Vote Lib Dem, urges former Conservative minister David Gauke

Ex-justice secretary calls for people to ‘vote for the centre-ground’ to avoid hard Brexit

The former Conservative justice secretary David Gauke is urging people to vote for Liberal Democrat and independent candidates at the general election to deny Boris Johnson a majority.

The rebel politician, who lost the Tory whip for voting against a no-deal Brexit, announced he was standing as an independent candidate in his seat of South West Hertfordshire but said traditional Tory voters should back Lib Dem candidates in many parts of the country.

He warned the public against voting for his old party because of its hard Brexit strategy and “cooperation” with the Brexit party leader, Nigel Farage, which he claims means a continued risk of crashing out of the EU on no-deal terms.

“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 told Radio 4’s Today programme.

“Traditional Conservative voters like me should lend their support to the Liberal Democrats but I think I am best placed to run as an independent.”

“I am calling for people to vote for the centre-ground.”

The former chief secretary to the Treasury said getting enough Liberal Democrats and independents returned to parliament would create a parliament opposed to no deal and that would also block the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, from becoming prime minister.

He said Boris Johnson and Farage had taken part in “choreographed cooperation” on a much harder Brexit strategy.

The prime minister’s promises that the Brexit transition period would not extend beyond 2020 and that in that time they would devise a free trade deal with the EU would be impossible to keep, Gauke suggested.

“One simply cannot negotiate a free trade agreement in that timeframe,” he said, suggesting trade agreements could take up to six years and on average took three years.

He said: “A Conservative majority after the next general election will take us in the direction of a very hard Brexit and in all likelihood at the end of 2020 we will leave the implementation period without a deal with the EU on WTO [World Trade Organization] terms – in effect on no-deal terms – and that I believe would be disastrous for the prosperity of this country.”

“All sectors would become unviable. The agricultural sector, our manufacturing industries, will be in a very, very difficult position.”

He said the government had boxed itself in by refusing to extend the transition period.

Gauke was elected in 2005 and served in the governments of David Cameron and Theresa May.

Farage said he would stand down candidates in all 317 Tory-held seats to avoid splitting the leave vote and seeing the Lib Dems elected in vast swathes of seats, particularly in the south-west.

He said he had come to the decision after Johnson released a video clip saying he would not extend the transition period beyond 2020 and would pursue a Canada-style free trade agreement, which means no political alignment with the EU.M

Michael Gove, the chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster and the minister in charge of no-deal planning, said he respected Gauke but that he was wrong to say Johnson would not be able to achieve a free trade agreement with the EU by the end of 2020.

He said the prime minister had already proved his critics wrong by securing a withdrawal agreement with the EU that removed the backstop.

“He [Johnson] succeeded in securing that deal in defiance of the sceptics and cynics and we can secure a free trade agreement by the end of 2020,” Gove said.

“We can do so because we start in a position where we have a political declaration that spells out in some significant detail what the nature of that relationship would be.

“We’ve got an oven-ready Brexit deal. Ping it in the microwave, press the button and that Brexit deal can be done by 31 January,” Gove said in an interview with BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

He said a Conservative majority would ensure Brexit and domestic issues were resolved.

Asked if the threat of a no-deal Brexit was back on the table if a free trade deal could be reached by 2020, he said he felt a sense of deja vu and repeated that Johnson had already defied critics in what he had achieved on Brexit.


Kate Proctor Political correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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