The Liberal Democrats want to rejoin the European Union, their foreign affairs spokesman has said – despite Sir Ed Davey insisting it was “off the table” for the time being.
Sir Ed, who leads Britain’s fourth-largest party, said this week that voters are not talking about Brexit and that he has focused his party on other issues, including healthcare and sewage.
He has also refused to commit to rejoining the bloc, saying the Liberal Democrats’ focus is on revising existing Brexit arrangements.
But speaking on the first day of the party’s annual conference in Bournemouth, Layla Moran told a fringe event: “We want to rejoin. We want, as part of it, to get back into the Single Market.
“We recognise that, in order to do that, we have to do stuff before, to get to that relationship. How do we talk about it in a way that doesn’t push people away, so where is that sweet spot?”
Lord Newby, leader of the Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords, told the same discussion: “If we put Europe first and foremost, people will think we are mad.”
A Liberal Democrat spokesman said the party wanted to be “at the heart of Europe”, but added: “Right now, the priority is to fix the broken relationship with our closest trading partners and get a better deal for our farmers, fishermen and small businesses.”
It came as Guy Verhofstadt, who was the European Parliament’s Brexit coordinator and has long opposed British sovereignty, led a protest march in London on Saturday that organisers estimated attracted 3,000 people.
Mr Verhofstadt tweeted:
In London today… with thousands and thousands to call for the return of the UK into the EU after the Brexit disaster !
🇬🇧 🇪🇺 pic.twitter.com/jJEQnOJNmm
— Guy Verhofstadt (@guyverhofstadt) September 23, 2023
He was joined by Gina Miller, the high-profile campaigner who masterminded an anti-Brexit legal challenge.
On Saturday morning, Liberal Democrat activists backed a review of military recruitment to ensure “all possible steps” are taken to improve ethnic diversity.
Richard Foord, the party’s defence spokesman, said: “The Army is not even close to being reflective of the society that it exists to defend.
“Last year, just 3 per cent of the officers in the officer corps were accorded as being of ethnic minority background.”
Meanwhile, Tim Farron, the party’s environment spokesman, labelled the free market “our enemy when it comes to solving the housing crisis”.
Urging ministers to pursue “interventionist politics”, he added: “Perversely, the more restrictions and the more parity and the more power planning authorities have, the more likely we are to get housing built.”
On Sunday, activists will vote on a motion calling for a 1p tax on the sale of all new clothes, arguing it would reduce emissions and curb the “fast fashion” industry.
Wendy Chamberlain, the Liberal Democrat chief whip, defended the planned levy, insisting it was a “small price to pay” that would “reduce our emissions and … improve our recycling”.
On Saturday night, Carol Vorderman, the former Countdown presenter, and comedian Steve Coogan addressed the opening conference rally via videolink to support Liberal Democrat calls for electoral reform.