Sir Ed Davey repeatedly dodged questions on whether the Liberal Democrats want to rejoin the EU in an appearance on the BBC today.
The Liberal Democrat leader insisted he wants Britain to “rebuild” its relationship with Brussels and be at the “heart of Europe”.
But he avoided giving a straight answer when grilled on whether that meant returning to the bloc during an appearance on the BBC’s Sunday morning politics show.
Host Victoria Derbyshire asked: “Let’s talk about relations with the EU. In 2019 you branded the Lib Dems as the stop Brexit party.
“Now you’re saying people on the doorstep aren’t talking about Brexit. Are you going to go quiet on it as well?”
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Sir Ed replied: “We’re talking all about it at our conference quite rightly. You’re right that we did fight against Brexit and we voted against Boris Johnson’s trade deal. It was a disastrous deal but we were the only ones to vote against it, Labour didn’t. We voted against it because we knew it would damage our economy.”
Ms Derbyshire said: “I’m talking about now. What’s the position now?”
Sir Ed said: “It’s because of that history that I’m very happy to tell you we remain very pro-European.
“We want Britain to be at the heart of Europe but we’re also deeply realistic about what’s going to have to be done to enable us to improve our relations with Europe.
“Unfortunately this Conservative government has so soured our relations, European politicians don’t trust the UK any more and that’s a very sad position and it’s against our national interest.
“So the next government has got to engage with Europe in a way that this government isn’t doing.”
Ms Derbyshire asked if it remained the Lib Dem position to support a longer-term objective of EU membership.
Sir Ed replied: “I’ve been really clear Britain must be at the heart of Europe.”
The BBC journalist pressed: “Does that mean rejoining?”
Sir Ed said: “What it means is we’ve got to start where we are at the moment and rebuild those relationships.”
Ms Derbyshire then accused the Lib Dem leader of “deflecting from the question”.
She said: “Is the Lib Dem position that ultimately you want to rejoin the EU?”
Sir Ed said rejoining the EU was not “currently on the table”.
Ms Derbyshire said: “I’m asking you what your policy is…”
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The Liberal Democrat leader said: “I’m telling you that in our pre-manifesto being debated at Bournemouth we are focusing on what’s got to be done over the next five years to strengthen our economy, to strengthen our security because we’re not cooperating with Europe as we should be on tackling crime and that’s a disgrace.
“So I really want to completely rebuild that trust, rebuild that relationship, so we can be at the heart of Europe.
“That is going to take time, we have to take the British people with us, we have to convince European politicians that we’re serious because they feel very let down and it’s damaged our economy so badly that we’re going to have to take time to rebuild that.”
Ms Derbyshire put it to Sir Ed that some Lib Dem supporters “feel let down” as they want the party to be “absolutely clear” on rejoining the EU.
He replied: “I think when people hear our policies they really get that we are the pro-European party.”
Ms Derbyshire asked: “Can you just say out loud, ‘Yes the Lib Dems will rejoin the EU’ if that’s what you believe?”
She went on: “You won’t say the words though it’s so weird.”
Sir Ed said: “It’s not weird at all because what I’m focusing on is how we build that relationship and it’s a four-stage approach.”
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