Tim Farron has laid into Theresa May – lumping her in with Donald Trump and Marine Le Pen – as he accused her of allowing the Conservatives to be “taken over” by UKIP’s agenda.
Speaking at the launch of the party’s manifesto in London, the Liberal Democrat leader said Mrs May’s pursuit of a “hard Brexit” – taking Britain out of the single market and customs union – is a “time bomb under our economy” that will wreck Britain’s future.
The 95-page document sets out a vision of an “open, tolerant and united” Britain far removed from the “cold, mean-spirited” country favoured by the Prime Minister and ex-UKIP leader Nigel Farage, according to Mr Farron.
The opinion polls suggest the Lib Dems will fail to make a breakthrough at the election.
But an undeterred Mr Farron urged Britons to follow the lead of French voters who rejected the “two tired old parties” to choose Emmanuel Macron as their new president. Mr Macron defeated far-right candidate Mrs Le Pen.
Plans to fight a “hard Brexit”, ban diesel cars and help young people buy their first home are contained in the manifesto.
The party has also promised to put an extra £6bn a year into health and social care through a 1p rise in income tax and raise £1bn in revenue by legalising cannabis.
But the Lib Dems would not scrap university tuition fees, insisting the NHS is a bigger spending priority.
Mr Farron has already said he expects a big Conservative win on 8 June, but his pitch to voters is that his party can help mitigate the effects of Brexit.
At the heart of the Lib Dems’ manifesto is a pledge to hold a second referendum on the final Brexit deal negotiated with Brussels, with Mr Farron arguing people had voted for a “departure”, but not a “destination”.
He said Mrs May’s decision to pull Britain out of the single market would prove ruinous for the country.
“That decision alone is a time bomb under our economy,” warned Mr Farron.
“And when it blows up it is going to take our NHS and our schools down with it. It is going to wreck our children’s future for decades to come.”
He said the election’s most revealing moment was a tweet from Mr Farage hailing the PM for “using the exact words and phrases I’ve been using for 20 years”.
Mr Farage’s world-view is “the same one that leads to Donald Trump banning Muslims and building a wall, the same one that Marine Le Pen tried to impose on the decent people of France”, said Mr Farron.
He added: “Nigel Farage’s vision for Britain is now Theresa May’s. He has taken over the Conservative Party. Anti-Europe. Anti-refugees. Slashing funding to schools and hospitals.
“No wonder UKIP is standing down candidates and backing the Tories. After all, who needs UKIP if the Government is doing what they want anyway?”
Labour has “lost the right to call themselves the opposition” by failing to make a stand on Brexit, Mr Farron said.
And in an appeal to voters to support the Lib Dems, he said: “Theresa May and Nigel Farage’s cold, mean-spirited Britain is not the Britain I love.
“The Britain I love is generous and compassionate. The Britain I love is one where we are decent to each other. The Britain I love is open, tolerant and united.
“If that is the Britain you love too, then this is the moment to stand up. This is your chance to change Britain’s future.”
Conservative chairman Sir Patrick McLoughlin said: “This manifesto makes one thing abundantly clear: a vote for the Lib Dems is a vote to put Jeremy Corbyn in Downing Street.
“From increasing taxes to borrowing more – from putting our security at risk to scrapping Trident – these policies are an echo of Corbyn’s manifesto we saw earlier this week.”