Lib Dems want to add emotive medicine shortage stories to stop Brexit campaign
All Brexit scenarios have 'live risk of unrest'
19 September, 2019 — By Richard Osley in Bournemouth
Camden Lib Dems at the seaside conference
LIBERAL Democrat members have discussed getting on Facebook and being more emotive about the possible effects of leaving the European Union in their campaign to get Brexit cancelled.
Visitors to the party’s annual get-together were debating strategy in a week that saw delegates on the conference floor vote to switch party policy from their long-held call for a second referendum – the so-called People’s Vote on Europe – to cancelling Brexit altogether.
Admissions that, if ever implemented, such a policy could spark civil unrest were couched with the view that several options for the United Kingdom held that risk. This new manifesto pledge hangs on the party winning a majority at the next general election. S
ome members in Bournemouth that the New Journal spoke to said they found it hard to imagine the idea that the party can win more than 200 seats in the House of Commons next time. But others were speaking about the prospect with a dead-eye seriousness, enthused by this year’s local and European elections.
Such ambitions would make Hampstead and Kilburn, where the Lib Dems won in every Camden ward at the EU polls, a target seat for the party. With stopping Brexit now the party’s main topic, several fringe meetings focused on how to reach this goal against the backdrop of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s vow to take the United Kingdom out of the EU on October 31, regardless of the remain alliance formed on the opposition benches. In one session, the Lib Dem MP Tom Brake, who was sharing a panel with Camden councillor and MEP Luisa Porritt, revealed that he had been given advice on online campaigning from Sir Nick Clegg, who now works for the social media giants, Facebook.
Nancy Jirira with Luisa Porritt in Bournemouth
Mr Brake who had met Sir Nick after a recent memorial service to another former leader, Paddy Ashdown, told party colleagues: “He [Sir Nick] said, ‘well frankly there is actually not that much evidence, in fact there is no evidence, that the Russians were involved in rigging our referendum here, but what there is a huge amount of evidence for – unfortunately – is that the alt-right and Nigel Farage and his mob are much more effective at social media campaigning than we are’.”
Mr Brake added: “So we need to get better at doing it and it’s not really that complicated. One of these MPs I work with on these cross-party groups said he just put out a very simple post which must have said: I support remain and no deal is going to be a disaster. And he got an instant sort of response to that which identified very easily to him all of the people – a substantial number of people in his constituency – who were very, very pro-Leave and very, very pro no deal.”
The MP added: “That’s the sort of thing the alt-right are doing in a very targeted, very sophisticated way. Some of it legally, some of it illegally, the way they connect to people’s data. We need to make sure we are as effective as they are.”
Rank-and-file members who were being encouraged in some meetings that the party could be on the brink of gaining power, had raised concern that using economic statistics and figures had not had the impact that stories would of patients worrying about medication getting held up at the border – a familiar warning from those who are opposed to a no deal Brexit.
Ms Porritt told the meeting, hosted by the Liberal Democrat European Group at the Westcliff Hotel: “The OBR [Office for Budget Responsibility] may be saying that if we have no deal there will be a £30 billion loss to the economy per year and we may understand that, but actually its much more powerful to talk about people who won’t be able to get their epilepsy medication.”
The recent release of Operation Yellowhammer documents – the government’s contingency planning files for a worst case scenario in the event of the UK leaving the union – said there could be “significant disruption lasting up to six months” of medicines coming into the country.
Later, in an interview with the New Journal, Ms Porritt said she supported the party’s move to cancel Brexit, given the chance, rather than holding a people’s vote, the measure which she had previously asked all councillors to support in a Town Hall motion
. Asked if straight revocation could lead to disorder among Brexiteers who would declare the country had been betrayed, she said: “We are in a divided country and I think there is a live risk of civil unrest under various scenarios and it’s obviously a very risky and fraught situation.”
She added: “The mood is very tense, the country is polarised and we have to do what we can for cohesion in communities despite the disagreement on this issue.” Ms Porritt, the deputy chair of the Lib Dems in the European parliament, said that the need to talk about pressing issues like knife crime and incidents like the recent Camden killings were a “compelling argument” for stopping Brexit right now and returning to domestic debates.
The Labour Party meets at its own conference in Brighton from Saturday when Jeremy Corbyn and the party high command will be under pressure to make clear their stance on Brexit. “I want the people to have a choice between the offer of remaining in the EU and the offer off an agreement with the EU which will give us a trade relationship, which will give us a customs union, will give us rights and environmental standards,” said Mr Corbyn.