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Lib Dem leader Farron dismisses Clegg and Ashdown's talk of electoral pacts

Published 18/09/2016

Liberal Democrats leader Tim Farron laughs at a speakers impression during a Rally at the party's Autumn Conference in Brighton, Sussex.
Liberal Democrats leader Tim Farron laughs at a speakers impression during a Rally at the party's Autumn Conference in Brighton, Sussex.

Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron has clashed with predecessors Nick Clegg and Lord Ashdown over whether the party needs to form electoral pacts with others to take on the Tories.

Mr Farron pointedly dismissed such talk as a "parlour" discussion of no interest to voters after Mr Clegg suggested a realignment of the centre-left, and Lord Ashdown called for a single pro-EU candidate to fight the Tories in the looming Witney by-election caused by David Cameron standing down as an MP.

"I think the danger in all of this is that it's all kind of political parlour discussions about coalitions and pacts and all the rest of it.

"I don't think most people out there are interested in that. What they want is a clear voice that will hold the Conservative Government to account," Mr Farron told the BBC's The Andrew Marr Show.

The remarks came after Lord Ashdown tweeted: "Naughty thought Witney by-election. One non-Tory candidate with one cause: the people must have a say on Brexit deal."

Mr Clegg predicted internal divisions within the Cabinet would force Theresa May into a "Panic Brexit" that would open up opportunities for the Lib Dems to work with others.

"I think at that point, particularly if investors start taking fright, and it starts dawning on people that the Government does not have a road map, I think that then the public appetite for other parties to provide an alternative will grow.

"It does not necessarily need to be a new amalgam party overnight. It could be. If that gridlock were to lead to a real sense of drift and malaise, it could be a government of national unity of some description, where parties of different persuasions say they will act together for a period of time, in order to get the country out of the corner the Tories have got it into," he told The Guardian.

Mr Clegg told Sky News that voters would expect like-minded pro-European politicians to work together.

Mr Farron insisted it would be extremely hard for the Lib Dems to work with Labour if Jeremy Corbyn is re-elected as leader this week.

"The problem with Jeremy Corbyn is I don't think he will work with anybody else, and he didn't in the referendum, and that makes it very hard," he said.

Mr Farron again insisted the UK must have a second referendum on any Brexit deal. "There needs to be a referendum on that deal. That is the best option for staying in.

"We trusted the British people on departure in the referendum last June, we should now trust them with destination."

Mr Farron said Leave voters should not be belittled by Lib Dem members as he set out his plans to overturn the EU referendum vote.

The party leader told members not to patronise the 52% who voted to leave and accept the result with grace.

He said: "The real danger (is) that those who voted Remain are so angry with those who voted Leave that they patronise them, demonise them and choose not to understand.

"If we're not on the side of those people, the people who are most cut out and disadvantaged by the unfairness in our society, then shame on us.

"There were appalling lies told but we must be careful tactically and morally not to pat people on the head and say 'you were lied to'."

He added: "I think for democratic reasons and for just wise tactical reasons that we must not stick two fingers up to the 52% who voted to leave.

"You have got to respect the result and take it with good grace."

But he said his party will continue to push for a "democratic" second referendum on the Brexit deal, which the party would reject.

He said: "What an absolute outrage that a deal of any sort should be imposed on the British people without the British people choosing.

"There needs to be a referendum on the deal.

"I cannot imagine any deal that can be put together, especially by this Government, that would be as good as the one we already have - we will campaign to stay."

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