Michael Gove has hit back at warnings from a former minister that a Tory majority will result in a “disastrous” no-deal Brexit.
In a dramatic intervention, ex-Tory David Gauke suggested Conservative Party supporters opposed to crashing out of the EU without a deal should consider “lending” votes to the Liberal Democrats next month.
The former justice secretary, who had the party whip withdrawn by Mr Johnson after rebelling over Brexit, last night confirmed he would now be standing as an independent in South West Hertfordshire.
He said he feared if Mr 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, adding that it would lead to a “disastrous” no-deal Brexit.
“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 this morning.
But senior Cabinet minister Mr Gove now dismissed Mr Gauke’s warnings as “precisely wrong”.
He told BBC Breakfast: “The only way we can get Brexit gone, move on with the people's priorities - investment in our NHS, in policing and in education - is by making sure we do have a functioning majority government."
He also insisted that Mr 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.
Mr 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 the PM wants a deal and the Government is determined to secure a deal,” he said.
Earlier, Mr Gauke said that even if Mr 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.
Mr 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 (Lib Dem 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.
His intervention came as Mr Johnson 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,” he will say.
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.