General Election 2019: Lib Dems promise drugs and visa policy role for devolved governments

Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson campaigning in Scotland
Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson campaigning in Scotland
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Devolved governments will be brought into the policymaking process on drugs laws and student visas under a Liberal Democrat government, the party has said in an election manifesto dominated by its pledge to stop Brexit.

Reversing the decision to leave the EU would unlock £50bn of extra spending in a ‘Remain dividend’ to be invested in public services, the Lib Dems claim.

Leader Jo Swinson said Labour and the Conservatives “can’t offer the country a brighter future because they both want Brexit”.

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“We know that will be bad for our economy, bad for our NHS and bad for our environment,” she said.

“Our politics has been dominated by the two, tired old parties for too long.

“This election provides an opportunity to change the future of our country and build a brighter future with the Liberal Democrats.”

The Scottish Government has repeatedly called for powers over immigration policy to be devolved, as well as asking the Home Office to allow the creation of safe drugs consumption rooms to reverse the rising toll of Scotland's drugs crisis.

While the Lib Dems stop short of offering those powers, they commit to a key demand of the universities sector by reintroducing a two-year post-study work visa, and offer to open up policymaking over drugs and student visas to the devolved health and education departments in Scotland and Wales.

The manifesto sets out plans to tackle the climate change emergency through generating 80% of the country's electricity through renewables by 2030, with devolved administrations also invited to take part in a UK-wide Joint Climate Council.

It also calls for Scottish Government policies of imposing a minimum unit price for alcohol and providing new families with a ‘baby box’ of parenting essentials to be extended across the UK.

Scotland would benefit from a share of a £50bn Regional Rebalancing Programme to boost the economies of left-behind parts of the UK.

The Lib Dems have pledged to introduce votes at 16, proportional representation through a Single Transferable Vote, and extend the franchise to all EU residents in the UK as well as British citizens abroad.

The party estimates the economy will be 1.9% larger in 2024-25 by staying in the EU rather than leaving under Boris Johnson's Brexit deal, giving them £50bn of extra funding to spend on their priorities over five years.

The manifesto reaffirms the party's commitment to end the Brexit process by revoking Article 50 if there is a majority Lib Dem government following the election on December 12.

If not, the manifesto says they would continue to campaign for a "people's vote" in a fresh referendum with on option to stay in the EU on the ballot paper.

"The election of a Liberal Democrat majority government on a clear stop Brexit platform will provide a democratic mandate to stop this mess, revoke Article 50 and stay in the EU," the manifesto says.

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"In other circumstances, we will continue to fight for a people's vote with the option to stay in the EU, and in that vote we would passionately campaign to keep the UK in the EU."

With the Lib Dems' poll rating being squeezed by Labour since the start of the campaign, Ms Swinson told reporters ahead of the manifesto launch in London on Wednesday: "I'm confident Liberal Democrats are going to make significant gains in this election."

Pressed on whether her leadership style could be coming across as a negative to voters, she added: "I'm certainly finding that when I meet with people I'm getting a perfectly warm and enjoyable response, having good conversations with people across the country."