Jo Swinson fails to mention second referendum in speech

PUBLISHED: 18:34 17 September 2019 | UPDATED: 18:38 17 September 2019

Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson. Photograph: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire.

Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson. Photograph: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire.

JONATHAN BRADY

Jo Swinson's speech to Lib Dem conference was well-received by the party faithful, but there were a number of areas of Lib Dem history she omitted from her speech, including the party's policy of a second referendum.

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The headlines from the conference focused on the shift in policy on Brexit, with members backing a move to cancel leaving the European Union without a referendum.

In response to some criticism in the media the Lib Dem MPs have insisted that a second referendum - or People's Vote, as it is known - would still be their preferred outcome.

Yet a push for a second referendum was not mentioned once in the 45-minute speech, despite a spokesman for the ex-minister telling the media that Lib Dem support for a People's Vote has been "consistent".

Swinson is making it clearer than ever that the policy of revoking Article 50 is to be used as a yardstick against Remain-supporting parties, which continue to back another referendum, when the public next go to the polls.

Their message: why risk another Leave vote at a second referendum when a Lib Dem government would cancel the whole Brexit business the minute prime minister Jo Swinson crosses the Downing Street threshold?

It was not the only thing she failed to mention in the speech with Sir Nick Clegg also missing from her speech despite praising other recent party leaders.

Swinson offered lengthy praise for three of her predecessors, Sir Vince Cable, Tim Farron and Lord Paddy Ashdown, who was paid tribute to at the conference after his death in December.

She lauded Farron for committing the party to Remain even after the 2016 referendum result, saying he was "absolutely right" to ensure the Lib Dems "unashamedly" made the case for Britain staying in the European Union.

The East Dunbartonshire MP called Sir Vince, who she replaced as leader, "the voice of reason in these unreasonable times" and mourned the loss of "our dear friend Paddy", who led the party for more than a decade.

Yet the man who brought the Lib Dems to power in 2010 and helped promote Swinson to employment minister in 2012 did not get a single mention.

A spokesman for the party leader said nothing should be read into the omittance, but the failure to mention Sir Nick Clegg continues to highlight Lib Dem unease around its coalition record.

It wasn't just Nick Clegg that was missing, Swinson also failed to acknowledge in great detail the coalition years herself and colleagues were a part of.

In a 4,000-word speech, only three sentences were dedicated to talking up the Lib Dem coalition government.

Free school meals, shared parental leave, same-sex marriage and extra mental health care provision were all highlighted by Swinson - who was on the front bench during three of the five powersharing years - but that was all the reminiscing she would afford.

With her record during the coalition years being used by Labour to criticise Swinson, a policy of forget and renew seems to be the order of the day.

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