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‘Get your priorities straight’: Lib Dem leader tells rivals to drop Brexit and independence ‘distractions’ during pandemic

Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey feeds one of the Cape porcupines during a visit to Fife Zoo in Cupar.
Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey feeds one of the Cape porcupines during a visit to Fife Zoo in Cupar.

Nicola Sturgeon and Boris Johnson should drop the “distractions” of Scottish independence and Brexit and focus on people’s concerns during the coronavirus pandemic, Sir Ed Davey has said.

The new Liberal Democrat leader, who visited Fife Zoo on Friday, acknowledged his party had “failed miserably” at previous General Elections but said he would take on the “tough task” of winning back public support by listening to voters.

Sir Ed insisted the Lib Dems were in the “best position” to take seats from the SNP in a number of areas at next year’s Scottish Parliament election but declined to put a number on what success or failure would look like.

“It’s all happening at the zoo…”: Sir Ed Davey in Cupar.

Speaking during his first visit to Scotland as party leader as part of a nationwide “listening tour”, the Kingston and Surbiton MP described talks of Scottish independence during the coronavirus crisis as “crazy”.

He rejected any suggestion independence would be the best way to mount an economic recovery from the virus and called on Ms Sturgeon to “get your priorities right”.

“I just can’t see that as a very strong argument,” said Sir Ed.

“Nicola Sturgeon will on one hand admit that breaking ties with our European Union colleagues is very bad and disruptive, and causes problems for the economy, but apparently the same doesn’t apply within the United Kingdom. That’s just illogical.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

Putting barriers to trade and separating people isn’t clever, even at the best of times. At this time, I just think it’s crazy.

“People’s livelihoods, their jobs, are on the line – their incomes and businesses are on the line. Can’t people see that? What’s their priority? Get your priorities right.”

The Lib Dems under Sir Ed’s leadership have resigned themselves to Brexit happening but fiercely oppose the prospect of a no-deal outcome.

Sir Ed believes Boris Johnson will secure a trade deal from the EU but said the prime minister and his chief adviser, Dominic Cummings, had attempted to “work everyone up into a frenzy” so the public is “relieved” when a deal is announced.

He accused the UK Government of being  “self-indulgent” for pushing ahead with attempts to secure a Brexit deal before January, rather than seeking an extension “when we’ve got one hell of a fight on our hands” because of coronavirus.

Mucking in: Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey helps zoo director Michael Knight, right, to clean out the zebra stables during a visit to Fife Zoo in Cupar.

Sir Ed visited Fife Zoo to meet the owners and staff and listen to their concerns during the pandemic, as well as take part in a socially distanced canvassing session.

The party’s third leader in 14 months after replacing Jo Swinson and her predecessor Vince Cable, Sir Ed said he was “pretty convinced” his party colleagues in Scotland know what the issues are for Scottish people.

He predicted the Scottish Lib Dems “may well do better than people expect” at next year’s Holyrood election because the party is focused on working constructively with others inside and outside of politics to keep people safe and protect jobs.

“I’m not going to put a number on it,” said Sir Ed. “It’s way too early, there’s a long way to go before the Scottish people vote next May.

“But I’m determined to support the Scottish Liberal Democrats as much as I possibly can. I’m confident that we will go forward but I’m not going to go beyond that for now.”

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