The former deputy prime minister suggested the odds of a no-deal divorce from the bloc had shortened considerably because numerous Tory leadership contenders have pledged to deliver Brexit with or without an agreement with Brussels.
The former leader of the Liberal Democrats and now Facebook’s global affairs chief accused the Tories of putting their own narrow self-interests above the economic well-being of the nation.
Mr Clegg’s intervention came as the race to take over from Theresa May intensified with the 10 candidates who are still in the running for the top job all stepping up their efforts to become the next Prime Minister.
The former Lib Dem leader (pictured speaking at The Times CEO Summit in London on Tuesday) suggested a no-deal divorce from the EU was now more likely because of the Tory leadership race
Brexit is the key issue of the leadership race and each of the candidates has come under pressure to spell out in detail why they believe their plan would succeed where Mrs May’s failed.
Delivering Brexit is viewed as absolutely critical to the party’s hopes of reversing its fortunes in the polls after many Tory Eurosceptic voters ditched the Conservatives for the Nigel Farage-led Brexit Party at the European Parliament elections in May.
Speaking at The Times CEO Summit, Mr Clegg said: ‘I think the chances of a no-deal outcome have accelerated because the Conservative Party, as they always do, have put their own survival ahead of the survival of the union of the United Kingdom.
‘And they decided that delivering Brexit, however that economically impacts today, is absolutely imperative for their survival.’
Mr Clegg has been an outspoken supporter of a second Brexit referendum and has repeatedly warned against a no-deal split from the EU
The 10 Tory leadership candidates are split on whether the current October 31 Brexit deadline should be set in stone. Esther McVey (bottom row, middle) and Dominic Raab (top row, second from right) have both said they would take the UK out of the EU with or without a deal on that date
A number of candidates, including Jeremy Hunt and Michael Gove, have suggested they would be willing to postpone Brexit beyond the current October 31 deadline if it meant preventing a no-deal split.
But some Brexiteer candidates including Esther McVey and Dominic Raab have said they will not countenance delaying the UK’s divorce from the bloc any further than Halloween – even if the UK and Brussels cannot agree to a deal.
That has reignited fears of the damage a no-deal break could do to the UK economy.
Mr Clegg, a vocal campaigner for a second Brexit referendum, said Brexit had been ‘hijacked’ as he warned the Tory leadership candidates against viewing no-deal as a viable outcome.
Having quit as Lib Dem leader in 2015, Mr Clegg joined Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook as its head of global policy and communications in October 2018. He praised the Lib Dems’ ‘Lazarus-like’ performance at the European elections in May
Mr Clegg also praised the Lib Dems’ ‘Lazarus-like’ resurgence in the European elections but insisted he did not regret no longer leading the party, having quit the role following the party’s disastrous 2015 general election results.
The Lib Dems finished an unexpected second in the European Parliament elections last month as Remain voters turned out en masse to support the party’s ‘Stop Brexit’ message.
Such has been the surge in support for the party that the Lib Dems have even recently topped general election voting intention polls.
Sir Vince Cable, the current leader of the party, has said he will step down and hand over to a successor on July 23.
What do the candidates for the Tory leadership think about Brexit?
The Conservative leadership race is ramping up ahead of nominations opening on Monday as the contenders continue to declare their credentials for the top job.
Here are the runners and riders:
– Boris Johnson
The former foreign secretary, who played a key role in the Vote Leave campaign at the 2016 referendum, is widely seen as the front-runner.
On Brexit, he has committed to keeping the October 31 deadline even if that means leaving without a deal and said he would step up no-deal preparations.
He also said he would refuse to pay the promised £39 billion to the European Union unless better Brexit terms are on offer.
Key quote: ‘I truly believe only I can steer the country between the Scylla and Charybdis of Corbyn and Farage and on to calmer water.’
What he’s said about drugs: Confessed to trying cocaine and smoking cannabis as a teenager at Oxford in a magazine interview in 2007.
Backers: James Brokenshire, Gavin Williamson, Steve Baker.
– Jeremy Hunt
The Foreign Secretary has ruled nothing out on Brexit, but insists that his experience as a negotiator in both business and politics means he could go to Brussels and secure a better deal.
He has said he would keep a no-deal Brexit on the table, but warned it could be ‘political suicide’ for the Conservatives as Parliament would force a general election.
He has called for a big increase in defence spending after Britain leaves the EU to counter rising global threats and has suggested slashing corporation tax to Irish levels of 12.5% to attract investment.
Key quote: ‘We will absolutely be obliterated in an election if we haven’t delivered Brexit.’
What he’s said about drugs: Told The Times he had a ‘cannabis lassi’, a yoghurt-based drink, when he was backpacking through India in his youth.
Backers: Liam Fox, Greg Hands, Mark Field.
– Dominic Raab
The former Brexit secretary has set out an uncompromising approach in a bid to appeal to hardline Eurosceptics.
He wants Brussels to ditch the Irish backstop as part of a new agreement, but if the EU will not move on the issue, he will walk away without a deal on October 31 – and has not ruled out suspending Parliament to ensure that MPs cannot block the UK’s exit.
He also wants to toughen up community sentences and has promised a shake-up of maternity care.
Key quote: ‘We need to up our game, which means being less naive, and being absolutely resolute about our intention and our resolve to leave on October 31. It seems to me that I’m the only candidate in this race that is clear about that.’
What he’s said about drugs: Has admitted taking cannabis as a student.
Backers: David Davis, Nadhim Zahawi, Maria Miller.
– Michael Gove
The Environment Secretary, who scuppered Mr Johnson’s last leadership bid in 2016, is again positioning himself in opposition to the front-runner.
Unlike Mr Johnson, he has not ruled out seeking a further delay to Brexit – possibly for months beyond October 31 – if a deal is in reach, and warned pursuing a no-deal scenario could lead to a general election in which Jeremy Corbyn could enter Number 10.
He has set out a ‘pro-business economic plan’ to take on Mr Corbyn’s ‘Marxist message’ and said he would replace VAT after Brexit with a ‘lower, simpler’ sales tax.
Key quote: ‘If I am prime minister of this country I want to ensure it’s the best place in the world to live, learn, raise a family, achieve your potential, and start and run a business.’
What he’s said about drugs: Said he ‘deeply regrets’ taking cocaine ‘on several occasions’ two decades ago.
Backers: Mel Stride, Nicky Morgan, Ed Vaizey.
– Rory Stewart
The International Development Secretary has travelled around the country filming himself chatting to voters in a bid to raise his profile in the race.
A Remainer who now accepts the referendum vote, he has ruled out a no-deal Brexit and would establish a citizens’ assembly to thrash out a new Brexit compromise.
He has also pledged to protect the Conservatives’ ‘reputation for economic competence’, hitting out at the ‘unfunded spending commitments’ made by rivals.
Key quote: ‘Candidates that are advocating a no-deal Brexit as well as tax cuts will – in one afternoon in October – lose us a reputation that we have spent 300 years building up.’
What he’s said about drugs: Has apologised for smoking opium at a wedding in Iran.
Backers: David Gauke, Ken Clarke, Nicholas Soames.
– Sajid Javid
The Home Secretary hopes to renegotiate the Withdrawal Agreement to remove the Irish backstop but does not want a delay beyond October 31.
He has set out a plan to tackle the Irish border issue by spending hundreds of millions on a technological solution, saying the UK has a moral duty to pay for measures at the border in an effort to secure a breakthrough.
Mr Javid has put forward a number of policy proposals, including cutting the top rate of income tax and establishing a £100 billion fund to invest in the UK’s infrastructure.
Key quote: ‘We will not beat the Brexit Party by becoming the Brexit Party.’
What he’s said about drugs: Has denied ever taking drugs.
Backers: Ruth Davidson, Jeremy Wright, Chris Skidmore.
– Matt Hancock
The Health Secretary insists a no-deal Brexit is not a credible option and Parliament would never allow it.
He has set out a Brexit delivery plan to leave by October 31, including establishing an Irish border council, made up of UK and Irish officials, to prevent the return of a hard border and time-limiting the backstop.
He has also pledged to scrap business rates for small retailers and increase a tax on internet companies to ‘level the playing field’ for high streets, and has set out his vision for a foreign policy that boosts trade and ‘resists protectionism’, while also promising to ‘uphold our values’.
Key quote: ‘If in order to deliver Brexit we were to change who we are as a country we would have failed.’
What he’s said about drugs: Is understood to have tried cannabis as a student but has not used drugs since university.
Backers: Damian Green, Tracey Crouch, Caroline Spelman.
– Andrea Leadsom
The former leader of the Commons, who ran against Mrs May for the party leadership in 2016, was another prominent member of the Vote Leave campaign.
She has set out a plan to scrap the Withdrawal Agreement and instead ‘massively ramp up’ preparations for a ‘managed’ exit without a full deal.
Mrs Leadsom has also promised to tackle climate change at home and abroad and establish a cross-party commission to find a solution to funding social care, and has warned that bold tax-cutting pledges could easily be blocked by Parliament.
Key quote: ‘I truly believe in the bright future that awaits us once we leave the EU. And I think I have the best plan that I’ve seen for delivering a managed exit.’
What she’s said about drugs: Told the Independent that she ‘smoked weed at university and have never smoked it again since’.
Backers: Chris Heaton-Harris, Heather Wheeler, Derek Thomas
– Sam Gyimah
As the only contender open to a second referendum, the former universities minister is widely seen as a rank outsider.
His five-point plan would give MPs a ‘final chance’ to get a Brexit deal through Parliament while also preparing for a referendum if that failed.
The public would be offered a binding choice between a no-deal Brexit, a revised deal or remaining in the EU.
Key quote: ‘The world won’t wait for Westminster, no matter how loudly we shout, and no matter how damaging a prolonged Brexit process is for Britain.’
What he’s said about drugs: Has denied taking any drugs.
Backers: Dominic Grieve, Guto Bebb, Phillip Lee
– Esther McVey
The committed Brexiteer has said she would fill her Cabinet with fellow believers.
She has called for the Tories to ’embrace’ a no-deal Brexit in order to make sure the UK leaves on October 31.
Elsewhere, she has caused controversy with comments championing the right of parents to take their children out of lessons on same-sex relationships.
Key quote: ‘I think you need to have people who believe in Brexit to deliver this by October 31.’
What she’s said about drugs: A spokesman told The Telegraph she ‘has never taken cocaine and never would’.
Backers: Pauline Latham, Phillip Davies, Andrew Lewer
– Mark Harper
A former Conservative chief whip and Remain supporter who now accepts the referendum result, Mr Harper acknowledges he is an underdog in the leadership race.
He has called for a ‘short, focused’ extension to allow for the deal to be renegotiated but said he would be prepared to leave with no deal if that is not possible.
He has claimed sticking to an undeliverable October 31 exit date could risk making Nigel Farage even stronger.
Key quote: ‘I know what people want to hear but I am not going to tell people what they want to hear if I don’t think it is credible.’
What he’s said about drugs: Has denied taking any drugs.
Backers: William Wragg, Jackie Doyle-Price, Scott Mann.