Sir Vince Cable was forced to deny suggesting Leave supporters are racist after telling his party's spring conference they were "driven by a nostalgia for a world where passports were blue, faces were white, and the map was coloured imperial pink".
But after Conservatives attacked the comments as "unfair" and called for him to apologise, he doubled down on his earlier claims in an interview with the BBC.
Sir Vince told Radio 4's Today programme “nostalgia” for a bygone Britain was a huge factor in the referendum decision.
After it was put to him the claims in his speech at the weekend were suggesting Brexiteers were racist he said: "I didn't suggest that at all."
But he insisted that "nostalgia for that world" was a factor, adding: “Why else has so much fuss been made about the change in the colour of the passport?"
The row began when he told an audience of grassroots activists in Southport on Sunday to warn the "toxic" fall-out of the Brexit referendum was fuelling the rise of the populist right in Britain.
He said the divide opened up by the June 2016 vote had left the country mired in a "protracted, non-violent civil war", and strongly criticised what he called the "poisonous rhetoric" of the Brexiteers.
Sir Vince added: "What a disgrace that the fool's errand of Brexit embarked on to paper over cracks in the Conservative Party has resulted in hate crime on our streets."
And he said that he wanted to see his party follow the example of the Canadian Liberal Party under Justin Trudeau to build to lead a "new groundswell for political renewal".
But the Housing Secretary Sajid Javid said his comments were "so wrong and disrespectful", adding: "Should be trying to bring country together, not seeking to tear it apart."
And Tory chairman Brandon Lewis said the Lib Dem leader's words were "unbelievable, rude, offensive to many".
His deputy James Cleverly said it was prejudiced to say the referendum was swung by “casual racism”, adding: “It certainly wasn't the reason I voted for Brexit.”
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