Saturday 17 August 2019

Probe on after MP is labelled 'a disgrace' in Tory vote spat

Leading the field: Former UK foreign secretary Boris Johnson in London.
Leading the field: Former UK foreign secretary Boris Johnson in London.

David Hughes and Jennifer McKiernan

Tory infighting has continued following the dramatic leadership votes which saw Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt make it through to the final stage of the contest to be the next British prime minister.

Despite denials by Mr Johnson's campaign, there has been widespread speculation that his supporters worked to prevent his arch-rival Michael Gove making it on to the final ballot by backing Mr Hunt in the final round.

In a further sign of the acrimony within the Tory ranks, an investigation has been launched by chief whip Julian Smith after one MP called a colleague a "disgrace" who should quit the party.

Antoinette Sandbach, who backed Rory Stewart for the leadership, published abusive messages she said were sent by a male colleague, apparently over her continuing opposition to a no-deal Brexit.

A screenshot of two messages read: "You too are a disgrace. Time you left the party I think."

In a subsequently deleted tweet, Ms Sandbach said: "Barely is the ink dry on the results and the dark ops begin.

"This is from a male Conservative MP to me as I sat on the train home #completew**kspangle."

She added: "It's bad enough when you get it from complete strangers. Is it any wonder three female MPs left (the party)."

Mr Smith said the unnamed male MP's comments were "totally unacceptable" and promised an investigation and a meeting on Monday.

Ms Sandbach linked the abusive message to the underhand tactics she said were used during the Tory leadership campaign.

"All the dark ops we have been hearing about don't cast a good light on politicians and they don't cast a good light on politics," she told BBC Radio 4's 'Today' programme.

"You can say it's long been a feature of politics but I think we need to move on from that."

But Johnny Mercer, a supporter of Mr Johnson, denied there were "dark ops" during the Tory leadership campaign.

He told 'Today': "I'm pretty close to Mr Johnson and the operation and the campaign, and I just haven't seen it - I haven't seen it going on, I'm not convinced it's possible."

Admitting some MPs may have "voted for different people at different times", he added: "I don't think there's some sort of underhand operation."

Another supporter of Mr Johnson, Simon Clarke, has suggested some MPs may have "freelanced" outside the official campaign.

In the final ballot of MPs, former foreign secretary Mr Johnson secured support from more than half the Tory Party in the Commons with 160 votes, while Mr Hunt had 77 votes - just two ahead of Mr Gove on 75.

Meanwhile, Bank of England governor Mark Carney rejected recent claims by Mr Johnson that a world trade rule known as Gatt 24 would allow existing tariff arrangements to apply until a new free trade deal is negotiated with Brussels, in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

Mr Carney told the BBC: "Gatt applies if you have an agreement, not if you have decided not to have an agreement or have been unable to come to an agreement."

Irish Independent

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