Sunday 16 June 2019

Conservatives descend into open warfare on next leader

Defiant stance: Chancellor Philip Hammond warned Dominic Raab on no-deal Brexit. Photo: Jeff Overs/BBC/BBC/PA Wire
Defiant stance: Chancellor Philip Hammond warned Dominic Raab on no-deal Brexit. Photo: Jeff Overs/BBC/BBC/PA Wire

Rob Merrick

The race to be Britain's next prime minister has descended into open warfare after a Cabinet minister threatened to join fellow Tories in toppling any leader pursuing a no-deal Brexit.

Chancellor Philip Hammond's extraordinary threat came after arch-Brexiteer and leadership candidate Dominic Raab predicted MPs would fail to stop him taking the UK out of the EU without a deal if he won the contest.

Rival candidate Rory Stewart - who also hinted at joining a no-confidence vote against his own government to block no deal - warned Brexiteers it would ruin Britain's "400-year reputation" for economic competence.

The clashes overshadowed Michael Gove's entry into the race as potentially the biggest threat to Boris Johnson's march to power, in a repeat of the bitter 2016 battle that derailed his last campaign.

"I believe I'm ready to unite the Conservative and Unionist Party, ready to deliver Brexit, and ready to lead this great country," the environment secretary said. Mr Gove will face intense questions about his stance on the contest's key controversy - whether the winner is ready to crash out of the EU in October, even if that means defying the will of the Commons.

Mr Raab sought to outflank Mr Johnson by arguing MPs would fail to repeat their success, under Theresa May, in passing a law to force a request to extend the Article 50 deadline. "It's very difficult for parliament now to legislate against a no deal, or in favour of a further extension, unless a resolute prime minister is willing to acquiesce in that - and I would not," he insisted.

Shami Chakrabarti, Labour's shadow attorney general, described the comments as "terrifying".

Mr Hammond then refused - three times - to rule out joining the no-confidence vote that Labour has vowed to table if a hardline Brexiteer reaches No 10. The chancellor said any new leader trying to "push through a no-deal exit on 31 October" would immediately face the prospect of having to "leave office". He described support for a no-confidence motion as "hypothetical", but added: "I don't want to start now having to contemplate such a course of action."

Pressed again, on the BBC's 'Andrew Marr Show', Mr Hammond said: "It would challenge not just me, but many of our colleagues, and I hope we never get to that position."

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt leads led an early list for the number of backers among Tory MPs with 28, ahead of Mr Gove (23), Mr Johnson (22) and Mr Raab (19). Other declared candidates include Andrea Leadsom, the former Commons leader.

Independent News Service

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