Ms Swinson was elected as new Liberal Democrat leader ahead of today’s conclusion of the Tory leadership race. The new leader was previously a minister in the coalition Government and has vowed to do “whatever it takes” to stop Brexit. Mr Gauke is set to resign tomorrow, and says no deal which both Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt have said they would be prepared to push forward with, would “play into the hands” of the new “energetic and passionate” leader.
Mr Gauke said Ms Swinson could take scores of traditional Tory voters: “If we were to narrow our support to purely being those in favour of a no-deal Brexit I think we would be significantly out of touch with a lot of people who have traditionally voted Conservative — those who live in London, the home counties, and various other relatively affluent parts of the country.”
The anti-no deal MP confirmed he had a “very friendly” conversation with Mr Johnson about potentially serving in his Cabinet.
He said if Mr Johnson went for no deal, which he says he will if he can secure re-negotiation: “I think that is going to draw millions of traditional Conservative voters away from us.
“It is important the Conservative Party appeals to voters in the centre-ground. It’s a position that would play into the hands of the Liberal Democrats. I don’t think we should underestimate Jo Swinson. I think she’s capable, she’s a very good communicator. I think she will be energetic and a passionate advocate for her party’s views.”
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Mr Gauke also made a pessimistic prediction about the state of a post no deal British economy: “We will see the pound falling significantly which, if not immediately, plays into living standards. The cost of lots of goods go up significantly, not least petrol but also food.
“We are likely to see unemployment rises in particular sectors and we are likely to see the public finances taking a hit as tax receipts will fall.
“If we have left in no-deal circumstances we will almost certainly be in recession, which is generally not a good time for an incumbent Government to go to the country.”
Despite the negative outlook about the chances of no deal succeeding, Mr Gauke said he hoped Mr Johnson would strike a deal with the EU, but said he thought he would not have enough time to do so.
Mr Gauke voted for Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement on all three occasions it was put before the House of Commons.
He had backed Remain before in the 2016 Brexit referendum.
The South West Hertfordshire MP voted to trigger Article 50.
He has held three attending Cabinet or official Cabinet roles under Mrs May: Chief Secretary to the Treasury (now held by Liz Truss), Work and Pensions Secretary (now held by Amber Rudd after Esther McVey resigned) and Justice Secretary.