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New female UK party leader vows to take on Boris and stop Brexit

Can Jo Swinson stop Boris? (Getty)

Date of publication: 22 July, 2019

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Britain's pro-EU opposition Liberal Democrats on Monday elected their first female leader on a promise that she will do everything possible to "stop Brexit".

Britain's pro-EU opposition Liberal Democrats on Monday elected their first female leader on a promise that she will do everything possible to "stop Brexit".

Jo Swinson will take charge of a 31-year-old party on the rise due to its unambiguous anti-Brexit position.

Its firm stand against Britain's split from the European Union saw it come a surprise second behind populist eurosceptic Nigel Farage's Brexit Party in the European Parliament elections in May.

Opinion polls put the centrist party on more than 20 percent, should a snap general election be called to resolve the three-year Brexit crisis.  

This means the Liberal Democrats could be have great sway over decisions made in an upcoming government.

Britain is due to leave the EU on October 31.

"As your leader, I will do whatever it takes to stop Brexit," the 39-year-old Glasgow native told a packed London nightclub where the leadership contest result was announced.

"I am ready to take our party into a general election and win it," she said, to applause.

Swinson became the Liberal Democrats' first female leader after beating rival Ed Davey by 47,997 votes to 28,021 on turnout of 72 percent among party members.

Boris Johnson is likely to take over as leader of the governing Conservative Party on Tuesday and replace Theresa May as prime minister on Wednesday.

Despite the Conservatives commanding a razor-thin majority in parliament, Johnson says he intends to take Britain out of the EU on October 31, with or without a divorce deal.

Swinson said Britain "deserves better than Boris".

But she ruled out forming a coalition with the main opposition Labour Party due to its vague Brexit stance.

"Any party that can't decide where it stands on the biggest issue in a generation doesn't deserve my time - and doesn't deserve your vote," she said.

She was known for pushed for the right of mothers on maternity leave to be allowed a proxy votes, as a Tory MP had broken an honory 'pairing' agreement with her in a critical Brexit vote. 

However Swinson is also controversial for her role in the coalition government under David Cameron which implemented austerity. 

She also came under attack for campaigning for a statue of Thatcher to be erected in her Scottish constiteuncy of East Dunbartonshire.  

"Swinson has absolutely no idea, or cares, about what Thatcher did to Scottish industry and the consequences of Thatcherism that continue to this day.  In fact she she continued to defend austerity cuts that further punishes these communities,"  said Sam Charles Hamad, an Edinburgh-based political commentator who supports Scottish independence.    

"And right next door to her constituency...you have some of the poorest areas in Scotland."  Hamad pointed out that she may lose her majority in her constituency in a potential general election.  

"The non-SNP (Scottish National Party) vote there, whether Tory or Liberal, has always relied on a poor turnout from the minority areas of the constituency that are of a low socio-economic grade.  For example, immediately following the independence referendum, when this demographic had been fully mobilised, she lost her seat."

Yet while Scottish voters have the option of voting for the SNP as an alternative anti-Brexit party, many in England previously opposed to the Liberal Democrats due to their role in austerity now support them due to their militant anti-Brexit state.  

Furthermore, as Jeremy Corbyn's London seat of Islington witnessed a surge in support for the Liberal Democrats in the European elections, and expectant PM Boris Johnson's majority has halfed in his London constitency, all three party leaders maybe far from safe should a general election be held.  

As Foreign Office Spokesperson Jo Swinson welcomed a legal judgement which challenged UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

"Saudi Arabia is an enemy of British values, including human rights and the rule of law. Their repeated violation and disregard for human rights should have ruled them out as an arms trading partner long ago," she said.  

The Liberal Democrats generally take a liberal approach on foreign policy issues, having been the only one of the three main political parties to oppose the Iraq war.  

They subsequently supported military action against the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad.  

The party also hosts Britain's first British-Palestinian MP Layla Moran.  

On Monday, Moran stressed the importance of 'talking more' about Palestine, and emphasised the damage that antsemitism has had on the cause.  

"It’s hard to write or talk about antisemitism and the Labour party’s handling of it without descending into deep despair," she wrote.  


Agencies contributed to this report.

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