Tim Farron's speech to Liberal Democrat Spring Conference Rally

When you’re sat in the front row, it's impossible to miss your cue to get on stage. 

But for those of you who were at conference in the autumn, you may have noticed I was a little late to the stage.

I was sitting very happily having a cup of tea in the green room, completely oblivious to what was happening 

I didn’t think I was due on for at least 5 more minutes. 

 

So, in my own good time, I wandered on stage, reasonably calm and collected, unaware that panic had set in. 

People were dashing around backstage trying desperately to find me. 

One member of my team, frantically rushed into the toilets thinking I was stuck inside and broke down a door. 

So, not only do I have to apologise to the Bournemouth Arena for the broken door but also to the poor person who was actually sat on the toilet at the time.  

Thank you so much to Lauren and all the amazing people who’ve spoken tonight. 

With talent and energy like that we know that our future is very bright.

I met Lauren when I went to campaign in her council by-election.

She knew everyone and everything about that community.

I was massively impressed.  I said, “Lauren how long have you lived here?”  

“18 years she said”.  I thought for a second.  “How old are you Lauren?”  … 18. 

Well for Lauren, and anyone here who wants to, I hope that each one of our new members tonight has the best opportunity to become a member of parliament. 

And I’m not going to be neutral about this.  I am crystal clear that we can make a difference and make that happen by supporting Sunday's diversity motion, and creating a better chance of getting them there.  

I don’t believe in laissez faire economics because it doesn’t create fairness.  Surely now we understand that laissez faire doesn’t create fairness when it comes to diversity.

And that's one of the reasons we're all here in York, and why we come to conference. 

To debate our polices; 

debating diversity; 

debating cannabis when no other party has the confidence to do so; 

and debating the intrusive way the Government wants to gather our most personal data.

Together we are shaping the fightback... 

one member one vote, opening our doors and opening our debate to every member, shaping this movement, building our distinctive, radical, Liberal agenda that can transform Britain from the grassroots up.

And there are millions of liberals in this country. Our mission is to turn them into Liberal Democrat members.

As we heard from Saleyha, she joined because she believes in what we believe in.

Of course, Saleyha joined - crucially - because someone asked her.  

So, I’m sure you have seen there are two membership forms on every seat.

My challenge to you is to recruit two new members each before the end of this month. 

And together we will be part of a growing, exciting team that will make a difference in May, and secure the result we all want in the referendum.

So, the EU referendum.  If like me, you were born after 1957, this is the first time you will get to vote on our future in Europe.  

This is likely to be the biggest vote you will ever cast. 

So it’s important we weigh up all the arguments.  And in that spirit you’ll see that there is a stall here for the Leave campaign.  

And they are here for 2 reasons.  

One, we are lovely liberals who like a debate.  

Two, they are giving us cash.  

Cash, ladies and gentlemen, we will spending on a campaign, to beat them.

So, this is the biggest campaign you will ever fight. 

The biggest stakes, the most to gain, the most to lose.

So the campaign has begun.  

Lots of noise and it's only going to get louder.

People in the UK are waiting for a clear honest case.

Over these last few weeks as I’ve been knocking on doors, more and more people are mentioning Europe.

And most of them, don’t want to tell me their views, they want to know mine. 

Now obviously, they’ve come to the right person – trust me, I’m a politician.

So let's be honest about where we stand. 

We believe that Britain is stronger in Europe.

And this vote is so much more important than the tedious internal Tory party soap opera that’s playing out in the news every day,

And more important, indeed, than what the Queen really thinks… about Michael Gove.

I, of course, would not dream of speculating as to Her Majesty’s views on Europe. 

All I will say is that she is a shining example… a shining example of European integration and harmony - of how a Greek family and a German family can be united in peace and happiness for 70 years. 

Aside from the soap opera, people really want to know the substance.

They want to know what it will mean for their family, for their business, their job, their children’s future, our safety.

So here goes:

200,000 British companies currently export goods to Europe.

Yes we pay in, but the CBI says Britain’s access to the European single market is worth 78 billion pounds.

The car industry, reliant on European trade, employs 700,000 people.

The single market gives us access to 500 million consumers.

British families benefit from cheaper goods and services - everything from phone tariffs to flights - are cheaper because of European cooperation.

So you can fly on holiday for less, and then when you get there post really tedious selfies from the beach at a fraction of the cost.

Thousands of criminals are no longer on our streets because our police can share information.

And hundreds of criminals have been brought back to justice here in Britain.

And British workers have better annual leave, they have better protections from harassment at work, and better maternity leave.

Strength in numbers, clear benefits, common sense.

So there is an enormous net financial, economic and business benefit of being Europe. 

That doesn’t stop those who want to exit, constantly talking of the cost of being in Europe. 

But I look around our continent, at the scars of the last hundred years, and I see a far more painful cost of a dis-united Europe.

People have different reasons for their stance on Europe.

Business interests, the opportunities for their children, or maybe they just saw an opportunity to gain a bit more attention in their bid to become the next Tory leader. 

But for me, one thing stands out above all else. 

Countries who once had warheads pointing at each other, today work together in peace.

I don’t remember the last war.  

But I remember the cold war. 

There's an odd, stone building in the woods near our village, and I always joke with the kids that it's the entrance to a nuclear bomb shelter, that there are four men from Kendal still down there, fighting over the last potnoodle thinking the bomb dropped three decades ago.

When I was a teenager, I remember coming down Fishergate Hill in Preston on a Sunday morning.

I did a double take because the old laundrette had changed hands, instead it had become a showroom for nuclear fallout shelters. 

I was 14, and I thought: One, nuclear fallout shelters cost a lot of money,

Two, nobody I knew in Preston had any money, Three, here was a shop apparently successfully selling these things anyway,

Four, ergo, the end of the world was imminent. 

And that threat might seem laughable now.  

But it wasn’t then.  

It was 1984, we lived in a divided Europe, we lived in the shadow of the bomb. 

Now, as it happens, I drove down Fishergate Hill with my dad a couple of weeks ago and its gone back to being a laundrette.

Over those years, Paranoia and aggression has given way to cooperation and hope.

After decades of brutal conflict, European nations came together.

Countries behind the iron curtain are our allies. 

The Warsaw Pact gave way to a unified Europe. 

Those who wish to turn their backs on Europe, turn their backs on history.

When we face a dangerous world, I want to stand with my neighbours.

I thank God that today, that our leaders sit around a table with leaders of countries who a generation ago had nuclear weapons on their soil pointed right here.  

If that was the only reason to remain, it would be good enough for me.

So, our arguments are powerful, the cause is crucial but the campaign is not going to be easy.

But we will make it even more difficult if we refuse to accept that things aren't perfect.

Just as we know that Westminster is not perfect. So Europe is not perfect.

Just as we want to change Westminster, we should also want to change the European Union.

And you don't affect change by storming off in a huff.

As any kid who's picked up the ball in a sulk and stalked off home will tell you, that’s not the way you make friends.  

And it’s definitely not the way to win the match.

Before we can convince the British people that Europe offers a great future for Britain, we should recognise that too often the Union appears out of touch and out of reach.

It needs further renewal and reform to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

By leading, and not leaving, we can maximise our influence to drive renewal and reform of the EU.

This is Britain’s time to lead the way.

Let's reduce the moments where it has become too burdensome, bureaucratic and bloated, but let's drive forward the things it does so well, to create opportunity, drive prosperity and open our eyes to the world.

Let's complete the single market, and drive forward the digital economy.

Let’s give small business much greater representation in Brussels.

And let's spearhead green growth and sustainability. 

Some of the rhetoric in the campaign recently has been unpleasant to put it mildly

Iain Duncan-Smith has said we'd be at greater risk of Paris style terror attacks if we remain, and people on both sides have tried to scare monger about borders, refugees and migrants.

Using desperate people fleeing war and terror, as pawns to score points, is appalling and it is weak.

This campaign needs the opposite.

This campaign needs strength and compassion.

If the leave campaign wish to play nasty, we can’t really affect that. 

The same forces who used images of babies in incubators to campaign in the AV referendum can't wait for a race to the bottom on immigration, migration and refugees.

But Liberal Democrats, I will not stand for it.

There are many people on the leave side who are complaining about something they call 'project fear'.

Now, as you know, I believe that being in Europe is better for Britain, and I know I can run a campaign that is positive, that is hopeful, optimistic and praises the benefits of our membership.

But, I can’t ignore the fact, that the prospect of leaving scares me.

It’s quite sensible to be afraid of something that is dangerous.

But to use fear of the other, to demonise those who are different to you, that is disgraceful and we will call it out whenever we see it.

And to make matters worse, all this anti-European nationalism is charting the way for Neil Hamilton’s political comeback. 

The Hamiltons!

Neil Hamilton is now the top of the list for UKIP in Wales.

What on earth has Wales done to deserve that? 

And not only is Neil Hamilton on the list. Mark Reckless, the poor-man’s Douglas Carswell, is also looking to Wales for his comeback.

Two Englishmen who took democracy for granted, assuming that Wales will accept what England has rejected. 

Another reason why Kirsty Williams’ leadership is so vital in giving Wales positive politics against the rise of nasty isolationism. 

So… the referendum, do you remember AV?  That went well.

Do you remember, at the time, there was a newly elected left wing Labour leader who wouldn’t put his back into the campaign?

Sound familiar?  History seems to be repeating itself.

Jeremy Corbyn, please do not let your own internal party chaos get in the way of winning this campaign.

I know you may have wanted to leave in the past, but we treat your conversion as genuine and so I ask you to show the zeal of the convert and get on board.

If ever there was a time you needed to show your party, and the country, that you can lead, now is that time.

Shall we cross party lines, put our party interests aside for the good of our country?

Because if you won't, I’ll make a direct appeal to those Labour party members now.

The Liberal Democrats are a united force.

We are Britain’s internationalist party.

We believe in international cooperation, that Britain stands tall in the world because we stand tall in Europe, that British business is more successful, that our streets are safer, and we are better equipped for those challenges that don't stop at borders.

If your party leadership remains blinkered to the risk, then your party is sleepwalking to the exit.

So, come with us, share a platform, and let's make the positive, unified case that we all believe in. 

In together, let’s make Britain’s future better, by making Britain’s future one that is in Europe. 

Recently, Nicola Sturgeon gave a big speech, on why we should remain in Europe.

It was a strong pro-European speech.  She made this important speech in London, which is not in Scotland. 

Perhaps she didn’t want the Scottish people to hear it. 

She called for a positive case to be made for Britain to stay in Europe…

And then focussed her entire attention on threatening the rest of the UK with a leave campaign of her own.

In fact Nicola has spent the last month talking about what’s going to happen if we lose the referendum, rather than working with others to try and win it.

We know that the EU referendum is just another opportunity for nationalists to pursue their single minded, destructive goal of separation at all costs. 

They are lining up to tell us that a vote to leave would inevitably lead to a second referendum on independence for Scotland.

That will not help persuade a single wavering voter.

What Nicola Sturgeon is doing is blowing a dog whistle giving permission to separatists to vote to leave the EU so that Scotland can then leave the UK.

The EU referendum is too important to be treated as an excuse to hark back to the independence debate.

When we look to Scotland we should remember how the referendum there was won. 

Charles Kennedy, Michael Moore, Jo Swinson, Willie Rennie - they were out on the streets with campaigners from all parties and none. Making the positive, liberal case.  

They shunned the aggression and nastiness of the online battles, and offered hands of friendship and cooperation. 

I am a patriot, and patriots love their country. Nationalists hate their neighbours. 

We will campaign as patriots, as liberals, we will campaign together. 

In Britain we have a menu of parties in this debate:

Those that are resolutely anti Europe – UKIP

Those split down the middle – Tories and Greens

Those who are half hearted with ulterior motives – the nationalists

Or the half-hearted and just a bit rubbish – Labour. 

And then there’s the party, the only party, passionate about a reforming Britain, in a reforming Europe.

A prosperous Britain in a prosperous Europe, a green Britain in a green Europe, a secure Britain in a secure Europe. 

There are millions of people in Britain who know that this is the biggest choice for our country in their lifetimes, and that just as Britain is stronger together with others, so are we as individuals stronger when we join those of like mind to achieve what is right. 

The Liberal Democrats offer you the chance to work with those who think like you about our future in Europe. 

We need you, you need us – join us today, join the party that is united in the shared belief that Britain's position in Europe is vital to the country's future security and prosperity.

And this campaign will be a major focus as we rebuild our party.

In together we will fight for a stronger and more prosperous nation, creating opportunity for future generations, respected all over the world.

The global issues that we face can only be overcome by international cooperation.

Those who believe we can be stronger alone are turning their backs on the real world, a modern world, lost in a sepia tinted view of memories and false nostalgia.

We could once separate our politics between domestic and international. 

But not anymore.

The questions is not whether Britain can survive alone, 

it is whether Britain can better thrive with others

When we face the world together, there is no doubt in my mind that for our future prosperity and safety, we should vote to remain.

There is no doubt in my mind that to work alongside those countries who share our interests and share our values, we need to remain.

And there is no doubt in my mind that to be the beacon of hope and freedom, in a turbulent and dangerous world, we must vote to remain.

We are a proud nation that stands tall in the world.

We are home to freedom, ingenuity, creativity.

In these next 14 short weeks, the post-war European project of peace, co-operation and prosperity lies in Britain’s hands.  

Europe looks to us. 

We are clear.

Britain must not leave.

Britain must lead.