U.K. Lib Dems Pass 100,000 Members as Party Fights Hard Brexit

(Bloomberg) -- The U.K. Liberal Democrats increased their membership to the highest in two decades as the party enters the general-election campaign pledging to fight to maintain ties to Europe’s single market.

The total climbed above 100,000 on Monday after 12,500 people joined since Tuesday, when Prime Minister Theresa May called the snap election, Leader Tim Farron said at a campaign event in Vauxhall, South London. That leaves it just short of its record membership of 101,768 in 1994.

“It tells you there is an appetite for change in British politics and the Liberal Democrats are the vehicle for that change,” Farron said, before going on to criticize the main opposition Labour Party, which is floundering in the polls under Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn. “Britain desperately needs a decent functioning opposition and that, without question, is the Liberal Democrats." 

Farron’s party is trying to use Brexit to reestablish itself in Parliament after losing all but eight of its seats in the 2015 election, down from 57 five years earlier. It’s arguing for a second referendum to validate any Brexit deal the government strikes at the end of two years of talks that officially started last month. Forty-eight of Britons voted against Brexit in June’s plebiscite.

The choice of Vauxhall for today’s rally is a mark of intent by Farron: The seat registered one of the biggest votes in the country against Brexit in last year’s referendum, but has been held for 28 years by Kate Hoey, one of a handful of Labour lawmakers who campaigned for Britain’s departure from the European Union. In 2015, Hoey won 54 percent of the vote there, with the Liberal Democrats trailing in fourth on just 7 percent. The party’s candidate came second to Hoey in 2010.