Express.co.uk ventured into the heart of the anti- party's annual conference and found determined so-called democrats would never give up on their quest to reverse the will of the British people even if their party failed to reach a governing majority at the next general election. Liberal Democrat members voted overwhelmingly to revoke Article 50 should they win at the next general election - with party leader Jo Swinson promising to put an end to what she described as the political mess created by the Conservative Government. But when members were confronted with the slim likelihood of their party winning a whopping 326 seats at the next elections, they appeared convinced their anti-Brexit battle would go on nonetheless.
Speaking to Express.co.uk at the end of Jo Swinson's final speech at the conference, which sparked standing ovations and palpable enthusiasm from the devoted crowd, party member Ian Sharpe said: “It’s never the end of days. Some people think the referendum was the end of days, the next election won’t be the end of days.
“We’re sure there will be a pro-multinational, pro-European, pro-multilateral stance and that will be us, regardless of if we get 50 percent or five percent.
“They will fight on, I will fight on, Jo will fight on, because that’s the way politics are now.”
Young Remainer Ryan Patt, who has only been a member of the Liberal Democrats for the last three years and attended his first conference this year, admitted a mandate given to a Conservative Government on a no deal Brexit platform should be respected.
But he added: “We don’t believe that’s what the people want. We believe that if we don’t get that mandate people should have another say.
“We can put it to the people who voted to leave, the 52 percent, and say ‘is this really what you want? Is this really what you believed Brexit would look like? We don’t believe it is and speaking to a lot of Brexit voters I know it is not what they wanted either.”Liberal Democrats deputy leader Ed Davey and leader Jo Swinson (Image: GETTY)
Quoting her party leader, member Jackie Bale said she would never give up, "because I’m English, I live in Scotland, I’m British, I’m European and I want to continue to have my freedom.”
Gita Gordon even quoted arch-Brexiteer Nigel Farage to make her point. She said: “The battle continues because that’s what even Nigel Farage said. If it had been the other way around then it would have been an unfinished business so why would it stop for us?
“There is no harm in letting people know the benefits of joining the EU so we will start that again if we have to.”
But the party's approved anti-Brexit stance was harshly criticised by some of its senior members. Former Lib Dem party president Simon Hughes deputy leader and, for 32 years, MP for Bermondsey and Old Southwark warned the promise of revoking Article 50 puts the party in an extreme position.
And Niall Hodson, a councillor from Sunderland where the Brexit vote won overwhelmingly in 2016 and the recent success of the Lib Dems at the local election was only due to the unpopularity of their Labour rival, claimed the policy could push the party backwards in Leave constituencies that had started to trust the party on non-Brexit related issues.Lib Dems members Guta Gordon and Jackie Bale (Image: EXPRESS)Lib Dem member Ryan Patt (Image: EXPRESS)
Confronted on the criticism received by its own party colleagues, Brexit spokesman Tom Brake told Express.co.uk: “We’re providing people with clarity and even some of those people who voted to leave, they’ve reached a point where they want this to stop.
“And stop immediately. And the only way to stop it immediately is to revoke Article 50.”
He added: “One of the issues for some of the Leave voters is that they have seen this issue going on and on and on. They have seen billions of pounds being spent for preparing for no deal, a thing which the Government sometimes say they don’t want.
“And that is billions of pounds that haven’t being spent on improving the roads, improving the rail network, improving schools in parts of the country that voted Leave.
“That money is being squandered now, it’d be better to spend that money on the things that people want investments made in, instead of throwing it at a problem called no deal, which nobody wants.”
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Deputy leader Ed Davey also appeared confident Leave constituencies would abandon their strong eurosceptic sentiments in favour of a Lib Dem Government that would simply end the Tory "nightmare".
In a direct message to Leavers, he said: “I just say to those communities that voted Leave: I think the Liberal Democrats would invest in your communities as their priority if we stopped Brexit.
“So our promise to you is, first of all, we’ll end this nightmare. It’s going on for too long and we’ll end it very quickly.
“And then with the bonus, we’d get from staying in the European Union which will be a big economic bonus, we’d spend that in Leave communities.
“Because we want to bring our country together, we want to unite it again.”
Jo Swinson's motion to revoke Article 50 also sparked the outrage of those who believe Scotland should be given the opportunity to vote in a second independence referendum.
The Lib Dem leader was accused of hypocrisy when she claimed that despite believing her party would have a clear mandate to stop Brexit in the event it won the next general election, she appeared to dismiss the idea that the same principle would apply to the SNP should they win a governing majority in Scotland on second independence referendum platform.Deputy leader for the Lib Dems Ed Davey (Image: EXPRESS)
Former Lib Dem leader Sir Vince Cable appeared to diverge from the issue when confronted by Express.co.uk on the crucial contradiction of its party's policy.
The Lib Dem MP was quick to compare the legitimacy of a second Brexit referendum with that of a second vote in Scotland, in an attempt to diverge from the real comparison between what would be two very conflicting mandates should both parties win governing majorities in their respective parliaments.
He said: “Brexit won the referendum narrowly whereas the Scottish Nationalists lost their referendum, so they’re in a very different position.
“I think the dynamics of Scottish politics have changed in the sense that I think a lot of Scots are very angry about the way we’ve descended into such a mess with Brexit and therefore they are threatened by it.
“But at the same time they can see the chaotic consequences of trying to undo a long-term relationship and the whole idea that we would set up borders and scuppering the rights of Scots in England who have residence, it’s such an appalling prospect for Scots when they think about it."
Pressed to address the issue, he added: “I don’t think it’s a contradiction and I think the people of Scotland will be absolutely relieved if we stopped Brexit.
“I think the Scottish Nationalists voted with us on revocation when it came to Parliament.
“And I suspect that if we do stop Brexit the balance in Scottish politics would change in any case.”Former Lib Dems leader Sir Vince Cable (Image: EXPRESS)
The former Lib Dem leader added that even in the event his party failed to stop Brexit the rational position in Scotland would be that of opposing independence.
He warned: “Scottish nationalism is not going to flourish.”
The diverging tactic was also used by Mr Davey who when pressured to give an answer responded: “First of all, a general election is UK-wide and Scottish independence has a huge impact on England and Wales as in Northern Ireland. And everyone who votes in a general election for parties who support independence has to take that into the equation.
“It seems to be often forgotten but it’s very very important because as an English MP I have to think about my constituents as well.
“Secondly, the Scottish Nationalists themselves made it clear that that’s not what they would do.
“If they’re trying to fight for that they’ll have to win the argument in Westminster who granted the first Scottish referendum.”
It was clear the issue came down to a matter of powers - or lack of - given to the Scottish Parliament in being able to trigger legislations that would allow the Scottish Government to keep its manifesto promises.
As Tom Brake put it himself, "the SNP actually don’t have the power to do that. The decision on whether to hold a referendum in Scotland is actually a decision that the Westminster Government, not the Scottish Government”.Lib Dem member Ian Sharpe (Image: EXPRESS)
But he added: "We need to change the relationship between the Scottish Parliament and the Westminster Parliament.
“At the moment, it is the Westminster Government that decides whether a referendum can take place in Scotland and we would campaign against it because we think the United Kingdom should remain as a whole.”
Despite their optimism and enthusiasm, even Sir Vince Cable admitted there is a long way ahead for the party before they will be able to reach a governing majority.
Asked whether they would be willing to risk teaming up with other parties to be in government again, following the failure of their coalition with the Tories in 2010, Sir Vince said: “The principle of working with any other party is something we are very comfortable with.
“The principle of a coalition is not a problem for us, it’s just that under the current leaderships, with the Labour Party under Corbyn is so extreme and so left-wing, and the Tories have drifted into this English national party with extreme positions, we couldn’t work with them.
“If they were to change, if Mr Corbyn was replaced by a moderate Labour leader in the kind of Blair tradition, or the Tories would go back to somebody moderate and sensible one nation Conservative like John Major or even Cameron, we have no problem with people like that.”
Brexiteer Hilary Edge marched down to the party’s conference in Bournemouth to hold a demonstration against the “undemocratic” decision and to demand leader Jo Swinson respect the British vote to quit the European Union.
Asked about her views on the plans to revoke Article 50, the Ringwood Town Councillor told Express.co.uk: “Completely undemocratic.
"We had a democratic vote to leave, the leave vote won - stop the arguments, get on with it.
“I’m not really worried but we need to keep them down to stop them getting bigger because there’s quite a Remain argument going on.
“If we don’t do something now, this argument will go on for the next 100 years. It’s never going to end. To end it, we have to leave, no deal, finish.
“Make deals like all the other countries who are not even in the European Union make deals with the EU. We will be able to do that and we will make deals with the rest of the world without even asking the European Union’s permission as we do now."