Voters should have the final say on whether the UK leaves the EU or chooses to stay, says Sir Vince Cable.
Speaking exclusively to the Sunderland Echo, the Liberal Democrat leader outlined the party's view on a whistle-stop tour of Sunderland University today.
It was looking increasingly like the UK may be unable to reach a deal before it leaves in 2019, he said: "It will be particularly economically damaging if the Government is not able to reach a satisfactory Brexit deal and it looks as of there are very high risks of that happening.
"Why else would you spend £600million of taxpayers' money on measures that would not be necessary if you did not fear crashing out?
"But crashing out would be absolutely devastating."
The consequences of leaving with 'No deal' could be particularly bad for the North East, said Sir Vince.
"It would be very serious for your supply chain industries like Nissan and Hitachi and companies like that, which have bits and pieces flowing across national boundaries, currently without any obstacle.
"European markets are very important and the Customs Union and the Single Market are absolutely fundamental to a lot of companies here. We depart from that at our peril."
Voters should have the final say on any deal - or lack of deal: "What we are saying is that it when we know what is going to happen, when we know the terms of the deal, or no deal, the public should be given the final say.
"Are you happy with this, do you want to push on with it or want to exit from Brexit?"
Sunderland had voted to leave the EU and the party respected that view: "We don't want to contradict their judgement but we want to give them a choice as to whether they are happy," said Sir Vince.
The Government had given Nissan reassurances about the future, but refused to reveal what it had said.
"It has all been keep secret, which means you worry about how real it is. The problem with that is, what about all the other companies in the UK?
"You can't just solve the problem by aiming at one company, important though it is."
During his visit Sir Vince toured the university's new medical teaching facilities and the Hope Street Xchange business centre.
He was full of praise for the latest development: "This university is a fantastic institution- it a bit of a hidden gem," he said.
"It is not nationally famous but superb work is being done here.
"They are bidding to be a fully recognised medical facility and the joint facility for local businesses is showing how universities can really make a difference.
"And the vice-chancellor was telling me this is the top university in the country for participation, for people from disadvantaged backgrounds entering higher education."
The Government failed to appreciate the importance of overseas students to institutions such as Sunderland, said Sir Vince.
"The Prime Minister's hostility to foreign students is well-known," he said.
" I spent five years fighting it in Government. It is not helpful to universities like this.
"These students make a big contribution financially and help to boost the offer for local students ."
Sir Vince was joined by Sunderland City Lib Dem Councillors Niall Hodson and Stephen O'Brien on his visit.
The party was working to rebuild itself in the region, he said.
"We did have a poor result in the North East, but we have got a base here," he said.
"We have a very strong group on Newcastle council. - they ran the city very well for a long time. - and we have got a group of young people in Sunderland now.
"This is a Laboiu area but when people get fed up with Labour, as they will, they will have another party to turn to."