Brexit: Lib Dems shouldn’t back returning to EU after departure, MP says

Vince Cable. Picture: AFP/Getty

The Liberal Democrats shouldn’t campaign to take the UK back into the EU if the party fails to stop Brexit, a senior party source has said.

The Lib Dem MP said keeping up the party’s campaign to stay in the EU after Brexit would put it at odds with the public mood, and get in the way of addressing other issues facing the UK.

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Addressing the Scottish Lib Dem conference in Hamilton today, party leader Sir Vince Cable will keep up the pressure for a second EU referendum that could stop Brexit.

Mr Cable will pledge to work with a newly-formed group of independent MPs, made up of pro-EU defectors from Labour and the Conservatives, to back a last-ditch Commons bid for a so-called People’s Vote next week.

However, one of his MPs told The Scotsman that the campaign for EU membership should be put on hold the day after Brexit, if the Lib Dem referendum push fails.

“If Brexit does happen, I don’t see that we should automatically and immediately say to people, ‘We need to go back in’,” the source said.

“I just don’t think that’s where the country is going to be. Obviously we would argue for the UK to stay close to the EU, and to preserve as many of the protections and benefits it gave us as possible.

“But to say on 30 March, or whenever it is, that our top priority should be rejoining the EU and having that argument all over again - I’m not convinced of that.”

The comments hint at the soul-searching that lies ahead for the pro-EU Lib Dems after Brexit, as they try to regroup and recapture their lost support. With the party, now in danger of being eclipsed by the Independent Group set up this week, questions are mounting over whether the Lib Dems have a future as a distinct political brand.

Mr Cable has already offered an electoral pact to the 11-strong breakaway group, in an echo of the Liberal-SDP alliance that eventually led to the formation of the Liberal Democrats.

However, other party sources have been quoted voicing unhappiness at the prospect of a tie-up.

A Lib Dem spokesman said “all our efforts are focused on winning” a People’s Vote. “With no majority for any deal and the two tired old parties divided and hopelessly chasing a unicorn Brexit, Liberal Democrats are confident that this mess can be stopped,” he said.

In his speech in Hamilton today, Mr Cable will say the Lib Dems have “much in common” with the Independent Group. “For months, I have been speaking with many of these now independent MPs,” he is expected to say. “We cannot let Theresa May or Jeremy Corbyn conspire to run down the clock.”