UK election: Ex-Conservative minister - 'Vote Liberal Democrat'

David Gauke has urged voters to block Prime Minister Boris Johnson's Brexit plans.

    David Gauke is standing as an independent in next month's election [Peter Nicholls/Reuters]
    David Gauke is standing as an independent in next month's election [Peter Nicholls/Reuters]

    UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson winning an outright majority at next month's general election will result in a "disastrous" no-deal Brexit, a former Conservative cabinet minister has warned.

    David Gauke, a former lord chancellor and minister of justice, even suggested Conservative voters opposed to "no-deal" should consider supporting the Liberal Democrats instead.

    Gauke was a Conservative member of Parliament for 14 years until he was unceremoniously booted out of the party after becoming a leading light of the "Rebel Alliance", which voted against the wishes of Johnson's administration to prevent Britain crashing out of the European Union without a divorce deal in place.

    On Wednesday, Gauke confirmed he would now be standing as an independent in his long-held constituency of South West Hertfordshire at the December 12 election.

    'Disastrous'

    He said he feared that if Johnson was returned to power 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.

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    Gauke said he did not identify as a Liberal Democrat, but suggested that Tory supporters could consider voting for them in some parts of the country.

    "I'm impressed by [leader] Jo Swinson. I think if I was living in a lot of constituencies I would lend my vote to the Liberal Democrats," he said.

    'Get Brexit done'

    His intervention came as Johnson - who on Wednesday was heckled during a visit to a flood-hit northern town - was preparing to deliver a campaign speech appealing to voters to deliver a Conservative government so they can finally get Brexit "done".

    "If we can get a working majority we can get Parliament working for you, we can get out of the rut. We can end the groundhoggery of Brexit," it 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 was 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 said.

    The dispute comes as a Liberal Democrat candidate announced he was standing down in a key 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 - which had been held by the Conservatives since 1910 until Labour's Rosie Duffield won it in 2017 with a majority of just 187.

    While Walker was applauded on social media, his party seems to disagree and announced it would field a different candidate to fight the strongly anti-Brexit seat instead.

    Labour, meanwhile, on Wednesday focused on health with a promise to boost funding by 26 billion pounds ($33bn) if the party enters government, as part of a "rescue plan" for the National Health Service (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 percent 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.

    A never-ending Brexit: Democracy undermined?

    UpFront

    A never-ending Brexit: Democracy undermined?

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies