David Cameron cannot be forgiven for Brexit referendum, says Swinson

Jo Swinson Credit: Jonathan Brady/PA

David Cameron “cannot be forgiven” for his decision to call a referendum on Europe, according to the Liberal Democrats leader.

The former Tory prime minister has said he is “truly sorry” for the divisions caused by the Brexit vote result, but Jo Swinson told Lib Dem members at the party conference in Bournemouth that she would not be offering forgiveness.

“No, I don’t forgive David Cameron for calling the referendum,” said the Lib Dem leader.

“I think so much of the problems we are facing right now stem from David Cameron’s shocking misjudgment in putting the interests of the Conservative Party ahead of the national interest.

“It is a pattern we have seen since by Conservative prime ministers. All of this is about how the Conservative Party could be held together on the issue of Europe when it is the future of our country that is at stake.”

The East Dunbartonshire MP received a huge boost from her party after members backed her plan to cancel Brexit if the party wins a majority at the next election.

On Sunday, members voted overwhelmingly in favour of writing the revocation of Article 50 into the party’s next election manifesto.

The day did not go entirely to plan elsewhere, with Ms Swinson heckled by an elected member of her party.

She was shouted down as she explained why she had accepted ex-Tory minister Phillip Lee into the party.

The Bracknell MP has previously refused to back same-sex marriage and moved to block those with HIV from migrating to the UK.

Catherine Finnecy, a Chelmsford councillor, berated Ms Swinson during her answer and told the PA news agency afterwards: “She stood up there defending a Ukip policy and claimed it was liberal.

“Jo and Alistair (Carmichael, chief whip) have been defending it to everyone but it is highly offensive.”

Day two of the conference featured an emotional goodbye to Sir Vince Cable, the party’s former leader who has announced he will stand down as an MP at the next election.

In what looked like his final speech as a party MP, the 76-year-old drew a standing ovation as he called for the party to be a “broad church”, in response to Labour and the Tories who, he argued, are drifting away from the centre ground.

Sir Vince predicted more MPs would defect from major parties to join the Lib Dems, and accused Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn of treating Brexit “cynically”.

Sam Gyimah, a former Tory minister, became the sixth MP to switch allegiance to the party this year and some polling companies predict the Lib Dems could take as much as a fifth of the vote at the next election – up from just 7% in 2017.

The Twickenham MP and former cabinet minister told delegates: “Within the next few weeks and months I hope and expect that the trickle from both sides will become a flood. Something big is happening here.”

There was support from leading members of the party to revoke Article 50 if Ms Swinson is elected to Number 10.

Brexit spokesman Tom Brake told the conference: “We will put an end there and then to the Brexit nightmare that is dragging the country down and tearing us apart.”

He said most voters now know “in no uncertain terms” that a vote for the Lib Dems is to “unequivocally” stop Brexit.

Chuka Umunna told the conference the newly approved policy would reinforce the party’s “unequivocal” message on Brexit.

But James Cleverly, chairman of the Conservative Party, predicted the Lib Dem stance would lead to “more delay, division and uncertainty”.

“Despite calling herself a democrat, Jo Swinson’s mask has slipped and we now know that she wants to overrule one of the largest democratic votes in British history, cancelling Brexit,” the Braintree MP said.

Lib Dem members also voted in support of moves to invest £1 billion in further education colleges.

Additionally, they approved using money saved from abandoning Brexit to raise spending on mental health staffing and a commitment to ensure that 100% of children and young people with diagnosed conditions get NHS treatment by 2025.

The NHS motion also committed to delivering flexible working to NHS staff and addressing contractual issues that deny many junior doctors access to shared parental leave.