Brexit strategy double edged sword for Lib Dems

As the Liberal Democratic conference comes to a close in Brighton this week, we can only reflect on a party which is very clear about what it believes but appears to be struggling to make headway amongst the pool of voters it hopes to attract.

In our research with Demos, we have been looking at the key question of If Not Leave, What? But if there is to be a movement to stop the UK from leaving the EU, why are the Liberal Democrats struggling to make any real progress? One could be forgiven for wondering why a message of ‘stop Brexit’ is not getting through to Remain voters.

The problem we found for the Liberal Democrats is that campaigning on Brexit is a double edged sword amongst Remainers. On one hand it gives the party impetus and purpose, on the other hand the strategy has all sorts of barriers that prevent the party from getting back into double figures.

Put simply, there is a credibility problem. Why vote for the Lib Dems if they can’t actually stop Brexit? In one sense the party is lucky, very few 2017 Lib Dem voters think Labour could stop Brexit instead (15%). However, only a quarter (24%) think their own party could stop it either, and most (61%) seem resigned to neither opposition party being able to put the breaks on Brexit. The problem worsens when you see that a larger proportion of Labour Remainers (41%) think that the party they opted for actually could stop Brexit.

Then there is a perception and differentiation problem. Many political commentators would be happy to tell you that Jeremy Corbyn is not on the same page as Vince Cable regarding the Europe Union. But when we asked voters what they thought the party leaders’ positions on Brexit was (pro-single market or pro-hard Brexit), only those who had chosen the Liberal Democrats could tell the difference between the two.

As far as Labour Remainers are concerned, they have two opposition leaders who are left of centre and opposed to a hard Brexit. An assumption to make is that many Labour Remainers are not switching because they think their aims can be fulfilled just as easily with the larger opposition party.

To some extent this has led to Remainer confidence being conferred on Labour, at least since the general election.  Since the EU Referendum we’ve asked Remain voters which party they trust most to lead Britain in negotiations with the EU – and Labour has clearly been most trusted by Remainers for over a year now. But there could be a chance to kick start the conversation again. Over the course of this summer both the Tories and Labour have seen trust amongst Remainers drop quite considerably. The proportion of Remainers who no longer trust any party on Brexit has risen to 17%. Is this a new opportunity for the Liberal Democrats to gain ground, or make an argument for a new approach to Brexit that wins fresh support?