JO Swinson has denied leading a “soft Tory Party” after the third Conservative defector, Sam Gyimah, joined the Liberal Democrats.

The East Surrey MP was unveiled as the sixth and latest defector at the party’s conference in Bournemouth on Saturday night joining fellow ex-Conservatives Sarah Wollaston and Philip Lee; three ex-Labour MPs, Chuka Umunna, Luciana Berger and Angela Smith, have also switched to the Lib Dems, bolstering their Commons total to 18.

When Ms Swinson was asked on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show if, given Mr Gyimah’s support for low tax and austerity, she was now leading a “soft Tory Party,” she replied: “What I’m leading is an exciting movement that our country desperately wants. We have people like Sam Gyimah in the Liberal Democrats, coming to the Liberal Democrats, and we also have people like Chukka Umunna and Luciana Berger, coming together in the same party because this is where the rallying point is for liberal values in our country.”

Asked about another defector, former Tory minister Philip Lee, described by a leader of the Lib Dems’ LGBT caucus as a homophobe and a xenophobe, the party leader insisted she believed that was “not an accurate representation” of Mr Lee’s views.

Challenged on whether she was now accepting illiberal MPs into her party simply to boost its ranks, Ms Swinson replied: “I am not going to accept that because Philip is a supporter of equality and I don’t think those remarks in any way reflect his viewpoint. Before anyone joins the Lib Dems, they have to sit down and go through a process with our Chief Whip to make sure people do share our values…”

She went on: “What is important is that people are on a journey, people who share liberal values but who have previously been in different parties are coming together because we have a moment of national crisis and together we can build something that will genuinely put our country on a better path for the future.”

The East Dunbartonshire MP, claiming how in the forthcoming general election the Lib Dems would be the “strongest and biggest” Remain party but accepting that it would not always be the case, explained how she and senior colleagues were in talks with the Greens and Plaid Cymru about a tactical voting strategy. The Lib Dems won the recent Brecon and Radnor by-election after the Welsh Nationalists stood aside to let their candidate Jane Dodds have a free run against the Tories.

Ahead of today’s conference debate on Europe, Ms Swinson made clear she was urging her party to adopt a clear and unequivocal position that it was the “stop Brexit party,” by pledging to campaign to scrap Britain’s withdrawal from the EU in a general election campaign.

"If the Liberal Democrats win a majority at the next election, if the party put into government is a stop-Brexit party, then stopping Brexit is exactly what they will get," she declared.

The party leader went on: "Everybody can see we are stuck; that Brexit is in a mess. There needs to be a way out of that. We have argued that a specific Brexit deal should be put to a public vote to give clarity.

"But if we end up at a general election, then we need to be straightforward with people and give them the option for all this Brexit chaos to stop.

“People want parties to be straight-forward with where they stand. I recognise that not everyone agrees with the Lib Dems on this [but] it is genuinely what we think is right for the country."

The Scot reaffirmed her opposition to working with either Boris Johnson or Jeremy Corbyn.

"Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn are not fit to be prime minister. We see that day in, day out,” she insisted. "I want to build an open, fair and inclusive community and they do not."

Ms Swinson also made clear if there were an election, the Lib Dems would be standing against Rory Stewart, the former International Development Secretary, in the border seat of Penrith and in Mr Johnson's London seat of Uxbridge and South Ruislip.

She made clear she had "a lot of respect" for her fellow Scot, who lost the Tory whip recently after voting to prevent a no-deal Brexit, but pointed out he remained a Brexit supporter.

"Let's be clear, Rory wants to make Brexit happen, he backs a Brexit deal and, as Liberal Democrats, we are very clear, we want to stop Brexit. So, of course, we will be standing in that seat to make sure that people have a chance to vote to stop Brexit."

Earlier, Mr Gyimah, the former Tory minister, who three months ago put himself briefly forward as a candidate to be the Conservative leader, said his former party no longer stood for "liberal values".

Speaking on Sky News's Sophy Ridge On Sunday, the 43-year-old said it "became very clear" during the contest to succeed Theresa May that there were not enough moderate MPs left in the party.

He was later sacked for rebelling to vote take a no-deal Brexit off the table.

"It has done something unprecedented; it has withdrawn the whip from moderate MPs. The stark reality is that I had to face up to the fact that the Tory Party is in a different place.

"If I want to stand up for liberal values, then the Conservative Party is no longer the place to do that," he declared.

On the same programme, fellow defector Mr Umunna said the Tories had become a "right-wing, populist, nationalist party".

He explained: "The ejection of 21 Conservative MPs including Sam Gyimah, who we are incredibly happy to now have in the Liberal Democrats, wasn't just an ejection of heavyweights, substantial individuals who command respect across the House of Commons, you actually saw the ejection of an entire tradition, the one nation Disraeli tradition, from the Conservative Party."

The London MP also defended Mr Lee, who has been criticised for failing to vote in support equal marriage, insisting he had liberal values and was an important part of the party.

Mr Umunna also made clear both Labour and the Tories "as they are currently configured" were not parties the Lib Dems could currently work with.