A former Tory cabinet minister has warned a Conservative majority at the general election will result in a “disastrous” no-deal Brexit.
David Gauke, the former justice secretary, suggested Tory supporters opposed to no-deal should consider “lending” their votes to the Liberal Democrats on 12 December.
Gauke, who had the Tory whip withdrawn by Boris Johnson after rebelling over Brexit, confirmed he would now be standing as an independent in South West Hertfordshire – the seat he has held sine 2005.
He said he feared if Johnson was returned with an overall majority it would lead to Britain leaving the EU at the end of the transition period at the end of 2020 on World Trade Organisation (WTO) terms.
“A Conservative majority after the next general election will take us in the direction of a very hard Brexit,” he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.
“In all likelihood at the end of 2020 we will leave the implementation period without a deal with the EU, on WTO terms, in effect on no-deal terms, that I believe would be disastrous for the prosperity of this country – whole sectors would become unviable.”
Gauke said that even if Johnson wanted to extend the transition period in order to allow more time to negotiate a new free trade deal with the EU, he would be unable to do so.
“I think in reality the prime minister is so boxed in that the Conservative Party would not allow him to extend the implementation period even if he wanted to – and he shows no signs of wanting to do so,” he said.
Gauke said he did not identify as a Lib Dem, but suggested that Tory supporters could consider voting for them in some parts of the country.
“I’m impressed by Jo Swinson. I think if I was living in a lot of constituencies I would lend my vote to the Liberal Democrats,” he said.
Senior Cabinet minister Michael Gove dismissed Gauke’s warnings, insisting Johnson is committed to negotiating a new trade agreement with the EU.
“It’s a hypothesis which has been put by people who have consistently… sought to raise bogies and to make people’s flesh creep,” he told the Today programme.
Gove, who is in charge of the Government’s no-deal preparations, said a working majority for the Conservatives in the new parliament is the only way to end the “paralysis” over Brexit.
“Everyone knows that the prime minister wants a deal and the Government is determined to secure one,” he claimed.
The row comes as a Lib Dem candidate announced he was standing down in a key marginal seat to avoid splitting the Remain vote.
Tim Walker was due to contest Labour-held Canterbury but said he had asked his local party to withdraw his nomination papers as he wanted “no part” in allowing a Tory Brexiteer to win the seat.
Labour, meanwhile, is focusing on health with a promise to boost funding by £26 billion if the party enters government, as part of a “rescue plan” for the NHS.
Shadow chancellor John McDonnell and shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth will announce the proposals to end the “Tory NHS crisis” in a speech at the Royal Society of Medicine.
They are expected to pledge an annual average 4.3% funding increase for health spending over the next four years, funded from Labour’s proposals to reverse corporation tax cuts and tax the wealthiest people in society.
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