The Lib Dems are the voice of “common sense” in a “very polarised” political system, leader Sir Vince Cable has said as the party’s conference opened.
Sir Vince said his party would occupy the “moderate, middle ground” between an “extreme Brexit” Tory government and “hard left” Labour opposition.
He conceded it had not done as well in June’s election as hoped and leading a party with 12 MPs was a “challenge”.
The four-day conference is set to be dominated by the UK’s exit from the EU.
Activists in Bournemouth will debate the UK’s future relationship with the EU on Sunday amid calls from some quarters of the party for the Brexit process to be stopped.
Speaking at a fringe meeting on Saturday, Sir Vince said the Lib Dems would not be satisfied with securing a “soft, easy” Brexit, suggesting such a prospect was “not for real”.
“We are for Remain. We believe Britain should stay in the European Union. Period.”
The Lib Dems want a further referendum on the terms of the final withdrawal deal, with the public to be given the option to stay in the UK.
Sir Vince suggested this was the kind of “common sense solution” which would appeal to a large number of voters dismayed by the “ideological extremes” embraced by their political opponents.
“British politics is now becoming very polarised between extreme hardline Brexit government and a hard left Labour Party.
“People are going to be looking for sensible, moderate, middle-ground politics. That is what we can provide.”
Despite making a second referendum the centrepiece of their general election campaign, the Lib Dems got a lower share of the vote than in 2015 – 7.3% – although they did see four more MPs elected.
“Yes, the result did not live up to our expectations,” Sir Vince added. “I think we are going to turn it around. It is a challenge but I wouldn’t have taken it on unless I was optimistic.”
The 74-year old was elected unopposed this summer after Tim Farron resigned in the wake of the election. He and his deputy Jo Swinson will address the conference’s opening night rally later.
On Sunday, activists will also debate the armed forces covenant and housing standards among other issues.
Get Quotes on Home Insurance