Tim Farron has described himself as a “bit of a Eurosceptic” in a bid to win pro-Brexit voters in the former Liberal Democrat heartlands in the South West of England.
The admission will have raised eyebrows because the LibDems are fighting the election on an avowedly pro-EU ticket and have pledged to hold a second European Union referendum.
Mr Farron told the Andrew Marr Show on BBC1 that he had “resigned from the Liberal Democrat frontbench about ten years ago because I am a bit of a Eurosceptic.”
This was evidence that he was “somebody who challenges people in power”, he said.
He added: “But I’m somebody who believes that Britain is better off in the European Union and what the South West is famous for is wanting to be able to be self-governing, to be independent, to be different from those in Westminster who tell them what to do.
“And the worst thing for the West Country is to be a blanket of blue where the Tories just take you for granted.
“And that’s the thing I think people around the country are beginning to realise. That a Conservative majority is now not in question, but a Conservative landslide means they will take you for granted wherever you live.”
Mr Farron also reached out again to former Labour leader Tony Blair who has pledged to persuade people to reverse the Brexit decision.
He admitted that he had “met with Tony Blair at his request”, and “admired” the former Prime Minister who won three general elections.
He said: “I have many, very, very clearly on the record, disagreements with Tony Blair, not least over the illegal and counter-productive war in Iraq/
“But I do admire Tony Blair for one thing in particular, and that is his ability to put together a small-c coalition that was able to win a general election and defeat the Conservatives in 1997.
“I admire progressives - and he is broadly, I guess, a progressive - I admire progressives who are able to win elections, because if you cannot win then you cannot change people's lives.”
Mr Farron urged voters who propelled Mr Blair to the Labour landslide 20 years ago to back the LibDens in the General Election, borrowing the party’s “things can only get better” slogan.
He said earlier that “it shows what can happen when a party is prepared to make a broad appeal to change Britain's future”, in an apparent attack on Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.
Mr Farron said: "My message on the eve of that anniversary is this, things can only get better, but this time with the Liberal Democrats. Back us and change Britain's future.