Conservative rivals round on Raab's 'disturbing' plan as Boris fails to show
Rival Tory leadership contenders last night turned on Dominic Raab after he refused to rule out suspending the UK parliament to push through Brexit by the end of October.
In the first televised debate of the campaign, the five candidates taking part all agreed the next prime minister had to take Britain out of the EU.
But there were sharp differences as to how that could be achieved.
Channel 4, which staged the debate, put an empty podium for frontrunner Boris Johnson who refused to take part.
He was taunted about his absence by Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt who said it raised questions about his ability to do the job of prime minister.
"Where is Boris? If his team won't allow him out with five fairly friendly colleagues, how is he going to deal with 27 European countries?" he said.
But the sharpest early exchanges were dominated by Mr Raab's insistence the option of proroguing parliament should remain on the table.
"I don't think it is likely but it is not illegal," he said.
"The moment that we telegraph to the EU we are not willing to walk away at the end of October we take away our best shot of a deal."
International Development Secretary Rory Stewart said shutting down parliament was "undemocratic" and "disturbing" and would not work.
"Parliament is not a building. Parliament is our democratic representatives and they will meet regardless of what the prime minister wants," he said to applause from the audience.
Mr Hunt felt it was the "wrong thing to do". Home Secretary Sajid Javid said: "You don't deliver democracy by trashing democracy.
"We are not selecting a dictator."
Mr Raab warned parliament could not stop a determined prime minister, saying: "It is near impossible to stop a government that is serious."
That drew a sharp retort from Environment Secretary Michael Gove who told him: "I will defend our democracy.
"You cannot take Britain out of the EU against the will of parliament."
All of the candidates, except for Mr Stewart, said they would be prepared to leave the EU without a deal.
The International Development Secretary said it was not a credible threat because the EU was aware of the damage it would do the UK.
"We are not going to get a different deal from Europe," he said. "A no-deal Brexit is a complete nonsense. It is going to deeply damage our economy."
Mr Javid said it was a "complete nonsense" to take away the threat of no deal but he acknowledged not enough had been done to prepare for it.
"The number one mistake that was made was not planning for no deal. I have never walked into a room without the ability to walk away without signing."
Mr Hunt said the next prime minister had to be prepared to sit down and negotiate with Brussels to get a better deal than that negotiated by Theresa May.
"It is fundamentally pessimistic to say we cannot do that," he said.
Mr Gove said he had the experience to renegotiate the controversial backstop, which proved the key stumbling block to getting Mrs May's deal through parliament.
"I would ensure we have a full stop to the backstop," he said.
Mr Raab, who quit as Brexit secretary over Mrs May's agreement, said that as a committed Brexiteer he could be relied on to deliver Brexit.