Ed Davey: Britain’s place at the heart of Europe

30 Mar 2024
Ed Davey in front of a Liberal Democrat background with 'For a Fair Deal'

Read part of Sir Ed Davey's Conference Rally, where he highlights and champions the Liberal Democrats' Internationalist, European credentials:



And there’s something else we can’t afford not to tackle head-on… Even if the other parties think it’s too difficult or too politically uncomfortable…Fixing our broken relationship with Europe.

Ending the destructive cycle of conflict and confrontation the Conservatives have plunged us into with our nearest neighbours and biggest trading partners. Ripping up the pointless red tape the Conservatives have inflicted, to free British businesses and bring down prices in the supermarket. Tearing down trade barriers so our farmers and fishing communities can sell more of their produce in the EU again.

eave it to the others just to fiddle around with the fineprint of a bad deal we all know can’t be fixed. Only Liberal Democrats have a clear plan to rebuild this relationship with a better deal for Britain. To renew the ties of trust and friendship, to set us on the path back to the Single Market.

Our plan to repair the damage the Conservatives have done, and, in time, to restore Britain’s place at the heart of Europe. Where we belong.

We know it won’t be easy. We know it won’t be quick. The ties that have been so badly severed can only be stitched back together gradually, over time. This will take great care and determined effort over years. But if we are to transform Britain’s economic future, we must start today.

A new relationship with Europe is about our economy, but it’s also about Britain’s place in the world.

A world that is becoming increasingly dangerous and unstable. Vladimir Putin’s war machine has been ravaging Ukraine for more than two years now. We continue to stand firm with the brave Ukrainian people as they resist his onslaught. And with those in Russia who resist his oppression too. Putin’s murder of Alexei Navalny, a democrat and a true Russian patriot, has not silenced opposition to his tyranny.

But the prospect of another Trump presidency in the United States? That threatens to strengthen Putin’s hand, weaken NATO, and destabilise the globe even further. The thought of another four years of Donald Trump supposedly leading the free world is truly frightening. And even without Trump in power, Republicans in Congress have demonstrated that we cannot count on the US to stand shoulder to shoulder with us in Europe against Putin’s aggression.

So for the Conservatives to be cutting the British Army by ten thousand troops under the current circumstances isn’t just irresponsible, it is a threat to our long-term national security. So to Rishi Sunak, I say this: Send Putin and other dictators around the world a message. Reverse your cuts to the British Army now.

Whether it’s troop cuts or the Trump threat, we are the only party speaking out. Only Liberal Democrats understand that – on the world stage, as in domestic politics – “steady as she goes” simply won’t do. The UK must once again lead within Europe on our mutual security.

Starting not only by seizing frozen Russian assets in the UK, but bringing European governments together to use all our frozen Russian billions for the good of Ukraine. If the US won’t, Europe must.

Britain can stand tall again, on our continent and around the world – As a force for good, championing democracy, human rights and the rule of law. It will be no small task: the Conservatives have trashed our reputation and undermine the rule of law so badly.

But we Liberal Democrats are internationalists to our core. We know that our country is at its best when it is open and outward-looking. We know that – whether it’s war or a pandemic or rising sea levels – events beyond Britain’s borders are a threat to Britain here at home. 

And there’s one set of events that have been weighing particularly heavily, these past few months. The horrifying conflict in the Middle East. And the humanitarian catastrophe unfolding in Gaza.

I visited Israel and Palestine three weeks ago. 

I met Israeli citizens, still visibly traumatised by the events of October the seventh. I met Itzik – a father waiting for news of his two sons, Yair and Eitan, who were taken hostage by Hamas terrorists. And I met Palestinians, deeply traumatised by the continuing carnage in Gaza.

I held a baby in a hospital in East Jerusalem, being cared for along with her two baby sisters. Triplets. And heard from the nurses how their mother had been forced back into Gaza, straight after giving birth, and hasn’t been allowed a permit to visit since then. A mother, forced to leave her babies in those crucial early days. And kept apart from them for months by this terrible war.

So I urge the Prime Minister today: make it a diplomatic priority to let that mother – and so many others like her – come back to her babies where she belongs.

For us – moved to tears as we watch the brave journalists trying to report all this – it’s vital we try to understand. Understand how both peoples have experienced the last few months. Understand how both peoples have been so badly let down by their political leaders, for so many years.

My visit confirmed my pride in how our party has responded to this crisis. And pride in the way that Layla has spoken so insightfully and understood both peoples. As a daughter of Palestine. With family in Gaza.

And Liberal Democrats, we have not given in to the siren song of easy answers. We have not sought to divide people further. We have not indulged in petty political game-playing. Instead we have stood consistently – as Liberal Democrats always have – for international law, humanitarianism and understanding.

For months now, we have been calling for an immediate, bilateral ceasefireTo put an end to the appalling human suffering and tragedy in Gaza, and get those hostages home to their families. Reunite Yair and Eitan with their dad. And reunite those triplets with their mum.

A real ceasefire that sets us on the path, finally, to a lasting peace. A two-state solution, starting with the UK immediately recognising an independent Palestinian state. Because only through diplomacy can we defeat the Hamas terrorists and their evil ideology,

And only with a lasting peace can we make sure that Israeli and Palestinian children – both – grow up free of the horrifying cycle of violence that has endured for so long. Of course, the UK alone cannot make that happen.

But if we stand tall in the world once again…If we rebuild the trust and alliances that make us strong…If we recognise the reality of today’s unstable world, and our role in it…We can be a force for good in Gaza. And a force for peace in the Middle East.

We can transform Britain’s standing in the world. But we can only lead beyond our borders if we also live up to our values here at home. And that means zero tolerance – zero tolerance – for the appalling, devastating rise of antisemitism and Islamophobia we have seen since October the seventh. Threatening to tear our communities apart. We cannot let that happen. There is no place for it in our party. There is no place for it in our country. There is no place for it anywhere.

So Liberal Democrats will always stand up to those who spread hate and preach division. And we will always strive with our words and our deeds to bring people together, to build understanding, and to reflect the dignity and common humanity of all people, everywhere. That really shouldn’t be a radical thing to say. But sadly in today’s political climate it is.