Leave voters 'didn't really care' about leaving EU, says Sir Ed Davey

16 September 2019, 21:12

Sir Ed Davey promised "shedloads of money" to Leave-voting areas
Sir Ed Davey promised "shedloads of money" to Leave-voting areas. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Liberal Democrat deputy leader Sir Ed Davey has promised to invest in Leave-voting areas first if the party gets into power in a general election.

The former Cabinet minister said he did not think Brexit voters would be put off supporting the Lib Dems despite his party agreeing to cancel Brexit without a referendum.

Speaking during the party conference in Bournemouth, he said though people might lean towards Leave, promising the investment of "shedloads of money" will encourage them to support the Lib Dems.

The Kingston and Surbiton MP said most people just want the Brexit argument to be concluded and to "get it out the way."

He said: "Most of them didn't really care that much about this.

"I think a lot of Leave voters - not all, some will hold their position until they die - may have a leaning towards Leave but if you said, 'Look, this party is going to stop it tomorrow and invest shedloads of money in your community because economic growth is going to pick up', they're going to ask, 'Where do I sign?'"

Jo Swinson, the party leader, oversaw the passing of a proposal that would see her revoke Article 50 in the event of winning power in a forthcoming election, although she refused to comment on rejoining the EU if Brexit does go ahead.

Ms Swinson's party will revoke Article 50 if they win a general election
Ms Swinson's party will revoke Article 50 if they win a general election. Picture: PA

However, Sir Ed said that he would want the UK to rejoin the EU.

The former environment secretary said: "If there is an election directly after we have crashed out and the chaos is hitting, people are going to say, 'Who is going to save us from this?'

"And the only policy that is credible is to rejoin. If there is an election and we have crashed out, then yes [it would be Lib Dem policy to rejoin]."

Sir Ed said the country should be resubmitted on "relatively similar" terms to what it currently enjoys and ruled out the possibility of joining the euro or the Schengen Agreement.

He also believed that EU leaders would agree to such a U-turn because they would want Brexit to stop as renegotiations after No Deal could last longer than five or six years.

"Even though it won't be as costly for them as it is for us, it will still be costly," he said.

"A no-deal Brexit and a deal-Brexit does not end Brexit."

Sir Ed also wants to invest in train links in the north and the midlands
Sir Ed also wants to invest in train links in the north and the midlands. Picture: PA

As well as a "Brexit bonus" for Leave-voting constituencies, the Lib Dems would invest in other areas such as improving east-to-west train links across the north and the midlands, a funding scheme to allow adults to regularly retrain for new jobs and business rates reform to boost high streets.

The Lib Dem Treasury spokesman said he would establish a wellbeing budget that focused on "people" rather than prioritising economic growth.

"Imagine what we could do if we weren't spending billions on preparing for a no-deal Brexit," he told delegates.

"Imagine what we will do when we stop Brexit and reap the huge financial and economic benefits of staying in Europe."

He promised "massive investment in education and training" and said his team would pay particular attention to "people and communities who have not had opportunity before" and who "voted Leave to put two fingers up to a system they felt had left them behind."

"We must reach out to everyone across this country, especially Leave communities. When the Liberal Democrats save Britain from a Brexit break-up, the first people on our spending list will be them," he said to loud applause.