Tim Farron: Lib Dems are the only choice for the 48% now

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PA Wire/PA Images - Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

Labour and the Tories are now marching, hand in hand, towards a Hard Brexit

Six months on from the EU referendum, the country is faced with a divisive Tory Brexit government, an NHS being stretched to breaking point and huge uncertainty over our economic future. At home we see values that have long underpinned our democracy and that we once took for granted, from the impartiality of the civil service to the independence of the judiciary, coming under attack. And across the world, from Donald Trump to Marine Le Pen and Geert Wilders, populists trading in fear and hatred are on the rise. But there is nothing inevitable about the rise of nationalism and division. In these turbulent times, it is vital that all of those who share the values of internationalism, moderation and the rule of law come together and stand up for what we believe in.

The Liberal Democrats put our life and soul into the referendum campaign. We made the positive and passionate case because pro-Europeanism runs deep in our party's DNA. Ever since the 1950s when the European Economic Community was formed, we have argued that the UK should play a leading role in a strong and peaceful Europe, where nations work together to prevent the scourge of war that plagued the continent for centuries. We may have lost the referendum, but that doesn't change our belief that Britain's economy, security and international standing are all enhanced by its EU membership. So while Labour have hauled up the white flag and the Tories have become indistinguishable from UKIP, we will continue to make the case unashamedly that the UK's interests are best served by working closely with our European partners as a full EU member.

This week Jeremy Corbyn confirmed what we all suspected, that he never had his heart in fighting to protect Britain's place in Europe. We already knew that he failed to pull a shift during the referendum and called for Article 50 to be invoked the day after the result. But now the mask has slipped and his ambivalence has turned into outright hostility. The Labour leader has come out and proud as a cheerleader for Brexit, with a clear statement that he believes the UK will be better off out of the EU. At a time when our country needs a decent opposition more than ever, Labour is now walking hand in hand with the government towards a Hard Brexit.

Unlike the other political parties, the Liberal Democrats have put forward a clear plan for Britain's future in Europe and what should come next. Firstly, we will hold Theresa May's Government to account over Brexit, exposing the lies that Vote Leave told during the referendum and making sure that whatever deal they try to do is as good for the UK's economy, security and standing in the world as possible. That includes fighting to protect Britain's membership of the single market on which so many businesses and livelihoods rely, and to avoid an economically disastrous hard Brexit that would destroy opportunities for future generations.

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Secondly, it means giving the British people the choice over what comes next. The public were trusted with our departure, they must be trusted with the destination. That is why we are fighting for a referendum on the final terms of the Brexit deal, so that people can decide if it is the right deal for them, their families, their jobs and our country. The best way to secure Britain's place in Europe is by getting public consent for what happens next.

Finally, we need to understand why so many people voted Leave and address many of the underlying problems facing our country. A few months ago I visited my hometown of Preston to meet with local residents, a large majority of whom voted for Brexit. Like millions of people up and down the country, they saw the EU referendum as an opportunity to give the establishment a kicking, and they took it. But the problems these communities face — low wages, poor housing, overstretched hospitals and schools — have nothing to do with the EU. They are the result of a political elite that has spent decades neglecting them, chasing cheap headlines instead of acting in the long-term interests of the whole country. So part of the task ahead will be to tackle head-on the things about today's Britain that have left so many people feeling ignored. That means providing a strong opposition and putting forward bold, radical and workable policies to fix our NHS, improve our education system and build a more equal society.

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My message to all pro-Europeans is clear: Corbyn and May are not on your side. There is only one rallying point for those who believe in the UK's place in Europe, and that is the Lib Dems. The country needs a decent opposition, and we are determined to provide it. 20,000 new members have joined the party since the referendum, and we are winning local elections up and down the country on a clear and unashamedly pro-European platform. So join us today, as we hold this Tory Brexit government to account, and stand up for a Britain that's open, tolerant and united.

Tim Farron is the leader of the Liberal Democrats

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