- Dominic Raab is emerging as a frontrunner to replace Theresa May as Conservative leader and prime minister.
- He is very popular with the party’s pro-Brexit wing and has already got “around forty” MPs on board with his planned leadership bid, Conservative sources tell Business Insider.
- However, moderates in the party say he would be a divisive choice who would lose the party centre ground voters.
- “He’d be a silly choice for them. Great for us,” a senior Labour source told BI.
LONDON – Former Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab is leading the race to succeed Theresa May as Conservative leader and prime minister with dozens of Conservative MPs already privately backing him for PM.
The prime minister announced this week that she will stand down once Britain has left the EU.
Raab, who resigned from May’s Cabinet last year in protest at her withdrawal deal with the EU, secured an early win for his as-yet unofficial campaign for leader on Thursday after he refused to budge on his opposition to May’s Brexit deal in stark contrast to his leading rival Boris Johnson.
Resisting growing pressure to back the deal or risk losing Brexit altogether, Raab instead called on the government to “go back to the EU” and re-negotiate the Withdrawal Agreement.
His reluctance to back the deal is widely among fellow Tories as part of his leadership pitch to the Conservatives’ strongly pro-Brexit membership which will ultimately choose between the final two candidates to be the next party leader.
A Cabinet source told Business Insider that Raab is currently “best-placed” to succeed May, with both the party membership and Members of Parliament likely to favour someone who has opposed the prime minister’s deal throughout the process.
When Parliament took part in “indicative votes” on Brexit this week, the only propositions to gain majority support among Conservative MPs were on motions to leave the EU without a deal.
Another senior party source said that Raab has already got the support “around forty” Tory MPs, including chief Leaver Suella Braverman, who quit as Brexit minister the same day that Raab resigned as Brexit Secretary.
Raab earlier this month gave a speech entitled “Unleashing the Great British Underdog,” which was widely interpreted as the former minister laying out his vision of what a government under his leadership would seek to do.
Asked by BI whether he wanted to be prime minister, Raab replied: “never say never.”
A divisive choice
Raab would be a divisive choice for next Conservative leader, however.
Elected as an MP in 2010, the self-described libertarian is a big hit with the European Research Group of pro-Brexit Conservative MPs and has the advantage of not being part of the Conservative party’s tainted old guard.
However, many of the party’s moderate MPs believe he is too far to the right, with one party official telling BI that is he is “so right-leaning” and would represent “the complete end of [David] Cameron modernisation.”
They believe that he would alienate moderate voters who flocked to the party under the more socially-liberally leadership of Cameron and ex-Chancellor George Osborne.
“We’d never win back the seats we need for a majority like Battersea and Twickenham,” the same official said.
“We’d lose Richmond Park in seconds. We’d never win back Canterbury with him in charge. The party would be totally lost and end up in opposition.”
This week a clip of LBC’s James O’Brien revisiting claims Raab has made about his more right-wing beliefs went viral.
They included Raab stating: “I don’t support the Human Rights Act and I don’t support economic and social rights.”
This is why although Labour MPs are uncomfortable about a “hard” Brexiteer Conservative MP like Raab leading the country, the party’s leadership believes he’d be very beatable in a general election.
“He’d be a silly choice for them. Great for us,” a senior Labour source told BI.
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