No better EU deal than being a full member – Tim Farron

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Media captionTim Farron and the BBC’s Andrew Neil have a heated exchange over Brexit

Lib Dem leader Tim Farron says the UK doesn’t have “any chance” of getting a better deal from Brexit talks than it has now as a full member of the EU.

He said he “respected” the outcome of last year’s EU referendum but wanted to give people a second vote on the terms of any Brexit deal.

Asked whether he would campaign to stay in the EU in that referendum, he said: “Let’s look at the deal.”

But he could not “imagine a deal that is better than the one we’ve got now”.

He was speaking to the BBC’s Andrew Neil in a half hour interview to be shown on BBC One at 19:00 BST. It is the fifth and final Andrew Neil leader interview of this election.

In an occasionally testy encounter, Mr Farron said: “I do respect the outcome of the referendum and I, nevertheless, feel a sense of real concern that in this country if you stand by your principles, if you question whether Theresa May is making the right choices, and Jeremy Corbyn of course backed her in that, then you are dismissed as a saboteur or a Remoaner.”

Mr Farron, who has sought to position his party as the voice of the 48% who voted against Brexit in last year’s referendum, has said he wants to “double” the number of MPs his party has from its current nine, so it can better hold the government to account.

Legalising cannabis

Pressed on whether his real agenda was to overturn the result of last year’s Brexit vote, he said the British people should be given the right to either accept the divorce deal “and in that case we leave the European Union on the 1 April 2019” or to “reject it and remain”.

But he could not “see any chance of us getting a better deal than the one we have now”.

He added: “The deal we have now is membership most fundamentally of the single market, and then we have the opt-outs. We have the fact that we have the rebate, we have exemption from Schengen (the passport-free zone). We don’t have open borders.”

Turning to other issues, Mr Farron defended his party’s call for curbs on surveillance powers used by the police and security services, saying: “We need to make sure that we don’t have knee-jerk responses to the kind of outrage that we had last Monday.”

He also defended his party’s call to legalise cannabis.

He said that as a parent he did not want his children to take the drug but the policy was based on expert evidence that regulating and controlling it could reduce harm.

“I wouldn’t propose to do something controversial like this if the evidence didn’t suggest that all of our children would be more safe than they currently are and the criminal gangs under more threat then they currently are. Let’s follow the evidence,” he told Andrew Neil.

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The Lib Dem leader ruled out a coalition with other parties after the election, saying the “biggest issue of the day” was access to the EU single market and he could not do a deal with Theresa May or Jeremy Corbyn because of their views on it.

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