Britain’s Liberal Democrats launched their election manifesto on Wednesday, pledging to scrap Brexit and spend a so-called £50 billion “Remain bonus” on public services and narrowing inequality.
The pro-European party, which has vowed to halt Britain’s departure from the EU if it wins a majority, also outlined policies to tackle climate change, expand free childcare and recruit more teachers.
The LibDems reiterated an eye-catching pledge from the last election to legalise cannabis and create a “regulated market”, promising to stop jailing people for the possession of drugs for personal use.
“There is no form of Brexit that will be good for the future of our country,” Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson said at a launch event at a nightclub-style venue in Camden, north London.
“If you want a £50 billion ($65 billion, 58 billion euro) Remain bonus to improve your life, vote Liberal Democrat,” she urged, standing beneath an enormous spinning disco ball and surf boards suspended from the ceiling.
The party’s 96-page pitch to voters is unashamedly anti-Brexit, built around the premise that remaining in the European Union will ensure economic growth that will reap £50 billion to reinvest in public services.
Independent analysts call the figure “a fair assessment of the best available forecasts” that compare economic growth inside the EU with projections of the size of the economy under Conservative leader Boris Johnson’s EU divorce deal.
But they also warn it contains “a high degree of uncertainty”, with fact-checking charity Full Fact noting: “We shouldn’t treat £50 billion as definitive.”
‘Endless trade negotiations’
The December 12 general election comes with Britain increasingly divided about how, or even if, it should implement the result of a 2016 referendum when voters chose to pull Britain out of the European Union.
The Lib Dems are hoping to capitalise on trenchant opposition to Brexit to catapult itself from perennial smaller party into a serious contender for government.
It claims to be the only political party committed to stopping Brexit.
The ruling Conservatives are vowing to deliver Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s EU divorce deal, while Labour is offering another referendum but refusing to say which side it would support.
But the Lib Dems, currently polling in the mid-teens, face the almost impossible challenge of beating the two main parties if they are to take power.
Pollsters and political analysts say they could expect to become kingmakers at best in a hung parliament.
However the party’s manifesto appears aimed at drawing europhile voters from both the Conservatives and Labour — with Brexit the central message.
“We deserve better than what is on offer from the two tired old parties,” Swinson said.
“Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn are living in a fantasy land if they think that Brexit is as simple as getting a deal through parliament.
“If we leave the European Union we are looking at years and years and years of endless trade negotiations.”
– ‘Different approach’ –
Beyond Brexit, the party’s other proposals include generating 80 percent of Britain’s electricity through renewables by 2030, providing free childcare from the age of nine months, and recruiting 20,000 more teachers.
It also plans to offer every adult a £10,000 “skills wallet” to be used for retraining and further education later in their lives.
On drug laws, the party promised to take a “different approach”.
A regulated cannabis market would “break the grip of the criminal gangs”, with the drug sold through licensed outlets to adults and limits on potency levels.
The plan would adopt “a robust approach to licensing” drawn on the experience of the United States and Canada implementing similar approaches.