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Former Ipswich student and cabinet minister David Gauke stands in 2019 General Election

PUBLISHED: 10:21 13 November 2019 | UPDATED: 10:21 13 November 2019

Former Northgate headteacher Neil Watts with David Gauke at a school awards ceremony in 2009. Picture: PHIL MORLEY

Former Northgate headteacher Neil Watts with David Gauke at a school awards ceremony in 2009. Picture: PHIL MORLEY

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Former Justice Secretary David Gauke - who was born and educated in Ipswich - is to stand as an independent in the Hertfordshire South West constituency he has held since 2005 in next month's general election.

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Mr Gauke was one of 21 Conservative MPs who had the whip withdrawn in September after he voted to allow parliament to take control of the Brexit process. Unlike some of his colleagues he did not have the whip restored before the election was called.

The Conservatives in the constituency have now selected a new candidate - but he has announced he will be standing as an Independent. In 2017 he had a majority of nearly 20,000 over Labour while the Liberal Democrats were third with 7,000 votes.

In an interview with the BBC Mr Gauke suggested Tory supporters opposed to no deal should consider "lending" their votes to the Liberal Democrats on December 12.

His comments came after two former Labour MPs, Ian Austin and John Woodcock, last week urged Labour voters to support the Tories, saying Jeremy Corbyn was unfit to be prime minister.

Mr Gauke 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.

"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.

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"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."

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.

A Liberal Democrat candidate has already been selected in the constituency, but nominations can still be withdrawn by tomorrow afternoon if the party feels inclined to lend its support to Mr Gauke's election bid.

Senior Cabinet minister Michael Gove dismissed Mr Gauke's warnings, insisting 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.

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