One week and two new political leaders. It has been quite a week in politics for the UK. It may seem that for my party, the Liberal Democrats, that the appointment of Boris Johnson, a hard Brexiteer is concerning. But on the contrary, we think this is short-sighted stance on Brexit (and stubborn nature), not listening to any advice on how damaging a no-deal exit is, is a gift to us, because it can only backfire.
He has vowed on a number of occasions to take Britain out of the EU by 31st October regardless of whether we secure a deal with the EU or not. However, we all know that he will not have the support of Parliament to do that, meaning one of the only solutions out of the impasse will be a People’s Vote – something the Liberal Democrats are campaigning for.
There was more good news this week too. The Liberal Democrats elected our own new leader, Jo Swinson.
Jo is exactly the type of leader the party need to continue the momentum gained during the recent European Parliamentary elections, and continue the popularity boost. She is young, bright and energetic. She’s a woman, and she is also Scottish, which is important given the increasing strain Brexit has put our union under. She is also an experienced politician and will make an effective leader of our party and potentially, our country.
Like other Lib Dems, I believe Britain’s future looks brighter within the EU, and we are emerging as the only party which can make us stay close to our European partners
Some criticise Jo for her position in the coalition cabinet between 2010 and 2015. Jo worked with the Tories while austerity measures were taken to tackle the effects of the financial crash a decade ago. Some in the centre argue that this was a betrayal of liberal policy. But I see our decision to enter into coalition with the Tories as an example of our party’s greatest tradition – that of putting the country’s needs before our own during a time of crisis.
Leaving the European Union without a deal would create far greater economic and social chaos than the financial crash. My party is doing everything in our power to prevent that from happening. Therefore, we will not be shying away from doing alliances again, with any of the other Remain parties. Jo herself has said that ‘her door is always open’ to any MPs from other parties who want to join us to stop a disastrous no-deal exit.
Jo has become our leader at a time when MPs across the benches are waking up to the very real threat of Brexiteer fanaticism. On 1st August, we’re expected to win the Brecon and Radnorshire by-election for Westminster, following the withdrawal of the Greens and Plaid Cymru from the race. Both parties decided to step aside to unite the Remain vote. Adam Price, the leader of Plaid Cymru has hinted that this could be the start of further cooperation between the two parties.
We’re hopeful that other pro-remain MPs from both Labour and the Conservative party will follow. Indeed, if a Johnson government actively pursued no-deal, I would be very surprised if we didn’t see more defections to our party. The European election saw us emerge as the only strong, united Remain party.
Should a general election happen before Britain leaves the EU, following a no confidence vote in Boris Johnson’s administration, Jo has talked about forming electoral understandings with the Greens, Plaid Cymru, liberal Labour and pro-Remain Conservatives. In fact, we’re currently attracting one in five Labour voters from the 2017 election.
As it stands, there is no clear majority for any party in the UK as the largest four – the Tories, Labour, the Brexit Party and the Lib Dems – are each polling at around 20%. The Greens are on nearly 10%.
Politics in the UK is now divided between pro-Remain and pro-Leave. Like other Lib Dems, I believe Britain’s future looks brighter within the EU, and we are emerging as the only party which can make us stay close to our European partners. Whatever the headlines from this week, there is a silent movement forming and we are leading it. Now is the time to join us.
Dinesh Dhamija is a Member of the European Parliament for the London region serving for the Liberal Democrats.