Ed Davey Says UK Needs Closer Ties With Europe to Lift Business

(Bloomberg) -- Britain’s Liberal Democrat Party leader set out a path to rejoin the European Union’s single market, saying businesses need closer ties with the trading bloc to prosper.

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Ed Davey blamed the Conservative government for poor relations with the bloc after Britain voted to leave in 2016. He said it “might take a while” to regain trust and improve trading links.

Liberal Democrats are trying to fill a vacuum in the debate about Britain’s exit from the EU, which has resulted in a plunge in trade with the bloc and business investment in the UK. While polls show Brexit is increasingly unpopular with voters, neither the Conservatives or Labour opposition are talking much about the issue, and neither wants to rejoin the EU.

“We’re the only party talking positively about engaging with our European friends and neighbors,” Davey said Saturday in an interview with Bloomberg TV. “We’re talking about rebuilding that trust and relationships that have been so poisoned by the Conservatives.”

Once in a distant third place behind Labour and the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats now have been surpassed by the far-right Reform Party ahead of the general election on July 4. Even so, Davey’s party may pick up enough seats in Parliament to influence government policy if the election is close.

Rejoining the single market and the EU has been a long-time policy for Davey and his party.

“The sun is shining on the Liberal Democrats,” Davey joked as he held a yellow party umbrella when he was interviewed on a rainy Saturday. He said a “long-term stable policy” would encourage companies to invest.

Davey said he’d start with a “good trade deal” with the EU because business leaders in the UK have told him they’re holding back investment due to a lack of long-term strategy on Europe.

He noted that it was the Liberal Democrats in the coalition government from 2010 who pushed for “contracts for difference” that spurred investment in the electricity business and especially green energy. The right policies, he said, could bring in more money.

“The markets, the city, the country needs a party that is going to take this financial challenge seriously and we are,” he said. “Not only are we the most ambitious party in terms of investment and the economy but we’re also the most responsible.”

--With assistance from Andrew Atkinson.

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