Sir Vince Cable said holding the EU referendum was a “terrible mistake” which has “profoundly wounded” the politics he was once familiar with.
Speaking exclusively to The London Economic, the former Liberal Democrat leader downplayed his party’s role in calling for a referendum on EU membership, arguing that their role was “fairly ambiguous.”
He added: “We weren’t promoting the idea, we were just arguing that it was a way to bring to a conclusion the Lisbon process, because it was a constitutional change.
“We certainly weren’t happy about an open-ended European referendum.
“When Cameron publicly advocated it 2014 I spoke out strongly against it- there was no demand for it and it was causing a lot of anxiety.”
Traditional politics breaking apart
Reflecting on the recent influx of new MPs to the Lib Dems, Sir Vince said the party has done a lot to “actively persuade MPs that the Lib Dems was the place the come.”
But it’s more than “just Brexit”, he claimed. “It’s the idea that politics seems to be breaking apart in the sense of the traditional left-right make-up.”
Cable is keen for the Lib Dems to become a “party of more open, internationalist liberal people who would absorb social democrats of the Labour Party and one-nation conservatives.”
This quest to become a broad church party and a bona fide electoral force could lead to further defections.
Cable said he knows “one or two individually who have spoken” to him saying they “want to jump”,
“But at this stage I’d say it’s just odd individuals”.
“I think after the election – assuming we get one – there may well be a fracture in the Labour Party and if that happens then there is a possibility of us teaming up with large numbers of Labour social democrats.”
Revoking article 50
Asked to respond to criticism that it would be undemocratic to revoke Article 50 when 17.4 million people had voted to leave, Cable said “it’s easy to play a numbers game, but 30 million people didn’t vote for Brexit either.”
“Revoking is a niche point and entirely dependent on the Lib Dems winning an election. It could happen, but the odds are against it- without being disloyal. If it did happen then we would just say that we had been making the case against Brexit at a general election and that another referendum would be superfluous.”
The former leader believes that for practical purposes the Lib Dems are the party for demanding a people’s vote.
“That’s the core message that’s what we want, we would abide by and we think that that is the way to resolve the issue.
“The revoke point is a rather theoretical point. But the reality is that to break the logjam we need a people’s vote.”
The Lib Dems have already managed to negotiate an alliance with the Greens and Plaid Cymru to maximise the chances of victory for an unambiguously pro-Remain party.
Now Cable is calling on his party to go further in helping to forge a national alliance.
He is also holding out the possibility of working with some Tories and Labour.
But when asked if the Lib Dems would support Jeremy Corbyn as leading a government of national unity, Cable said “I would say no”.
“Our position is that if we do get into the position of a vote of no confidence and we need to replace the government with national unity, it’s got to be led by an individual that commands the most width in the House of Commons.
“All our readings were Mr Corbyn doesn’t do that.
“This was made clear by conversations with the 21 former conservatives that under no circumstances would they put Corbyn into Downing Street.
“This then requires looking for someone who has wider support.
“We’ve argued for Ken Clarke because of his seniority and wisdom.”
Responding to criticism of Jo Swinson’s approach towards the Labour Leader, Cable replied “If Jo was saying I’m not supporting Jeremy Corbyn because she wanted the position herself well then people might have a complaint, but the Lib Dems have to support someone that is appealing.”
However, the former Lib Dem leader did suggest that while not willing to form a coalition with either Labour or the Tories, he believed his party would be willing “to support particular measures that either party put through as a minority government.”
Given he is renowned for his economic warnings ahead of the financial crisis, Cable suggests that “All the analysis, including by people with no particular axe to grind, is that the impact is going to be negative.
“The question is how negative and for how long?
“That the bad outcome.
“If we leave without a deal, most people won’t notice for a while, but three years on we still haven’t got a new deal with Europe, investor confidence remains low and Britain is seen as a bit of a backwater.”