Liberal Democrats leader Jo Swinson has promised to cancel Brexit altogether after members backed revoking Article 50 if the party wins a majority at the next election.
The pro-EU party is enjoying a revival under Ms Swinson’s watch, with a host of MPs defecting to her party with its clear stance on Britain’s relationship with Brussels.
Sam Gyimah, a former Tory minister, became the sixth MP to switch allegiance to the party this year and some polling companies predict the Lib Dems could take as much as a fifth of the vote at the next election – up from just 7% in 2017.
The clear stance on Brexit was cemented when members at the Liberal Democrat conference in Bournemouth voted overwhelmingly to support a motion to revoke Article 50 it the party gains a majority in a general election.
The move would stop Brexit in its tracks without the need for a second referendum.
“The policy we are debating at conference today is very clear,” Ms Swinson told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show.
“If the Liberal Democrats win a majority at the next election, if people put into government – as a majority government – the ‘Stop Brexit’ party, then stopping Brexit is exactly what people will get. Yes, we will revoke Article 50.”
The East Dunbartonshire MP added: “We have argued that a specific Brexit deal should be put to a People’s Vote to give clarity.
“We still argue for that. But if we end up at a general election then I think we need to be straightforward with people and give them an option for all this Brexit chaos to stop.
“I recognise not everyone agrees with the Lib Dems on this. (But) it is genuinely what we think is right for the country.”
Opening a debate on the motion to revoke Article 50 in the event of a Liberal Democrat majority government, Lib Dem Brexit spokesman Tom Brake said the move will “end the Brexit nightmare”.
Mr Brake told the Lib Dem conference: “We will put an end there and then to the Brexit nightmare that is dragging the country down and tearing us apart.”
He said most voters now know “in no uncertain terms” that a vote for the Lib Dems is to “unequivocally” stop Brexit.
Chuka Umunna told the conference revoking Article 50 would reinforce the party’s “unequivocal” message on Brexit.
James Cleverly, chairman of the Conservative Party, predicted the Lib Dem stance would lead to “more delay, division and uncertainty”.
“Despite calling herself a ‘democrat’, Jo Swinson’s mask has slipped and we now know that she wants to overrule one of the largest democratic votes in British history, cancelling Brexit,” the Braintree MP said.
For Ms Swinson to secure a majority in the House of Commons and become prime minister, she would have to increase her current number of 18 MPs, which includes Mr Gyimah’s recent defection, to more than 350, gaining an election upswing never seen before in British electoral history.
She admitted the party would need to take a “leap” to achieve such results but said she wanted to “build the movement to do that”.
But she also vowed, in an effort to convince middle-class Europhiles to vote for her party, that she would not support efforts to install Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn as prime minister if there was another hung parliament.
We can’t give the two old parties permission to silence and push moderates out of politics. I will fight for the values I believe in, and help create a real alternative, as a Liberal Democrat @LibDems pic.twitter.com/uVHzrEFZlZ
— Sam Gyimah MP (@SamGyimah) September 15, 2019
“Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn are not fit to be prime minister, we see that day in, day out,” she told the BBC.
“Jeremy Corbyn is not going to be put into Number 10 with Lib Dem votes because he is not fit for the position. The country deserves better.”
The Lib Dems are hosting their annual autumn conference at the Bournemouth International Centre in Dorset, with the mood of a party on the rise only boosted by Mr Gyimah being introduced as a new party MP live on stage on Saturday night during a colourful rally.
Mr Gyimah used his introduction to blast both Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, accusing them of presiding over “intolerant” parties and said joining the Lib Dems would allow him to continue to fight for “liberal values”.
It was not all plain sailing for the party, however, with fiery questions from members over its decision to admit former Tory Dr Philip Lee, who abstained on supporting gay marriage.
The party’s chief whip, Alistair Carmichael, said: “Could we have handled it better? Hands up, we absolutely could.”
Day two of the conference featured an emotional goodbye to Sir Vince Cable, the party’s former leader who has announced he will stand down as an MP at the next election.
In what is looking like his final speech as a party MP, the 76-year-old drew a standing ovation as he called for the party to be a “broad church” in response to Labour and the Tories who, he argued, are drifting away from the centre ground.
Sir Vince predicted more MPs would defect from major parties to join the Lib Dems, and accused Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn of treating Brexit “cynically”.
He said: “Within the next few weeks and months I hope and expect that the trickle from both sides will become a flood. Something big is happening here.”
Ms Swinson is also due to take questions from members in the afternoon and there will be a speech from newly elected MP Jane Dodds, who won the Brecon and Radnorshire seat last month after a joint decision by Remain-backing parties to stand down all other candidates.