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Lib Dem leader Ed Davey 'should be more up-front about EU hopes'

Don’t mention Brexit! Lib Dem leader Ed Davey desperately fends off activists’ demands to be up-front about EU hopes as he targets Tory heartlands

Ed Davey floundered today as he faced a rising clamour from Lib Dems to be up-front about his hopes of rejoining the EU.

Sir Ed has been forced on to the defensive after being heckled by activists at the party conference in Bournemouth.

When he told members during a Q&A that he was ‘campaigning hard on Europe’, one shouted ‘no, you’re not’. 

During a bruising round of interviews this morning, Sir Ed repeatedly tried to avoid being pinned down on the issue – saying there were ‘many’ other problems to deal with and reversing Brexit was ‘currently not on the table’.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that his focus was on winning over votes in the so-called ‘Blue Wall’ Tory heartland seats.

Ed Davey has been forced on to the defensive after being heckled by activists on EU policy at the party conference in Bournemouth

Sir Ed has been trying to raise the Lib Dems’ profile with a series of stunts at the conference in Bournemouth

‘We are a pro-European party and we want Britain back at the heart of Europe,’ he said.

Pressed on rejoining the single market and customs union, Sir Ed said: ‘Well again, currently that’s not on the table.’

He added: ‘At the next election, and beyond the next election, Liberal Democrats will be making the economy and the health service our core issues.’

Grilled further on BBC Breakfast Sir Ed said rejoining the EU was a ‘long-term thing’, claiming there was ‘no confusion’ over the party’s stance.

He told BBC Breakfast he and foreign affairs spokeswoman Layla Moran had ‘worked very carefully… to make sure that we can improve our relationship with Europe’.

‘At the moment those sorts of things, in terms of long-term things, are not on the table,’ the leader said.

He defended the party’s decision to scrap its long-standing pledge to put a penny on income tax to improve public services, saying there is ‘good reason for that’.

‘People are struggling with a cost of living crisis, they don’t need to pay more bills,’ he said. ‘They’ve already got some stealth tax rises from the Conservatives.’

Concerns have been growing in Lib Dem circles that they have been outflanked by Labour, after Keir Starmer talked up his desire for closer ties with Brussels. 

Sir Ed has said people on the doorstep just ‘aren’t talking about Europe’, but senior figures – including former leader Sir Vince Cable – have argued the party should not lose sight of the issue.

‘I really don’t think it’s sensible to say because the public aren’t talking about Brexit, we mustn’t,’ he reportedly told a fringe event elsewhere.

An ultimate goal to return to membership status within the bloc is currently official policy, but the leader has been reluctant to speak publicly about this and says it is currently off the table.

Sir Ed has advocated ‘root-and-branch’ reform of the existing Trade and Co-operation Agreement (TCA), but framed this as a long-term challenge, arguing a ‘realistic’ approach is necessary.

When Sir Ed told members during a Q&A yesterday that he was ‘campaigning hard on Europe’, one shouted ‘no, you’re not’

The Liberal Democrats have become the first major political party to adopt an early version of their manifesto for a general election expected next year as they enter their third day of annual conference.

Keeping the triple lock for pensions, introducing a £5 billion social care package and banning sewage dumping are among pledges the party says are central to the newly approved document.

Sir Ed said he will drop a key pledge to put a penny on income tax to improve public services as the party announces a host of policies aimed at winning over Tory heartlands.

He said the commitment – which dates back to 1992 – was unsustainable when people are struggling with the cost-of-living crisis.

Speaking to The Times, he said: ‘We’ve had two years of frozen income tax allowances and four more years to come. Those six years of stealth income tax rises equate to more than a 3p rise in the basic rate of tax,’ Sir Ed said.

‘You can’t ask working families to pay more in tax. You just can’t.

‘In the blue wall seats, which we’ve never really been competitive before, the evidence is we’re now becoming super-competitive.’

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