Three more eurosceptics declared their bids to succeed Prime Minister Theresa May as leader of the ruling Conservatives yesterday, amid reports that moderates are campaigning to stop the favourite, former foreign secretary Boris Johnson.
“I believe I can offer the decisive and compassionate leadership our country needs,” tweeted Andrea Leadsom, who resigned as May’s leader in parliament on Wednesday to protest her Brexit plans, two days before May herself agreed to step down.
Leadsom and Johnson were among the candidates who lost out to May in the last Conservative leadership election in 2016, shortly after David Cameron fell on his sword when voters failed to back his Remain campaign in the Brexit referendum.
Brexit is again expected to be the biggest issue in this year’s leadership contest, which will formally begin on June 10. Another candidate from 2016, Environment Secretary Michael Gove, joined the race yesterday.
Gove told reporters he was “ready to unite the... party, ready to deliver Brexit, and ready to lead this great country. Johnson ended his 2016 bid after Gove, a friend and former ally, attacked his leadership credentials.
Moderate Conservatives are again running a “stop Boris” campaign, according to the media.
Johnson faced “a fusillade of attacks from his leadership rivals as the race to succeed May exploded in acrimony,” the Sunday Times reported.
“The only way forward on Brexit is compromise,” Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond told the BBC’s Andrew Marr show. Hammond said that if a new prime minister were to push for a no-deal Brexit, it would put pro-EU Conservative lawmakers like him in a “difficult situation.”
“I think going to parliament with a hardline, absolutist view (of Brexit) and daring parliament to accept it, is quite a dangerous strategy,” he said.
He suggested that a confrontation with parliament, where a majority opposes a no-deal Brexit, would leave a new leader unable to govern.
One of Johnson’s rivals for the support of Conservative eurosceptics, former Brexit secretary Dominic Raab, promoted his “plan for change, and a fairer Britain,” in the Mail on Sunday.
Raab wrote that Britain must show “unflinching resolve to leave” the EU, with or without a withdrawal agreement.
Another contender, Esther McVey, advocated a “clean break” Brexit in which Britain would leave the EU without a deal and continue economic links under the default position of World Trade Organisation rules.
Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, the leading centre-ground candidate, tweeted yesterday that he is standing as a former entrepreneur “to unleash growth and make our economy competitive post Brexit.”
International Development Secretary Rory Stewart, another centre-ground candidate, vowed on Saturday not to serve under Johnson and to oppose any attempted no-deal Brexit.
Reflecting the party’s divisions, former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith, a pro-Brexit lawmaker, told London radio station LBC that Stewart was “stupid” for ruling out serving under Johnson.