Sir Vince Cable has said the Liberal Democrats must not lose sight of the “clear, simple and honest” message of stopping Brexit on the campaign trail ahead of the upcoming European elections.
The party has chosen the blunt title of Bollocks to Brexit for its European manifesto, with an alternative of Stop Brexit for voters with more refined sensibilities.
At the manifesto launch in London’s Shoreditch, Sir Vince joked one prospective voter had fainted in shock, while a radio interviewer said he was risking his Ofcom licence for broadcasting indecencies.
Following last week’s local elections, the Lib Dems are looking to capitalise on their success by hammering home their anti-Brexit stance and commitment to tackling climate change.
Sir Vince, who turned 76 on Thursday, was greeted with a rousing round of Happy Birthday as he took to the podium.
He told supporters: “We’ve had our joke. This is the real story. We mustn’t lose sight of that very clear, simple, unambiguous, honest message – that’s what’s driving our campaign.”
He continued: “Nobody now seriously disputes the economic and the businesses arguments – even the defenders of Brexit acknowledge that if we leave the European Union we’ll be worse off.
“What they say is, ‘It’s a price worth paying’ – it’s usually someone else who’s going to end up paying the price. Somebody younger and more vulnerable.”
He added: “The freedom to live, work and study throughout Europe is a precious thing and it’s something we believe in.
“It’s worth remembering where it came from. A British prime minister launched the single market, Britain’s biggest contribution to the European Union – and it speaks volumes about the modern Conservative Party that they’ve moved so far to the right they’ve now disowned Mrs Thatcher.
“The European nationals who have come here, they are not here on sufferance. We value them. They’re part of our society.”
He urged supporters not to treat the upcoming elections as a “surrogate referendum”, saying “this election is about getting more members of the European Parliament who, if we succeed in stopping Brexit, will be there for the five-year duration”.
As well as fighting climate change and international global data giants, he said the EU was vital in standing up to “rogue states”.
“There’s the international disorder that’s been created by the Putins and the Trumps and we have to stand together to avoid being bullied by these rogue states,” he said.
“We don’t deal with the Trump problem by grovelling and inviting him here for state visits.”
He continued: “We stand firm against his attempts to wreck the international trade system, to wreck the international climate change agreement, to wreck the agreements on nuclear non-proliferation.
“We can only do that in solidarity with the European Union.”
The Lib Dems’ manifesto includes calls for:
– Europe to adopt a net zero greenhouse gas emissions target by 2050
– An emergency £7.5 billion support fund for those affected by Brexit uncertainty
– The extensions of rights for EU citizens in the UK, including the ability to stand and vote in elections.
Sir Vince said although they face competition from Remain parties including the Greens and the newly created Change UK, the Liberal Democrats had been proudly pro-EU since its inception.
In Scotland and Wales, the SNP and Plaid Cymru are also standing on pro-EU platforms.
Other speakers included party president Sal Brinton – who taught the crowd the sign language for bollocks to Brexit – MP for Kingston and Surbiton Ed Davey and MP for East Dunbartonshire Jo Swinson.