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United Kingdom Theresa May Brexit Elections

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Liberal Democrats pin hopes on anti-Brexit voters

Sarah Olney, Liberal Democrat candidate for Richmond Park in London discusses Brexit and her party's chances in the June 8 general election, June 3 2017 Christina Okello pour RFI

Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron kicked off the final day of campaigning in the West of England on Wednesday on a journey that has taken him over 1,200 miles. Yet his party is still polling in single figures, leaving the focus now on anti-Brexit leaning cities they can win.

Nearly a year after Britain voted 52 percent to 48 percent to withdraw from the European Union, those on the pro-EU side still think that the idea of leaving the bloc is disastrous.

"How will we be better off? Prove to us that leaving the EU is the right thing to do,"  Sarah Olney, the Liberal Democrat's candidate for Richmond Park in London, said.

The accoutant-turned-politician made headlines in 2015 by ousting ex-Tory MP Zac Goldsmith with 20,510 votes to Goldsmith's 18,638.

"I didn't expect it at all, I wasn't involved in politics at all until the by-election [in 2015]".

Then as now, Olney fought the campaign on the issue of Brexit.

"We really caught a mood here in Richmond Park about how people were feeling. They felt very strongly about the Brexit issue and they felt that all those people who voted to remain had really been ignored."

The Liberal Democrats went into the election campaign hoping for a rapid revival after they were wiped out in the 2015 election, losing all but one of their seats in London.

Poor showing in polls

Yet polls haven't followed suit. They've been polling at a limp seven precent, and have been forced to focus their campaign now on Scotland, London, and remain-leaning cities such as Cambridge, Bath, Oxford and former leader Nick Clegg’s Sheffield Hallam constituency.

"We aren’t going to be competitive in every seat," acknowledges Olney. "But if you look at just the national polls you'd think we were doing appallingly, but it's not a good guide for what's happening in Richmond."

The Lib Dems are promising more funding for social services, and more accountability from the Tories on their negotiations over Brexit.

"The government has got to answer for the way that it’s insisting on forcing us out of the EU and account for the damage that it’s going to do."

Asked about criticism from the Labour party that a Lib Dem vote would be a wasted one, Olney says:

"I think Labour has been a waste of an opposition. They’ve been completely useless on the whole opposing Brexit position, they’ve just followed the government through the voting lobbies on Brexit, they’ve really let the country down."

She brushes aside criticism that her own party let the country down by getting into a coalition government with the Conservatives and for their u-turn on tuition fees which they promised to scrap.

"We want to be in a position to keep our pledges and are not going to compromise by going into a coalition government."

Why should voters trust them again this time?

"Because we're the only ones that have been consistent on Brexit," replies Olney.

"Voters must not give Theresa May a blank cheque for imposing a hard Brexit."