Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron has issued an impassioned plea to moderate Tory MPs opposed to Theresa May’s vision of a “hard Brexit” to abandon the Conservatives and join his party.
He accused the PM of pursuing the same “aggressive, nationalistic” agenda as Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin.
He told his party’s conference Theresa May is “to blame” for every job that is lost as a result of Brexit.
His party is the “real opposition” to her “hard Brexit” plan, he added.
Mrs May told the Conservative’s spring conference on Friday that she wanted a “more united” Britain.
But in a keynote address to his supporters in York, Mr Farron said Mrs May was part of an “emerging consensus” on the political right, characterised by nationalism, authoritarianism and protectionism, committed to reversing human rights and indifferent to, or in denial of, climate change.
‘Taken for granted’?
“The politics of Trump. Of Putin. Of [French Front National leader Marine] Le Pen. And now the politics of Her Majesty’s government. Welcome to the new world order. This is the new normal – the new status quo,” he said.
“Aggressive. Nationalistic. Anti-Nato. Anti-EU. It is the post-war internationalist consensus unravelling in real time.
“Winston Churchill’s vision for a world that achieves peace through trade, common values and shared endeavour evaporating before our eyes.”
While he acknowledged voters had backed Leave in last year’s EU referendum, he said it was Mrs May’s choice, urged on by hard-line Brexiteers, to take the UK out of the single market with damaging consequences for British business.
“Theresa May has put at risk the very people that have bankrolled her party’s success for years and she didn’t have to.
“She could’ve fought to keep us in the single market if she wanted to. She has chosen not to,” he said.
“She is pulling us out before the negotiations have even begun and because of that choice she’s to blame for every job that is lost, every shop that closes, every company that downsizes, every factory that relocates overseas.
“There was nothing inevitable about leaving the single market – that was her choice – the blame for that damage lies at her door,” he said, adding: “British business should drop the Conservative Party like a hot brick – they should do it publicly, they should do it now.”
And in a direct appeal to Conservative MPs, he urged them to stop supporting policies in Parliament which were the opposite of what they signed up for.
“You are now the supporters of a government that is as anti-business as Jeremy Corbyn. You are now the cheerleaders of a government that is as anti-refugees as Nigel Farage.
“You know it is wrong, so for pity’s sake, have some self-respect. Defect or resign. If you don’t, then when the next election comes, we will do to you what we did to Zac Goldsmith [who lost his seat to the Lib Dems in the Richmond Park by-election].”
With Labour incapable of taking seats from the Conservatives, Mr Farron said it was only the Liberal Democrats that could deny them another majority at the next general election.
“We can gain the seats to rob the Tories of their power to wreck Britain – and by doing so we can change the course of our country,” he said.
Meanwhile, former Prime Minister Sir John Major has criticised what he calls “ultra-Brexiteers” within the Conservative Party who he believes are trying for a “complete break from Europe.”
Writing in the Mail on Sunday, he says such figures need to “stop shouting down anyone with an opposing view”, as well as launching “vitriolic and personal attacks” on judges, civil servants and other public figures.
“In doing so they demean both themselves and their cause,” he wrote. “These ‘Ultras’ are terrified that their triumph in taking us out of Europe will be snatched away.
“But if that is their fear, why do they not defend their position with logic and passion, with thoughtful, cogent argument, instead of low-grade personal abuse that has been their standard response so far?”
Sir John called for an end to “fake facts and bogus promises” and for others to follow the PM in negotiations with “skill, persuasion and diplomacy” in order to “heal the wounds… of one of the most damaging [debates] in the history of British politics”.