Why the Lib Dems pledge to reverse Brexit is their best chance this election

When Jo Swinson ignored the advice of a few of the more senior Lib Dem MPs and took one of the great political gambles in 2019 it spectacularly failed.

The then Lib Dem leader made a deal with the SNP to effectively force an early general election to break the then Brexit deadlock and give Boris Johnson the election he was desperate for.

She went into the campaign as her party’s “candidate for prime minister” with a promise to have a second referendum to reverse the 2016 Brexit vote front and centre. Instead of measuring the curtains for 10 Downing Street though she lost her seat in Scotland and her party dropped from 12 to 11 seats.

But as they launch their manifesto today, the process of reversing Brexit is back on the agenda. There are good reasons though why they believe it will succeed now where it failed five years ago.

Ed Davey launching the Lib Dem manifesto (Getty Images)
Ed Davey launching the Lib Dem manifesto (Getty Images)

The Brexit Party deal

While Ms Swinson has been roundly mocked for the deal she struck in 2019, many people forget that her decision was based on hard logic and numbers. She just made one miscalculation.

The internal polling for the Lib Dems suggested that her party was going to win scores if not hundreds of new seats across what is now described as “the Tory blue wall” because of anguish and concern over Brexit. This was because Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party would split the vote on the right, allowing her party to come through the middle in many constituencies.

What she did not see coming was Mr Farage standing down hundreds of candidates against Tory MPs to allow Mr Johnson to “get Brexit done”. It meant that winnable target seats for the Lib Dems suddenly became no hopers.

This time round the Tories are much less popular, have a less charismatic leader and, crucially, Reform UK (the new version of the Brexit Party) is standing against almost every Tory splitting the vote. The 2024 Lib Dems could win as many as 50 seats as a result.

Leader of Reform UK Nigel Farage stood caniddates down to save the Tories in 2019 (James Manning/PA) (PA Wire)
Leader of Reform UK Nigel Farage stood caniddates down to save the Tories in 2019 (James Manning/PA) (PA Wire)

A new Brexit policy

This time around the Lib Dems are not going front and centre with their desire to reverse Brexit but have a more nuanced policy.

Their plan to re-enter the European Single Market is a first step, which would take the UK back into the EU fully long term but they do not want an immediate reversal, rather a gradual one.

Also this time they prioritising other issues including saving the NHS.

Lessons from five years of Brexit

When even the godfather of Brexit Mr Farage has admitted that it has not worked then you know there is a debate still to be had.

The fact is that even its greatest supporters have been disappointed with major benefits like a US trade deal simply not happening. Other trade deals have emerged, but simply not on the same scale.

Meanwhile, the country has undergone economic problems which can be put down to a war in Ukraine and a global pandemic, but also have not been helped by the UK separating itself from its biggest trading partner.

Added to that “taking back control” has seen immigration (both legal and illegal) going up dramatically and left the UK unable to deal with the issue.

It is hard to say Brexit has been a raging success and it has dogged the government throughout with the position of Northern Ireland and even Gibraltar.

Jo Swinson was pugnatious but lost her seat (Getty Images)
Jo Swinson was pugnatious but lost her seat (Getty Images)

A different leader

The brutal truth is that policies need the right salesperson. Jo Swinson never polled well with voters and was off putting for some.

In particular she had a dreadful time in the election TV debate.

While Sir Ed Davey had his problems with his history as post office minister, he has not proven to be a bar for the Lib Dems picking up support even if he is not attracting new voters himself.

His general election campaignign style of not taking himself seriously and being pictured falling off boats or going down slides, generally having fun, has caught the attention of the public.