Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn have formed “a pact of silence” to avoid discussing Brexit during the election campaign, Nick Clegg has claimed.
The former Lib Dem deputy PM said this was “one of the most cynical acts of political collusion” because the only choice voters face is a hard Brexit.
Mrs May says she is ready for Brexit talks, but claims Mr Corbyn is not.
The Labour leader says the PM would create a “low-wage, offshore tax haven” and a “toxic” mood in Brexit talks.
During a campaign event in east London, Mr Clegg cast doubt on Mrs May’s ability to conduct successful Brexit negotiations, describing her electoral performance as “brittle”, a performance which he said would not have gone un-noticed in the capital cities of Europe.
He said he believed the chances of Brexit talks collapsing were “much higher than I could have possibly imagined”, adding: “That’s only been confirmed during the course of the general election.”
He claimed “a proper leader of a country” would use the election to explain and “prepare the British public for the huge, excruciatingly difficult, controversial, sometimes wholly unpopular compromises, that are inevitable if you want a deal”.
“And yet Theresa May has made no attempt whatsoever to prepare people for what’s to come. It’s a spectacular failure of leadership.”
Mr Clegg, currently the Lib Dems’ Brexit spokesman, accused the prime minister of “digesting close to four million UKIP voters in one sitting” and of doing “what the editor of the Daily Mail tells her to do”.
He added: “Negotiating Brexit is going to be a tightrope act – it requires subtlety, creativity and the ability to win friends.
“Above all, it requires sure-footedness, to keep on top of dozens of simultaneous, interlocking negotiations. Instead we are being asked to elect a leader who is unsteady in the limelight, incapable of straight-talking, and prone to chaotic U-turns.”
During a live TV grilling on Channel 4/Sky News a week ago, Mrs May said she would be ready “from day one” to work on a new “deep and special relationship” with the European Union.
She said she had shown: “I am prepared. I am ready to go. Jeremy Corbyn is not.”
But Labour’s shadow education secretary Angela Rayner claimed the way Mrs May had handled Brexit negotiations so far “has made us look like ogres across Europe” and a “laughing stock”.
BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg said the prime minister has been “intent on playing the Brexit card for all it’s worth in the election”.
During his speech, Mr Clegg said consumers were “already beginning to feel the Brexit squeeze” and warned that holidaymakers heading overseas faced being hit in the pocket by the impact.
“Price rises have hit energy bills, petrol and clothes,” he said.
“It’s enough to make anyone need a fortifying glass of wine – but last week, it was reported that the average price of a bottle of wine has hit its highest price ever.”