Lib Dems furiously rebut claims they are 'flaky' on religious freedoms as a 'categorical lie'

Lord Monroe Palmer hits out at rumours – allegedly circulated by the Tories – about Lib Dem policy during a visit to Golders Green alongside Jo Swinson



Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson has used a visit to Golders Green to promote her party’s £11 billion mental health services pledge and reaffirm her commitment to the protection of “incredibly important religious freedoms”, including kashrut and circumcision.

Speaking at the Head Room Café, run by Jewish mental health charity Jami, Ms Swinson told the JC on Wednesday: “Our party president, Sal Brinton, set out in a detailed letter recently published by the Jewish Chronicle the Liberal Democrats' commitment to making sure that personal freedoms are protected.

“This includes the religious freedoms that you have mentioned. The protection of personal and religious freedoms is incredibly important to our party and to a civilised society.”

Her words came amid suggestions that supporters of Conservative candidates in north London seats with high numbers of Jewish voters - including Finchley and Golders Green, Hendon and Hampstead and Kilburn - were mounting a smear campaign against the Lib Dems by claiming the party was weak on protecting religious slaughter and brit milah.

Jewish Lib Dem peer Lord Monroe Palmer, who also attended the party's mental health push, confirmed to the JC that he and party canvassers who had begun knocking doors in north London seats were being alerted to suggestions that his party were “flaky on kashrut and brit milah”.

Lord Palmer added: “This is an absolute and categorical lie. The Liberal Democrats are for religious freedom.”

Venting his anger at the Conservative Party activists he believed were responsible for the attempt to weaken growing support for local Lib Dem candidates such as Luciana Berger, Lord Palmer said: “On shechita it was me as a Liberal Democrat peer who went to see the Conservative minister in Defra to make him issue a press release confirming that the current government had no plan to adopt European regulations on this issue, and to allow an exemption for shechita and halal – I went with a Muslim peer.

“When our canvassers have knocked on doors they have been asked the same question you asked on this issue, and to attack my party on this is an absolute lie.

“A party that is led by a serial liar is the sort of party that thinks it is OK to put out a letter like that.”

During Wednesday’s mental health launch, Ms Swinson was joined by local candidate Ms Berger and a team of other local Lib Dem activists, including Barnet councillor Gabriel Rozenberg, who recently defected from the Tories.

Ms Swinson, who had arrived on the Lib Dem election bus, said she it was a privilege to “visit this amazing Jewish charity.” She added that her party’s mental health pledge would improve national resources that she said were “woefully inadequate”.

The Lib Dem leader also told the JC that her party was “absolutely committed to a two-state solution” to the Israel/Palestine conflict. “The people who are living in Israel want peace. Our role, to the extent that we can influence things, must be to make sure that such a peaceful solution - of states existing side by side in harmony - can be achieved,” she added.

“We recognise the huge challenges that exist, but we have to believe that a solution is possible.”

She also repeated her claim she was  “absolutely, categorically ruling out Liberal Democrat votes putting Jeremy Corbyn into Number 10.”

On Tuesday, as the Lib Dems launched their election campaign in central London, she accused Mr Corbyn of a "total dereliction of duty" over his failure to "root out antisemitism in his own party."

Ms Swinson said that party's pro-Remain stance was based around "the value of equality".

She said: "One of those values that is so important is the value of equality.

"Recognising people can be themselves, individuals, whatever the colour of their skin, whatever God they prey to - whoever they are. 

"Jeremy Corbyn's complete and utter failure to root out antisemitism in his own party is a total dereliction of duty when it comes to protecting that value of equality."

She then made reference to Ms Berger's departure from the Labour Party in February.

"She didn't want to leave the Labour Party. She was driven out of the Labour Party and, just two weeks ago, we had Louise Ellman in the same position."

Lord Palmer told the JC: "Everyone can have their fears but Jo has categorically on more than on occasion said she cannot see a situation where she will take the party into a coalition led by Mr Corbyn.

“The fact that Luciana is one of our candidates and that her first stop on the campaign has been here in Golders Green emphasises the fact that she would not throw Luciana under a bus.”

Referencing Ms Berger, who introduced her at Tuesday’s launch, Ms Swinson said: "She didn't want to leave the Labour Party. She was driven out of the Labour Party and, just two weeks ago, we had Louise Ellman in the same position."

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