Tonight it was Tim Farron’s turn to take centre stage in the last instalment of the Andrew Neil interviews. Unfortunately for the Liberal Democrats, his performance could also be described as the worst of all five interviews. The Lib Dem leader repeatedly clashed with the broadcaster as he ducked out of questions, filibustered and squirmed while attempting to explain his party’s position on the EU, security and cannabis legalisation.
With the Liberal Democrats promising a ‘second referendum’ on the final Brexit deal (while insisting they ‘respect’ the EU referendum result), Neil asked Farron what Britain’s exit from the EU ought to look like. However, Farron struggled to explain how this should differ at all from being a fully-fledged EU member:
AN: Shall I give you one more chance to answer the question, which is that if we remain under the European Court’s jurisdiction, if we are subject to free movement of peoples, if we’re subject to laws and regulations made in Brussels in what way will we have left the European Union?
TF: Well, for example, over the last 20 years Nigel Farage and others have toured the country telling us let’s be more like Norway. A Norway in the single market, out of the European Union. All I’m saying to you –
AN: Norway’s subject to free movement. It’s subject in effect to the European Court.
Farron went on to admit that he thought the UK doesn’t have ‘any chance’ of getting a better deal from Brexit talks than it has now as a full member of the EU. Thereby making clear that a ‘second referendum’ on the Brexit deal would actually count as a second EU referendum.
Things didn’t improve much when the conversation turned to security. Farron defended his party’s plans to cut back surveillance powers used by the police and security services. His claim that the Manchester attack last week ought not trigger any ‘knee-jerk responses’ seemed ill-judged.
However, the most excruciating moment arrived at the end of the interview when Neil confronted the Lib Dem leader about his party’s lacklustre campaign. When the snap election was first called, many tipped the Liberal Democrats to mount an impressive comeback. Instead the party looks as though it will be lucky to maintain its current number of seats. Neil asked Farron why his campaign had done so badly — accusing him of being ‘a populist who’s not popular’. In response, Farron insisted the Liberal Democrats ‘are doing extremely well’. In seven days, we’ll find out who’s right.