Brexit backing could change like Iraq war support, say Lib Dems

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie. Picture: John Devlin
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie. Picture: John Devlin
Have your say

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie will liken plans to leave the European Union to the war on Iraq, insisting that public opinion across the UK could swing against Brexit.

Although the majority in last year’s referendum voted for the UK to quit the EU, Rennie believes support for that position could dwindle when the “real consequences” of the decision become apparent.

He will compare it to former prime minister Tony Blair’s decision to go to war in Iraq, which the majority of people “wholeheartedly supported” in 2003.

In a speech in Edinburgh tomorrow, Rennie will recall how former UK Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy was originally ridiculed for his vocal opposition to the conflict, but that later on “opinions changed”, with increasing numbers of people against the war.

This, he will argue, strengthens his party’s calls for a second Brexit referendum to be held once the terms of the UK’s exit deal with the EU is known.

The Lib Dem leader will say: “We accept the referendum result. But political leaders have got a responsibility to lead.

“Political leadership is sometimes about persuading people, not just repeating what the last focus group told you. That is followership.

“In April 2003 people wholeheartedly supported Tony Blair’s government. People and the media would howl at Charles Kennedy. But opinions changed.”

In his David Hume Institute address, he will accuse Labour of having shown “an astonishing level of indifference to the fate of our country” over Brexit after most of Jeremy Corbyn’s MPs voted in favour of the Article 50 legislation.

“No challenge, no questions, just compliance,” Rennie will say.

The Liberal Democrat will continue: “If the Brexit deal is damaging to jobs, the economy, our environment and the country’s security, why would we not ask the British people a new question?

“The public have only witnessed the Brexit shadow-boxing so far. When we see the real consequences of Brexit, the punches will be felt.

“That is why I will continue to argue for a public vote on the outcome and to lobby the EU to make sure they are open and ready for that change in public opinion.

“It would only be right for the British people to have the final say on whatever deal is agreed by the Conservative government with the EU. A Brexit deal referendum would be the right and democratic thing to do.”