Operation Stop Boris: Conservative moderates battle to prevent no-deal Brexit prime minister

  • Seven senior Conservative MPs will launch a bid to stop Boris Johnson becoming prime minister if he endorses a no-deal Brexit.
  • The ‘One Nation Caucus’ of moderate Conservative MPs includes Work & Pensions secretary Amber Rudd, Nicky Morgan, and multiple Cabinet ministers.
  • The group would “work to stop any leadership candidate who endorses a ‘Nigel Farage No-Deal Brexit,” sources told the Mail newspaper.
  • Boris Johnson is understood to be ready to back a no-deal Brexit if the EU does not grant concessions.
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LONDON – Seven Conservative Cabinet ministers will on Monday launch a bid to stop Boris Johnson from becoming the prime minister if he backs a no-deal Brexit as Theresa May’s colleagues begin launching public bids to replace her as leader of the Conservative party.

The 60-strong “One Nation Caucus” of moderate Tory MPs will try to move the party towards the centre-ground and will “work to stop any leadership candidate who endorses a ‘Nigel Farage No-Deal Brexit,'” sources told the Mail newspaper.

The stance has been widely interpreted as a warning to Boris Johnson and other Tory leadership frontrunners who are flirting with the idea of backing a no-deal Brexit.

Theresa May has agreed to step down once parliament has approved her Brexit deal but could be forced out sooner by senior colleagues who have told her she needs to step down as early as June after she holds a fourth vote on her Brexit plan.

The One Nation group, founded by Work & Pensions secretary Amber Rudd and former education secretary Nicky Morgan, counts at least six other Cabinet ministers as members: David Gauke, Greg Clark, Rory Stewart, David Mundell, Claire Perry, and Caroline Nokes.

The moderates are particularly concerned that a future leader will be tempted to form an electoral pact with Nigel Farage’s upstart Brexit Party, which is picking up support from disillusioned Tory voters, and would likely involve the Conservative leadership endorsing a plan to leave the EU with no deal.

Johnson, who is not understood to favour an electoral pact with the Brexit Party, is one of several leadership frontrunners who would consider backing no deal if the EU did not grant the UK new concessions over the Irish backstop. Dominic Raab and Andrea Leadsom would also be likely to back a no-deal strategy, which is overwhelmingly backed by Tory members who will select the next leader.

Rory Stewart, who was recently appointed Northern Ireland secretary, echoed the views of many moderate Tory MPs on Sunday when he said he would find it “very difficult” to stay in the Conservative party if its new leader endorsed leaving the EU without a deal, and said implementing such an outcome could ultimately lead to a Labour government.

He told the BBC’s Andrew Marr show: “If you go down the path of no-deal Brexit, you’re going to lose 4 million Remain voters who voted for the Conservatives last time so you won’t win an election, and no-deal Brexit is a vote for Jeremy Corbyn.”

Boris Johnson is the clear favourite to take over from Theresa May because he is the top choice among Conservative Party members, who have the final say in electing a Tory leader from a shortlist of two. He is preferred by 39% of Tory members, with former Brexit minister Dominic Raab trailing on 13%, according to a YouGov poll conducted last week.

But Johnson – who has alienated many moderate colleagues with his stance on Brexit and other issues – faces a battle to be selected to the final shortlist, which is selected by Tory MPs.

Meanwhile other prospective leaders have started to launch their public bids to become the next leader of the Conservative party. A hustings hosted by the Telegraph newspaper on Monday evening will feature a debate between several leadership frontrunners including Liz Truss and Dominic Raab, while former Work & Pensions secretary Ester McVey will speak at a launch outlining her vision of “blue collar Conservatism.”

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