The Liberal Democrats could demand a referendum on the UK applying to rejoin the EU as a condition of entering a coalition with Labour after the next general election, it has been suggested.
Westminster insiders have been speculating about what Lib Dem leader Sir Ed Davey’s “red lines” would be in potential negotiations with Labour should Sir Keir Starmer’s party win the most seats but fall short of an outright majority when the UK next goes to the polls. The staunchly pro-EU party could attempt to force Labour into agreeing to another national vote on the UK’s relationship with the 27-nation bloc in exchange for its support on key votes in Parliament or as a junior partner in a formal coalition.
Speculation about what such an arrangement could look like has intensified after an analysis of England’s local election results suggested Labour would not gain enough MPs for an overall majority. While the Lib Dems have ruled out forming any kind of formal or informal pact with the Conservatives after the next general election, they remain open to reaching an agreement with Labour.
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Electoral reform – specifically dispensing with the existing first past the post voting system and replacing it with proportional representation (PR) – is likely to be a top priority for the Lib Dems in any post-election wrangling. This was confirmed by Sir Ed when he was questioned by the BBC about what his priorities would be in any such talks with Labour.
“PR is absolutely on the table for the Liberal Democrats, of course it is,” he said. “Our current system fails the voters, it doesn’t put the voters in control of politics, that’s wrong. I’m determined to try and make sure our democracy is fairer to people and more representative.”
A switch to PR is already popular with rank and file Labour members who voted in favour of the policy at last year’s party conference – but MPs are thought to be much more resistant to the reform. Sir Ed could also use his leverage to secure assurances from Labour on Brexit, the Telegraph claims.
The fourth largest party in Parliament campaigned forcefully for a second referendum in the run-up to the 2019 election dropped the demand after the Conservatives won a thumping majority at the polls. The Lib Dems and Labour both want to forge closer ties with the EU but the former wishes to go further by eventually rejoining the Single Market – something the latter has ruled out.
Longer term, the Lib Dems’ website states that “rejoining the EU” is the party’s ultimate goal.