Boris Johnson is overseeing a political strategy similar to Donald Trump, the former Tory minister David Gauke has said, as he warned the Conservatives not to descend down a path of populism.
The former justice secretary, who lost the whip after voting to stop a no-deal Brexit, voiced his frustration with the prime minister’s strategy, which he said was “Trumpian” in terms of the type of language being used and the overall tone of debate.
A divisive Downing Street, briefings using the phrase “collaborator” and riling up party activists all belong to a strategy that “corresponds more to Trump than to the long tradition of the Conservatives and Winston Churchill”, he told the Guardian.
Gauke is no longer able to stand as a Conservative MP, alongside 20 other rebels who were kicked out of the parliamentary Tory party for voting for the Benn Act, which stops a no-deal Brexit and compels Johnson to extend article 50 if he cannot strike a deal, and to pass it through parliament by 19 October.
Several members of the group, including the former chancellor Philip Hammond, are being investigated by Downing Street, which alleges they worked with foreign powers to draft the legislation.
Gauke said the announcement of that investigation, which featured on the front page of the Mail on Sunday, was full of “Trumpian overtones” – primarily “because it’s not true”.
Those overtones included “the sense that anybody who disagrees is unpatriotic and betrays the country”, he said. “The attacks on the judiciary are views more in the tradition of Trump and it’s not something Margaret Thatcher would do. She was a radical prime minister but she was a great defender of our national institutions.”
Gauke hopes to stand again for South West Hertfordshire, but will have to do so as an independent.
Comparing Johnson and Trump, he said: “They are very different personalities but in terms of political strategy, because of what we see from No 10 is divisive and exercising the base and that is very similar to Donald Trump.”
Despite their expulsion from the party, many of the Tory rebels attended this week’s conference. At various fringe events, Gauke has hammered home the same warning to his party. On Sunday night, he said the party was no longer that of Churchill, but “more the party of Trump”.
In an interview with the Guardian, he said: “What is not clear at the moment is if the Conservative party has changed in terms of its appeal and the voters it’s looking to attract and whether this is temporary because of the stresses and strains of Brexit, or whether there’s more permanent realignment of British politics in the way that the Republican party in the US has changed its appeal and its coalition of voters.”
He continued: “I believe that the Conservative party is at its best when it’s a pro-business, pragmatic party, so to appeal to the country, and the country loses out significantly if the centre right of politics becomes much more populist, nationalist, and more right of centre.
“It is Trumpian in tone and language. And some of the political strategy corresponds more to Trump then to the long tradition of the Conservative party and Churchill.”
There had been expectations from those close to the rebels that any of their appearances at party conference could attract hecklers and negative comments from party members. “The response I’ve had and the behaviour of Conservative members has been courteous, polite, generous,” he said.
“There are many who strongly disagree with the steps that I have taken, some of the things I’ve said, but what is striking is Conservative members want the party to be a broad church.”