Thursday 22 August 2019

'Of course I want to be Tory leader' - Johnson leads field

Boris Johnson. Photo: BIBA 2019 CONFERENCE/Handout via REUTERS
Boris Johnson. Photo: BIBA 2019 CONFERENCE/Handout via REUTERS

Donna Gray in London

Brexit frontman Boris Johnson has said that "of course" he will run for the Conservative leadership when a vacancy becomes available.

The former foreign secretary was speaking at an insurance conference in Manchester.

Asked by BBC broadcaster Huw Edwards in an on-stage interview whether he would stand if a vacancy was available, Mr Johnson replied: "Of course I'm going to go for it."

The former London mayor was quoted as acknowledging there was no current vacancy with Prime Minister Theresa May still resident at 10 Downing Street.

Several senior Conservatives are expected to enter the contest for the leadership, with the winner also becoming prime minister.

Meanwhile, Mrs May has held talks with senior Tory MPs who are demanding she sets a date for her departure.

Mr Johnson resigned from the cabinet in July in protest at Mrs May's handling of Brexit negotiations.

A major player in the 2016 campaign, Mr Johnson set out his pitch to the membership in a speech at the party's annual conference in October - some members queued for hours to get a seat.

Changes: Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay is reviewing the Withdrawal Bill. Photo: PA
Changes: Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay is reviewing the Withdrawal Bill. Photo: PA

He called on the party to return to its traditional values of low tax, strong policing and not to follow the policies of the left-wing Labour Party.

Betting odds indicate he is the leading candidate to replace Mrs May and has a 28pc chance of being the next prime minister.

Earlier Mrs May had met the executive of the powerful backbench 1922 Committee for around an hour-and-a-half in her room in the House of Commons.

Following the meeting, which lasted longer than expected, members of the 18-strong executive were set to have further private talks to consider their next steps.

Ahead of the talks, committee treasurer Geoffrey Clifton-Brown said: "It would be infinitely preferable if she set a date rather than us force her out.

"It's better she does it than we have a vote of confidence.

"What I would like to see is her set out a timetable to trigger a leadership contest."

Members of the executive are now expected to discuss whether to change the rules for the Tory leadership contest to enable an early challenge.

At present, Mrs May cannot be challenged again as leader until December.

Labour has said it will oppose key Brexit legislation if Mrs May's deal remains unchanged, according to the shadow Brexit secretary.

Keir Starmer said his party opposes passing the Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB) without an agreed deal, adding the lack of a cross-party consensus would put the "cart before the horse".

He said Labour would vote against the WAB on second reading and questioned if Mrs May's plan to put the legislation before MPs in the week beginning June 3 was a tactic to hold on to power amid Tory moves to boot her out.

Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay argued the Government has been looking at whether changes can be made to the WAB to ensure it commands a "wider body of support".

Irish Independent

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