Since Lib Dem Sarah Olney pulled off her spectacular win, having campaigned against a hard Brexit that would see the UK pull out of the single market, the government has insisted that it will not shift its approach to Brexit and that the result changes nothing.
On Saturday, however, Farron sought to exploit Tory discomfort. He said: “My message to Conservative MPs is: we are coming for you. The result in Richmond Park shows that liberal Britain is fighting back against this divisive Brexit Conservative government. It was a vote for Britain remaining open, tolerant and united.”
Labour’s candidate, Christian Wolmar, suffered a catastrophic result, losing his deposit, and prompting some in the party to call for it to consider electoral pacts in future elections. Labour MPs now fear the party faces being squeezed between the resurgent Lib Dems in large parts of the south, and Ukip under its new leader Paul Nuttall in the Midlands and north.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn used a speech in Prague to insist that his Labour party would not compromise on its belief in the value of immigration, despite calls from some of his MPs for a harder line in the face of Ukip demands for immigration cuts. In a speech to the Party of European Socialists, the Labour leader said: “It can be difficult to convince the long-term unemployed that the reason there is no work is not that immigrants are stealing their jobs but the result of the economic programme of the right that has failed to deliver sustainable growth, security and rising living standards for all.
“It can be hard to make clear that our public services are being run down because of years of austerity and predatory privatisation, rather than overspending and government waste, but it is vital that we do. We cannot abandon our socialist principles because we are told this is the only way to win power. That is nonsense.”
Shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer also demanded more clarity from May over Brexit. Before a Commons debate this week, he said: “Instead of providing certainty over the UK’s basic aims, the government has given mixed messages, veering from the extreme version of Brexit, suggested by the prime minister’s party conference speech, to the undefined version of Brexit, suggested by the Nissan deal, and David Davis’s comments that EU Budget contributions may continue post-Brexit.
Labour’s former Europe spokesman, Pat McFadden, said it was time to address the concerns of working people who had voted Leave. “We’ve got to think on the scale of a Marshall plan to transform opportunities in working-class communities – giving a real answer, rather than someone to blame. Labour’s moments of victory – 1945, 1964 and 1997 – have all been when we seemed to understand the future and had a real plan for it that people could believe in.”