Norman Lamb has ruled himself out of running to be the next Lib Dem leader and attacked the party’s “toxic” position on Brexit.
Under Tim Farron, the Lib Dems ran an overtly pro-Remain general election campaign with the promise of holding a second referendum on the eventual Brexit deal.
However the position is widely seen not to have cut through to voters and the party only increased its number of MPs from 9 to 12.
Lamb, the North Norfolk MP, lost out to Farron in the 2015 leadership election after Nick Clegg stood down and had been seen as likely to stand again.
His decision not to stand means former business secretary Vince Cable, who returned to parliament at the election and has announced his leadership bid, will cement his position as the favourite.
Jo Swinson, a former minister in the coalition, also unexpectedly decided not to stand to replace Farron.
Ed Davey, the former energy secretary, who like Swinson and Cable has bounced back into the Commons after losing his seat in 2015, is expected run against Cable.
Writing in The Guardian today, Lamb said his decision not to vote against the triggering of Article 50 had been seen as an “act of betrayal” by many in the party.
“I have just fought a gruelling campaign to win my North Norfolk seat. Attempting to win a seat for the Liberal Democrats in an area that voted quite heavily to leave the EU was bound to be a challenge,” he said.
“Not only was the party’s position on Brexit toxic to many erstwhile Liberal Democrat voters in North Norfolk, but I found myself sympathising with those who felt that the party was not listening to them and was treating them with some disdain.
“I abstained on article 50 because I felt it was wrong in principle to vote against, given that we had all voted to hold the referendum in the first place. For many in the party that abstention was an act of betrayal.
“I have been accused of supporting a hard Brexit – the last thing I want – while a Lib Dem source told the London Evening Standard this week that the abstention “looks like he can’t make a tough call”. It is actually quite tough to go against your party, and I did it on a matter of principle.
Lamb added: “We need to understand why so many people get frustrated with remote power – something that Liberals should understand.
“The Europrean Union is too often dysfunctional and sclerotic, yet progressive internationalists have been reluctant to admit this. While we have always recognised the need for reform of the EU, the Liberal Democrats have been perceived as being too tolerant of its failings.”
Farron quit as Lib Dem leader last week after he was repeatedly questioned over his view on homosexuality and other social issues during the election campaign.