Brexit means Brexit – unless you’re Tim Farron, who has turned the Lib Dem manifesto into a life raft for Remainers still firm in the belief that Britain is better off inside the EU, than outside with a bad divorce settlement.
In a move that will cause outrage in some sectors, the party has pledged a second EU referendum once Brexit negotiations are complete, offering voters the chance to say yes to the deal on offer or no thanks, we’ll stay in the bloc.
The threat of Brexit looms large over the manifesto, not least in Farron’s introduction: “You might worry that jobs and living standards are threatened by the extreme and divisive Brexit that Theresa May has chosen for Britain.”
That sets the tone for the next 90 or so pages – within which are the ways the Lib Dems believe voting for them will rescue you from Brexitaggedon.
1. Rights for everyone
The party pledges to press for a unilateral guarantee of rights for EU citizens in the UK, and will work towards the same for UK citizens living in European Union countries.
2. Single (market) obsession
The idea of a hard or no deal Brexit doesn’t sit well with the Lib Dems, who will be campaigning to keep us in both the single market and the customs union. Good news for businesses, but it’s likely to come at a price – which won’t go down well in the other camp.
3. Freedom of movement
The Lib Dems want to keep freedom of movement, which will not go down well with those who voted leave precisely because of what they perceive as “uncontrolled immigration”.
For others though, the principle of being able to “work, travel, study and retire” across the EU will resonate. The party pledges to do “everything it can” to protect the Erasmus exchange programme.
4. Don’t want to lose your holiday, do EU?
“We want our parliamentary sovereignty back” was a common rallying cry from the Leave camp – although when it was put into practice they weren’t so keen. Nevertheless, the Great Repeal Bill will absorb into British law all the EU laws by which the UK is currently bound – these can then individually be amended for “British people”.
Among those up for grabs is the protection of maternity and annual leave. Vote Lib Dem, says Farron, and your leave is safe. Well, they will “fight to ensure that these entitlements are not undermined” – no guarantees they’ll succeed.
5. Do your research
Medical and scientific research funding is another area now awash with uncertainty following the referendum. The manifesto pledges to protect researchers by underwriting funding for British partners in EU projects – including Horizon 2020, the biggest EU Research and Innovation programme ever. The Lib Dems also want to increase the science budget in line with inflation, and will publish a National Wellbeing Strategy, to ensure health and wellbeing for all remains at the centre of government policy.
6. Tim “deep pockets” Farron?
Key economic proposals in the manifesto include a 1p rise in income tax to raise £6bn in additional revenue for the NHS, rejecting the Conservatives’ commitment to budget surpluses on capital and revenue, protection of the education budget, tough action on tax avoidance and evasion, and reversing a number of the government’s tax cuts, including corporation tax and capital gains tax.
It adds: “The Conservative pursuit of hard Brexit will have serious impacts on the UK’s national finances – impacts which current government plans may not fully take into account.”
To negate the effects of a hard Brexit, the Liberal Democrat policy proposes economic boosts such as freedom of movement and access to the single market. Add in arts, media and sports funding, cross-border security co-operation, maintaining environmental standards and fighting for the rights of the nations, and it almost feels like we’re not leaving the EU at all. Which is, of course, what the Liberal Democrats want.
It is not, however, what more than half the country wants – and many Remainers have accepted the decision and moved on. Banking on Brexit anger might have worked on 23 June 2016, but almost 12 months later, it’s unlikely to yield the response they hope for.