Here is a transcript of my speech to the Liberal Democrat 2020 Autumn Conference on the Europe motion debated on 27th September.
Good Evening Conference and hello from a chilly Lincolnshire
Some of you might have got to know Lincolnshire a little better during the 2016 Sleaford & North Hykeham by-election in which I had the pleasure to represent the party here in my home county.
In the campaign, we were the only party fighting for our place in Europe. Labour plummeted into fourth place in that election due to their muddled message over Europe. Labour finishing behind us made the headlines that night, and we narrowly missed out on a second place to UKIP in one of the strongest Leave areas in the country.
I was proud to be flying the flag for our party and Remain during that election.
But looking at the motion as it stands currently, it is a similar kind of fudge to that ambiguous Labour position.
Lines 47-50 would leave us in constant limbo and open to continuous questions as to what we will do and when is the right time. I mean – How long would we actually wait for the circumstances to be right?
It is a far cry for our clear and simple rallying call of Stop Brexit in 2019 European Elections which stood out and helped us to our best ever European election results.
I despair that we are not brave enough to take the lead on Re-join and give hope to those who have had their lives turned upside down by the UK withdrawal. We know the impact it already has had on people’s lives and we know that is only going to get worse. We also know we are better together and better inside the European family.
We have never been shy in the past to take unpopular stances when it was the right thing to do.
Whether it was Charles Kennedy’s stance against the Iraq invasion in the face of opposition from politicians, the press and public opinion. Despite the protests against the invasion, the majority were in favour – but Charles held firm.
The party also has a long history of supporting LGBT+ Rights going back to the 1960s- long before it became a mainstream issue because it was the right thing to do.
Conference, without amending this motion it seems to be responding to headline writers rather than seeing us do the right thing now.
Europe is in our DNA as a party.
I agree Europe is not the number one priority at this moment, but that does not mean we should turn our back on our principles to appease the right-wing press. Passing Amendment 1 does not mean we have to make it front and centre of our campaigns – it means we have it in our arsenal.
I urge you to support Re-join- vote for Amendment 1 and be ready to lead on this and to keep us as the true European party.