Jo Swinson: There is a battle for the future of Britain — join the Brexit resistance

Jo Swinson
'Stop Brexit': Liberal Democrats leader Jo Swinson: AFP/Getty Images

The Liberal Democrats have been crystal-clear on the biggest question facing our country in generations. We want to stop Brexit, and we will continue to lead the Remain cause, as the strongest, most consistent party arguing that our best future is in the European Union.

And I’m so happy that Londoners who want to stop Brexit will be able to vote for Siobhan Benita as their Mayor next May.

There is no form of Brexit that will be good for our country but a no-deal Brexit will be the most catastrophic of them all. Leaked Whitehall documents at the weekend could hardly have been starker in their warnings: food shortages, disruption to our supply of vital medicines, and a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic.

In just 10 weeks’ time, our country faces an immediate crisis if Boris Johnson and his hardline Brexit government crash us out of the European Union. London and the rest of the country demand better than a Government willing to act so irresponsibly.

No-deal Brexit can and must be stopped. To do that, MPs across Parliament who oppose it need to stand up and be counted. The options available are limited, and we must come together around a workable plan.

Taking a stand: a protester makers her point outside the Cabinet Office this month. Politicians are trying to formulate a plan to block a no-deal Brexit (PA Images)

My preferred option is for Parliament to pass a law requiring the Government to request an extension of Article 50 so we can hold a People’s Vote. The public must have the final say on the Brexit deal, with the option to stay in the European Union — and my party will campaign tirelessly for the UK to remain.

MPs on all sides need to be resolute about how we can guarantee avoiding a no-deal catastrophe. Faced with a Prime Minister who is willing to rip up convention and with no guarantee that he will comply with any laws passed, Parliament must be ready to remove him.

That means winning a vote of no confidence against Boris Johnson, and within 14 days installing an emergency government with an alternative prime minister who has the confidence of the House and will stop a no-deal Brexit. As Leader of the Opposition, Jeremy Corbyn is the only person who can trigger a vote of no confidence, but he is certainly not the best person to lead an emergency government.

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I don’t trust Corbyn on Brexit, and I know I am not alone in that. Thirty-one times he has ordered his MPs to either sit on their hands or walk through the Government voting lobby on key Brexit votes, and just this week he couldn’t bring himself to say which side he’d campaign for in a People’s Vote.

Now, despite claiming to be willing to do anything to stop no deal, the Labour leader is demanding the keys to Number 10 as a precondition for calling a vote of no confidence. This isn’t about personalities. This is about cold, hard numbers. Never has Lyndon B Johnson’s first rule of politics felt more relevant: practitioners need to be able to count. We know that Jeremy Corbyn cannot secure a majority in Parliament.

Since he offered to lead a “caretaker” government last week, a steady flow of MPs of all stripes have said they cannot support him. Key Conservative rebels such as David Gauke and Dominic Grieve have said they would not vote for him. Anna Soubry’s five Change UK MPs won’t vote for him, and former Labour MPs such as Ian Austin won’t either. I can’t even be sure that all Labour MPs would support him. I have asked him to tell me who he thinks will back him, but he still hasn’t.

"Of course Jeremy Corbyn wants to be PM. So do I. But he must set ambition aside to save our country from disaster"

Corbyn must answer this question — if you cannot get the numbers, will you back someone who can? Of course, he wants to be prime minister — so do I. But he needs to set aside his personal ambition so that we can save our country from a total disaster.

That’s why I have suggested that an emergency government should be led by someone such as Harriet Harman or Ken Clarke — two of our most experienced politicians, who have no interest in leading a government in the long run.

My priority right now is working with other MPs, including the Leader of the Opposition, to find a workable plan to stop a no-deal Brexit. Last week I offered to meet him and other opposition party leaders to find a way through this, because the public will never forgive us if we fail.

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But stopping no deal is not my party’s end goal. We believe the best deal we can get is the one we already have as members of the European Union. We’ll continue to fight to stop Brexit — that’s how we can guarantee the same opportunities for future generations to live, work and fall in love in 27 other countries, and how we can build a richer, greener and safer future as a strong family of nations.

There is a battle going on for the future of our country. If you agree with the Liberal Democrats that Brexit can and must be stopped, that London and the rest of the country deserve a better future, then you need to act too. Our door is open, come join us.

  • Jo Swinson MP is leader of the Liberal Democrats

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