July 20, 2017 / 3:14 PM / 2 years ago

Vince Cable becomes leader of Liberal Democrat Party

Vince Cable, the new leader of Britain's Liberal Democrats speaks next to new deputy leader Jo Swinson in London, July 20, 2017. REUTERS/Neil Hall

LONDON (Reuters) - Veteran lawmaker Vince Cable was elected unopposed to lead Britain’s pro-European Liberal Democrat Party on Thursday, promising to restore the party’s influence and use it to argue for a softer exit from the European Union.

Cable, who served as business minister from 2010 to 2015 in a coalition of the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives, said before his appointment that he believed Brexit might never happen because it was too divisive and too difficult to deliver.

The 74-year old economist was the only candidate in a leadership contest triggered when Tim Farron stepped down after last month’s national election.

“As the only party committed to staying in the single market and customs union, the Liberal Democrats are alone in fighting to protect our economy,” he said.

The Liberal Democrats have campaigned for a second referendum on leaving the EU, to be held at the end of the Brexit negotiations. That position has been rejected by both Prime Minister Theresa May and the opposition Labour Party.

The party is Britain’s fourth-largest, with 12 members in the 650-seat parliament. It was almost wiped out in a 2015 vote, and only enjoyed a small rebound in June’s election, when the Conservatives lost their parliamentary majority.

“We have a government that can’t govern and an opposition that can’t oppose,” Cable said. “Labour and the Conservatives have formed a grand coalition of chaos, driving through a hard Brexit which would deliver a massive blow to living standards.”

Cable has also warned that Britain is heading towards a new financial crisis, likely to be triggered by rising interest rates, which could prompt a surge in support for anti-Brexit parties.

Reporting by William James; editing by Kate Holton

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