Sir Ed Davey has called Theresa May ‘damaged goods’ after winning his Kingston and Surbiton seat back from Conservative James Berry.
Sir Ed previously served from 1997 to 2015, when he lost to the Tory candidate.
The Lib Dems have taken the seat back with a resounding majority of 4,124 over the Conservatives.
Sir Ed said: “I’m very excited and very honoured, there is a lot of work to do, I know having been an MP for 18 years.”
Sir Ed lives in Surbiton and was congratulated affectionately by his wife Emily who embraced him before he took the stage.
He has previously served in the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition as Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change from 2012 to 2015.
He added: “There’s a lot of hard work in both the local area and in parliament and with an unclear result, there’s even more pressure to find solutions for people.”
Although former leader Nick Clegg lost his seat Sir Ed was pleased with the party’s national performance.
Former ministers Vince Cable and Jo Swinson have both won back their seats after losing them in 2015.
Party leader Tim Farron has kept his seat of Westmorland and Lonsdale – however, his majority has fallen from 8,949 to just 777.
Sir Ed said: “We’re certainly improving and we’re going to make progress, it wasn’t the size of the progress we would have liked, the loss of Nick Clegg is particularly upsetting for us.
“But we made some really good gains so we’ll have a parliamentary party with real talent and quality to be able to bring real analysis, thought and principle to the debates ahead of us.”
As this was a marginal seat many votes were added to the tallies of the rival parties by tactical intentions.
UKIP candidate Graham Matthews said: “The die was cast for us before tonight because people have voted tactically – a lot of people who supported us for Brexit are voting for the Tories to make sure that Brexit happens.”
Labour candidate, Laurie South disagreed: “I heard very few people actually admitting that they were going to vote Tory – they didn’t want to say I’m going to vote Tory.
“They certainly said to me they would like to vote Labour but we do need to get rid of the Tories – so we’re actually going to vote tactically – and understandably they spent a lot of money here.”
Sir Ed argued that there was no one defining reason why the vote swung in their favour.
He said: “It was a mixture of things that come up on the doorstep, schools were a very big issue because of the budget cuts facing them, the NHS, housing, the police cuts and of course Brexit.
“Brexit was a big issue, but there were a number of issues, to suggest it was the only issue was just nonsense.
“And if I may be immodest, a lot of people wanted me to be their MP again because I helped a lot of people over the time I was an MP.”
He added: “Theresa May is pretty damaged goods, having called this election expecting a huge majority, and having run the most disastrous campaign, both in terms of policy and her own personal performance.
“Her failure to debate was quite shocking, and I don’t think people believe now she is a strong and stable leader.”
The Liberal Democrats have claimed 12 seats so far, with a few more seats to be confirmed.