Sir Vince Cable is to describe “parliamentary games” over Brexit as “baffling” and akin to snakes and ladders in his final conference speech as Lib Dem leader.
Sir Vince, who will step down as boss after the local elections in May, said the party had to continue arguing for the benefits of staying in the European Union as the Brexit debate rages at Westminster.
He will use his speech in York on Sunday to accuse Theresa May of putting a higher priority on keeping the Conservative Party together than maintaining peace in Northern Ireland in her efforts to revise the Brexit deal’s backstop.
Declaring that “we are Remain”, he will say: “To those outside the Westminster bubble, the parliamentary games on Brexit are baffling: a weird combination of snakes and ladders, chess and all-in wrestling.
“Whatever happens in the next few weeks of parliamentary twists and turns, we must argue – since no-one else can be relied upon to do so – that none of the several mutually exclusive versions of Brexit on offer – soft or hard – are as good as the deal we currently have.”
The prime minister’s efforts to win over Tory Eurosceptics have focused on attempts to revise the backstop, the measures in the Brexit deal aimed at preventing the return of a hard border.
“The intensity of the campaign to remove it speaks volumes about the underlying motives of those who demanded Brexit and now demand a ‘clear Brexit’. They simply deny our history, which is entwined with that of Ireland.”
Sir Vince will target Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley for criticism after a series of gaffes.
“It really is quite shocking that this Government is so lacking in talent that it employs a Secretary of State for Northern Ireland who says she doesn’t understand sectarian voting patterns and then compounds this public declaration of ignorance with a blatantly and naively one-sided view of the killings in the Troubles,” he will say.
“Ms Bradley has revealed an ugly truth: that peace in Ireland matters less than peace in the Conservative Party.”
Sir Vince, who clashed repeatedly with May over immigration policy while they sat around the Cabinet table during the coalition years, will use his speech to return to the issue, saying it highlights the divides in British politics.
“Our mission to move from survival to success, from protest back to power, takes place in a world where liberal values are under siege and in retreat.
“Nothing quite defines liberalism like its opposite, illustrated by Theresa May’s policies on immigration.”