Most Leave voters didn’t really care about Brexit, says deputy Lib Dem leader
Leave voters “didn’t really care” about leaving the EU, according to Liberal Democrat deputy leader Sir Ed Davey.
The Lib Dem Treasury spokesman used his speech at the party conference to promise to invest in Leave-voting communities “first” if the party gets into power at the next election.
Speaking to the media afterwards, the former Cabinet minister said he did not think Brexit voters would be put off supporting his party despite it signing up to cancelling Brexit without a referendum.
If leader Jo Swinson is elected to Downing Street at the next election, the Lib Dems are committed to revoking Article 50 and putting the buffers on Britain’s exit from the European Union.
“I think most people, besides those who live and breathe Brexit on either side of the argument, just want to get it done and get it out of the way,” said the Kingston and Surbiton MP.
“Most of them didn’t really care that much about this.
“I think a lot of Leave voters – not all, some will hold their position until they die – may have a leaning towards Leave but if you said, ‘Look, this party is going to stop it tomorrow and invest shedloads of money in your community because economic growth is going to pick up’, they’re going to ask, ‘Where do I sign?’”
Sir Ed said he would use a “Brexit bonus” to establish the Regional Investment Bank – set up by Lib Dem ministers when in coalition with the Conservatives – and sign off on improving east-to-west train links across the North and the Midlands if he becomes chancellor.
Other investment promises included a funding scheme to allow adults to regularly retrain for new jobs and business rates reform to boost high streets.
The former environment secretary said he would establish a wellbeing budget that focused on “people” rather than prioritising economic growth.
“Imagine what we could do if we weren’t spending billions on preparing for a no-deal Brexit,” he told delegates.
“Imagine what we will do when we stop Brexit and reap the huge financial and economic benefits of staying in Europe.”
He promised “massive investment in education and training” and said his team would pay particular attention to “people and communities who have not had opportunity before” and that “voted Leave to put two fingers up to a system they felt had left them behind”.
“We must reach out to everyone across this country, especially Leave communities. When the Liberal Democrats save Britain from a Brexit break-up, the first people on our spending list will be them,” he said to loud applause.
In comments to journalists after receiving a rousing ovation, Sir Ed said he would want to see Britain rejoin the EU if Brexit does go ahead.
Ms Swinson had dodged talking about the issue of rejoining when interviewed earlier on Monday.
Sir Ed said: “If there is an election directly after we have crashed out and the chaos is hitting, people are going to say, ‘Who is going to save us from this?’
“And the only policy that is credible is to rejoin. If there is an election and we have crashed out, then yes (it would be Lib Dem policy to rejoin).”
Sir Ed said he would want to see the UK be readmitted on “relatively similar” terms to those it has as a member state, ruling out the possibility of joining the euro or agreeing to light-touch border controls under the Schengen Agreement.
He predicted that European leaders could agree to such a U-turn because “they’ll want it to stop”.
“Even though (Brexit) won’t be as costly for them as it is for us, it will still be costly,” said the former environment secretary.
He predicted that renegotiations after a no-deal Brexit could last longer than five or six years.
“A no-deal Brexit and a deal-Brexit does not end Brexit,” he said.