the promise of keeping the UK inside the EU.
This pledge has of course been met with criticism from those on social media calling the pledge unfair, undemocratic and an act of “ignoring the people’s voice”. But I strongly disagree. The margin of victory for the leave campaign was negligible and even Nigel Farage himself before the campaign, called for a second referendum if the margin of victory was 4% in favour of remaining. The Liberal Democrats have always been a pro-EU party and so it is the natural thing that they should want to keep the UK inside the EU. If people decide they want to take up that offer then they will vote Lib Dem; if not, then they’ll vote Tory, Labour or indeed UKIP.
I am proud to be a Liberal Democrat tonight, more proud than I have ever been. We are standing up for what we believe in without fear of retribution or criticism; we are offering the 48% (plus those who regret their Brexit vote) a chance to rewrite the events of Thursday’s referendum result. If in the event of the Liberal Democrats winning an election based on this promise it is the furthest thing from undemocratic. People will have voted for the Lib Dems because of the promise to remain; if they don’t, then it will be a signal that people are comfortable with Brexit.
This referendum was advisory and not legally binding. The UK government is not bound by the result and has no compulsion to initiate Article 50 of the Lisbon treaty, but that does not mean that the result should simply be ignored and tossed aside. Similarly to the 2010 election result, the hung parliament showed politicians that the UK population did not trust one party enough to govern alone. The result? The first coalition government in a generation which provided financial stability and saw two opposing parties collaborate for the good of the country. This referendum result demonstrates that a large portion of the UK population has become disenfranchised with the EU and many of its systems. This of course, should not be ignored. The government should instead use this result as a chance to engage in further reforms in the UK’s relationship with the EU and in fact the union as a whole. Major figures within the EU have already said that the result has triggered a need for the remaining 27 nations to think carefully about the future of the EU – there is absolutely no reason why the UK should not be involved with and included in those future reforms.
The Brexit vote was driven mainly by fears of immigration and the vast amounts of money sent to the EU in membership fees. Promises made to cut immigration and to further fund the NHS have already been rubbished by senior leave campaigners and have left a very bitter taste in the mouths of many who voted to leave. Many of those who voted against remaining on Thursday have already expressed their regret and have claimed they would have rather voted to stay. There is also the pressing issue of the online petition to hold a second referendum under new electoral rules which has gained more than a million signatures in the space of three hours: the current total is 2,571,626 and is rising every time I hit the “refresh button”.
The Liberal Democrats are the only party who were positing the positive case for remaining inside the EU and are the only party committed to ensuring that the UK does not endure one of the most traumatic political events in recent memory. The choice is clear: if you are one of the 48% who wanted to remain inside the EU, then you need to show your support for the Liberal Democrats.