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third man tackle

'If May wins a landslide it'll be a disaster for Ireland' - Tim Farron on Brexit, Ireland, and Labour's self-destruction

The Liberal Democrats leader is looking to turn his party’s fortunes around in next month’s UK general election.

General Election 2017 Tim Farron Matt Frost / ITV/REX/Shutterstock Matt Frost / ITV/REX/Shutterstock / ITV/REX/Shutterstock

NEXT MONTH’S UK election is being billed as ‘strong and stable’ (copyright Theresa May) versus ‘for the many, not the few’ (Labour’s campaign slogan).

But for the first time in some generations, the outcome holds a particular interest for the Irish – given whatever the outcome is will dictate the kind of Brexit that eventuates – and that means big changes on this side of the water.

A ‘hard’ Brexit, the kind Theresa May has been going on about to anyone who’ll listen for months now, will have a tremendous impact on the Irish economy. Britain is our biggest trading partner after all.

But the return to a hard border… that could mean a border poll, a vote on a united Ireland. Make no mistake, the stakes are high on Thursday 8 June.

The third man

Then there is the third party. The Liberal Democrats were in government in the UK as recently as 2015 when they paid a massive electoral price (the loss of 49 seats) for going into coalition with the Tories.

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But leader Tim Farron (who replaced Nick Clegg following that debacle in July 2015) has been distinguishing himself on the campaign trail by speaking to apparently unvetted members of the public (something Theresa May has steadfastly refused to do) and by being the sole outspoken voice among the mainstream parties to decry the idea of any Brexit, let alone a hard one. The Lib Dems are the only party offering to re-run the Brexit referendum. Farron has also pledged to completely legalise cannabis in Britain, which should endear him to some.

“(Labour leader) Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May are on exactly the same page,” Farron told earlier this week.

Only the Lib Dems are standing up for people and providing a real opposition.

Those of a cynical persuasion might argue that Farron can afford to decry Brexit – it gives his party a platform to hoover up voters disaffected by the UK’s decision to exit the EU after all without the tandem responsibility of having to do anything about it in government.

And there is certainly an element of truth to that statement. The Lib Dems are (or at least were) expected to have a good election. And that would most likely be at Labour’s expense, with the upshot being an even greater landslide victory for the Tories, or so the popular perception goes.

That’s the commonly-accepted narrative. Except, in recent times things haven’t been going as swimmingly for the Lib Dems as they might like. In the local elections earlier this month they lost 28 seats where they had been expected to make gains. Their poll numbers have remained stagnant where they were expected to jump. Instead Labour belatedly seems to be regaining some lost ground, while the Tories appear as unassailable as ever.

Part of the problem may be Farron himself, who has struggled since the snap election was called by May to shed an image of being somewhat, as an evangelical Christian, out-of-touch with the urban electorate his party is targeting.

That being said, his anti-Brexit rhetoric would be sure to meet plenty of appreciative punters here in Ireland.

Speaking to Farron, asked him his views on Brexit, the border, and how he plans to stop Theresa May in her tracks. Here’s what he had to say on a range of topics:

On a ‘hard’ Brexit…

“Do I think Theresa May is really after a ‘hard’ Brexit? Absolutely, she already is. That is what she has said and that is what her senior ministers want.”

She has already said she is taking us out of the single market. We can also see in this election she is pursuing UKIP supporters. That speaks volumes.

On debating with ‘Leavers’…

“We want to debate with everyone we can about Britain’s future. If we look at the state of the economy it is now the weakest it has been since the fallout from the 2008 crash.”

We think that when people start to feel the Brexit squeeze, they will want to rethink their position. That is why we think people should have a final say after the negotiations between remaining in the EU and taking Theresa May’s destructive Brexit.

On possibly doing the Tories’ job for them by stealing Labour’s vote…

“We expect to take votes from both the Conservative Party and Labour. The Conservatives are on course for victory now. So we need a strong opposition, this is what the Liberal Democrats seek to provide.”

On the suggestion that Theresa May’s biggest selling point is that she isn’t Jeremy Corbyn…

“The divide in the Labour party has meant they are not a credible opposition never mind a (viable) government. But if we let Theresa May win a landslide, it will be a disaster for Britain – and, incidentally for Ireland. We offer the only credible alternative to a Conservative party bent on a path to Theresa May’s Brexit.  Nigel Farage told you everything you need to know about Theresa May’s Conservatives.”

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We will stand up to Theresa May on Brexit, the NHS and schools. A Conservative landslide will be bad for jobs, the NHS and schools. But have hope. A better future is available. We will stand up to Theresa May’s cold, mean-spirited Britain. We will stand up to a bad Brexit deal that will cost jobs and put up prices. We will stand up for schools and hospitals.

On May’s refusal to live-debate the opposition…

“I think Theresa May is scared to face the people. Scared to face questions about Brexit, the economy, schooling and the NHS, I think Theresa May should stop hiding and face the people.”

On whether or not a decimated Labour is really good for Britain…

“Labour trooped through the voting lobbies with UKIP and the Tories to support a hard Brexit. That could lead to the scraping, for instance, of worker rights protected by the EU.”

Or on the environment. Or human rights. To my mind, Labour has lost all right to call itself a progressive party. It’s destroying itself. People say Brexit will be a disaster – well, on the biggest issue of the day by miles, Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May are on exactly the same page. Only the Lib Dems are standing up for people and providing a real opposition.

“I want everyone who wants an open, tolerant and united Britain to vote with us. We will be a strong opposition and every vote for Liberal Democrats is a vote to change Britain and get off the hard Brexit course.”

On Ireland and a border Poll…

“A border poll is not inevitable. The Liberal Democrats will work with our friends in Ireland and across Europe to stop a border poll from happening.  The Liberal Democrats offer hope.” (Note: Farron’s answer does not appear to take into account Irish people who would be quite happy to see a border poll happen)

On European Commission President Jean Claude Juncker describing May’s views on Brexit as ‘deluded’…

“I think that it shows how weak our Prime Minister is. Her plan is not to work with our European colleagues but rather to listen to the right in her party and move towards a disastrous hard Brexit.”

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