Brexit is “the elephant in the room of British politics”, Sir Ed Davey has claimed as he seeks to boost support for the Liberal Democrats.
The leader of the UK’s third party claimed in his speech to its spring conference that both the Conservatives and Labour were seeking to disguise the impact that leaving the EU has had on the economy.
But he again fell short of calling for the country to rejoin the EU, calling instead for closer relations which will “rip up red tape” for businesses.
Speaking in York at the Lib Dems’ first in-person conference since 2019, Sir Ed also warned the Tories that they could lose dozens of seats if they do not pledge to tackle water pollution, and pledged to prioritise political reform including a change to the voting system.
Addressing Brexit in his speech, the leader said: “I call it the elephant in the room of British politics. An elephant we always point to, even though other parties daren’t even whisper its name. So let me shout it, yet again: if you want to boost our economy, you have to repair our broken relationship with Europe.
He added: “You don’t need me to tell you what a disaster the Conservatives’ botched deal with Europe has been for our country. You see it every day in your communities: the businesses strangled by red tape; the farmers, fishers and factories, unable to sell to their customers on the continent; the empty shelves in local supermarkets.”
Lib Dem policy on the EU is to revisit Britain’s relations with the bloc in the comming years, but without a firm commitment to rejoin either the EU itself or its single market or customs union.
Ahead of May’s local elections, Sir Ed warned Conservative MPs that voters angry about discharges of sewage into Britain’s rivers would turn on them. He said: “People want a clean, healthy natural environment. They want an end to the Conservatives letting water companies get away with pumping filthy sewage straight into our rivers – the biggest environmental crime in our country today, and a crime that will cost the Conservatives dozens of seats if they don’t act.”
And he pledged to redouble the party’s commitment to changing the voting system – saying: “While the other parties still cling to the discredited ‘first past the post’ electoral system, our zeal for proportional representation remains undimmed.”
Sir Ed called the Conservatives “a bunch of mutinous pirates, only interested in who got to wear the captain’s hat”, joking: “We needed Hornblower. They gave us Pugwash.” But he also hit out at Labour, claiming that “their only goal seems to be ‘not as bad as the Conservatives’ – talk about a low bar!”