An ex-Conservative cabinet minister has warned a sweeping Boris Johnson election victory would mean an economically “disastrous” hard Brexit in a year’s time.
Former justice secretary David Gauke warned Britain was unlikely to secure a long-term trade deal in the short transition period planned by the prime minister under his Brexit withdrawal deal.
Announcing he would run as an independent after losing his party’s whip, he said Johnson showed “no signs” of wanting to instead extend the transition period where EU rules still apply beyond the end of 2020.
Britain would then be forced to start trading on World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules in a “very hard Brexit,” losing its current frictionless trade with its biggest trading partner.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “A Conservative majority after the next general election will take us in the direction of a very hard Brexit.
“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 and that I believe would be disastrous for the prosperity of this country; whole sectors would become unviable.”
Countless experts and businesses have warned trading on WTO terms would be enormously damaging for UK businesses, jobs and collaboration with other EU states, erecting significant new barriers to trade with European firms.
Gauke, who will run in his former South West Hertfordshire seat, said: “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.”
“I believe that I can influence events in this general election to some small extent and that the best way I can do that, and I think strengthen the centre ground of British politics is by setting out what the risks are of WTO at the end of 2020 which will be very, very difficult as I say for many sectors and our overall economic prosperity.”
He also called for a “confirmatory referendum” on Johnson’s deal or staying in the EU, and told the Times it would be “no bad thing” for voters in some seats to lend votes to the Liberal Democrats.
“I think because the consequences of the Boris Johnson deal are so significant, we do need to check back in with the British people and I think it’s perfectly possible for there to be a parliamentary majority for that after the general election,” he added.
But a large majority of economists polled by Reuters said on Wednesday they expected London and Brussels to eventually reach a free trade deal.
They said securing an FTA or remaining closer to the EU as part of the European Economic Area (EEA) were more likely than Britain ending up trading under WTO rules.
They also say the odds of Britain crashing out of EU rules immediately after Brexit with no transition have narrowed since Johnson agreed a withdrawal agreement with Brussels and went to the polls.