The revelation by the Twickenham MP who is running to become leader of the Lib Dems has provoked fury among Brexit campaigners who have demanded that “unpatriotic, EU sympathisers” are removed from the civil service.
As a former business secretary Sir Vince has high level contacts in the civil service and he suggested at a Press Gallery lunch in the Commons that his party’s position of overturning the historic referendum is shared by many in Whitehall.
He told journalists: “Since I have returned [to parliament] I hear more and more people, politicians and civil servants saying ‘actually this thing isn’t going to happen’.”
He went on: “It’s based on several things. The sheer enormous complexity and difficulty.
“We have got a European negotiating position which is much firmer much more confident their economy’s better.
“They are going to be very difficult to negotiate with and at the same time we have our economic deterioration the short term burst of credit that kept the economy going for nine months has petered out.”
The revelation follows former Brexit department spin doctor James Chapman betraying his former bosses by attacking Theresa May and David Davis since he left the government and supporting Remainers.
Sir Vince’s comments led to calls for a wider clear out of Remainers in Whitehall.
Richard Tice, co-chairman of Leave Means Leave said: “If there are civil servants who do not believe in the huge benefits that Brexit will bring Britain, they should stop working in the Government.
“The British people have voted for Britain to leave the EU and expect to see those working in Government get the best possible deal for this country.
“There should be no place for unpatriotic, EU sympathisers in the civil service.”
Sir Vince admitted that his pro-EU party at best only has the support of 20 to 25 per cent of the population.
But he insisted that it would stick to its hard line position on holding a second referendum even though it was not popular in the recent election when the Lib Dem vote share fell.
He was also made a disparaging attack on Leave voters characterising them as elderly people in church halls with a “nostalgic” view of a Britain “which no longer exists.
He said: “I spent most of the referendum campaign in the south of England. I was mainly going around church halls in Hampshire and Dorset and Wiltshire.
“They were overwhelmingly elderly people who were obsessed by the worry of 80 million Turks coming over and living in their village.
“Immigration was a massive issue for them although they never actually encountered any.”
He went on: “I think that age group, mostly Conservative voting, there was a sense of nostalgia the Britain that hey been brought up in and loved and felt comfortable in was no longer there. And that was the reason they voted the way they did.”
He claimed they were backed up by “left behinds” in northern towns and Indian voters “who had been told there would be more visas for people from India”.
Newly elected Tory MP Damien Moore, a Brexit campaigner who won his Southport seat from the Lib Dems, accused Sir Vince of using “emotive and insulting language” about “a lot of decent people”.
He said: “It’s this kind of arrogance and disdain for democracy which is why the Lib Dems only have 12 seats.”
A Downing Street spokeswoman said: “The Prime Minister’s job is to get on with delivering the will of the people and the vote that was cast last year – that is what everyone is focused on across the Government.”
July 12th, 2017: Express