Sir Vince Cable may have little time left as Lib Dem leader but he is determined to make the most of it.
So just a week before crucial European Parliament elections the energetic 76-year-old jetted to Gibraltar to deliver a stark message to Theresa May – “don’t betray” the Rock.
Sir Vince, who visited the Gibraltar on Friday for the first time, said Brits living there are “totally committed to being in the UK family – we have a duty to them”.
Locals told the Mirror they felt “forgotten” amid the squabbling of politicians in Westminster.
Gibraltar, which voted 96% to remain in the EU, fears Spain seizing on our chaos to resurrect claims on the peninsula.
The Rock, whose population voted 96% to remain, fears Spain who have seized on UK’s internal turmoil to resurrect long standing claims on the peninsula.
Marie Infante, 59, a shop assistant said Spain treats them “like a child in the class” stepping up checks seemingly when they want.
“We wanted to remain because of the situation we have with Spain if we’re not in the EU they will be worse with us.
“I think our concerns are being forgotten a little bit.”
Wilfred Stagnetto, 68, who is retired said: “The general feeling is that as we have a neighbour who is a bit difficult at times the safe thing is to be in Europe.
“On the other hand personally I understand why people want to leave Europe.
“I think European countries can become colonies of the central parliament where everything is dictated from there.”
Travelling to Gibraltar, Sir Vince told the Mirror: “Spain and the Spanish have played games with Gibraltar in the past and it was the intercession of the European Union that brought them back into line.
“Now if we walked away without a deal – which is what Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson amongst others are arguing for they’re totally vulnerable.”
The former cabinet minister argues Gibraltar faces the same well-documented issues as the island of Ireland if Brexit leads to a so-called hard border.
His visit was part of a play to encourage Gibraltar’s 33,000 voters who choose MEPs in the south west to vote Lib Dem.
Their selection of 20-year-old Gibraltarian Luke Stagnetto has convinced at least one voter there.
Taxi driver Charles Henry Mena, 59, said he would vote for the “local lad”.
“That seems to be pretty good for us – someone local.
“You English are very proud people and you have the right to disagree with what Europe does with your own country but we’re obviously part of Britain as well and do remember we are right at the end of Spain and we’ve been forgotten.”
The south west is hotting up to be one of the most exciting contests as it sees former Tory Ann Widdecombe standing for the Brexit Party, broadcaster and sister of Boris Johnson, Rachel for Change UK and Lord Adonis for Labour battle it out.
The Lib Dems, who currently have no MEPs despite it being a traditional stronghold, is hoping its unequivocal anti-Brexit stance will win over the region’s Remainers.
Sir Vince, who took over as party leader in July 2017, is optimistic about the party’s fortunes next Thursday.
After a good set of local election results he is confident that the resurgent party can benefit from Labour’s all things to all people Brexit equivocation.
“People have given up on Jeremy Corbyn on Europe they’re very disappointed so labour voters labour supporters are getting behind us,” he said.
“There’s more and more evidence of that even in places like London where Labour have been very strong.”
For a man who often seemed uncomfortable with his party’s role in the coalition and who lost his seat in 2015 on the back of it, Sir Vince is clearly relieved to be leaving the Lib Dem’s election fortunes in a better state than he found them.
Asked about the party’s lacklustre result in the 2017 snap election he shoots back: “Well I wasn’t leader then I was unemployed”.
Commentators agree that the Lib Dems failed to capitalise on anti-Brexit feeling whether because voters believed Labour really favoured remain or the public were voting on issues other than Brexit it was the main two parties who won more than 80% of the votes.
But Sir Vince has a simpler explanation.
“They had the right approach but I think it was premature the Brexit issues hadn’t clarified by then and we didn’t know what Brexit looked like so promising people another referendum they were saying why but now we know the mess that’s been created.
“I think people are now much more anxious about the future they do want to be given a final say and we pull no punches in saying that – even to the extent of being a bit vulgar – what I call acceptable vulgarity.
He is referring of course to the front cover of the party’s manifesto which came emblazoned with the slogan “Bollocks to Brexit”.
Although the obscenity was largely a publicity stunt, the party’s unequivocal stance on the EU is credited with their ascent in the polls and one of the reasons Remain challengers Change UK have been left floundering in their wake.
He is convinced that starting up another political party under First Past the Post was a mistake but Sir Vince, who started his political life in the Labour Party but has absolutely no time for Jeremy Corbyn, doesn’t fault them for trying.
He said: “I’m not wanting to throw barbs and insults at them because they’re doing badly.
“They did actually perform an important function for which they deserve some credit. They helped to pull together people who had the courage to leave the Labour Party and the Tory Party.”
“I think when we get back to Parliament it will be important that we work with them and we work with other remain people in a constructive way.
“They’re down at the moment but I don’t think it makes any sense actually to have a separate party in the middle of British politics because of the first past the post system I think it was a mistake to launch a new political party in the way that they did.”
Polls suggest that Change UK could fail to even gain a seat next week but their rival new kids on the block the Brexit Party look set to triumph.
Like the Liberal Democrats they have a simple message on Brexit although their stance and the two parties’ leaders couldn’t be more different.
But Sir Vince, known as the sage who predicted the 2008 financial crash and more content debating finer policy points than landing personal blows, seems relaxed when he describes his party as the main challengers to Farage.
“We are clearly now the main challengers to Nigel Farage we overtook the Tories quite a long time ago they’ve given up, the other remain parties are quite a long way behind us and it was then labour and it’s very clear we are overtaking Labour.”
And the former cabinet minister is certain the party can build on that success.
“In the local elections – where we were well organised and campaigned we won and a lot of that will translate into seats in the general election.
“I’ve been through this before I know it works – I got into Parliament in 97 on the back of the Paddy Ashdown campaign then and it was built on success in local government not just campaigning but successfully running local councils that was the platform that we advanced from and we can now identify a whole list of new seats that we will attack at the next general election so we’ve been there before.
“I also think that with the Tory party effectively splitting in two and as long as Jeremy Corbyn remains leader and his coterie of supporters the field is wide open to a party with a social democratic liberal set of values and with political credibility with the capacity to organise.”
It is not without a hint of sadness that he laments what he sees as the problems facing Labour.
“There are good people in the Labour Party but the problem with the leadership – not just Jeremy Corbyn personally but the people around him.
“You can see from the public ratings of the Labour leadership they’re just not credible -they should be racing ahead with the Tory government in such utter disrepute.
“The public are rightly suspicious of the Labour leadership and in those circumstances they’ll be looking for alternatives and we’re the most plausible.”
For Sir Vince the European campaign may be his swansong but he seems content to hand over the reigns.
The Twickenham MP won’t be drawn on his successor but he says simply: “I’ll be bowing out over the middle of the summer and somebody else will be take over.
“I always wanted to plan my exit in an orderly way one of the most dangerous things in politics is when people believe they’re indispensable.
“Politics is not a sprint it’s a relay and you have to keep passing on the baton and that’s what I’m doing.
“We’re in good shape, good morale, we’re winning and we’ve got good people competing for the job and that’s a healthy step and I’ll be around -I’m still an MP.
He says he’s not done with politics just yet – “I’m not running away to Australia,” he quips.
Sir Vince says he wants to play a major part in an EU referendum “when” not “if” it happens.