How Conservative leadership candidates plan to solve Brexit

Getty ImagesRecent pictures of the six main contenders to replace Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May when she resigns on June 7
  • Candidates for Conservative Party leader were grilled by journalists on Monday about their plans for the premiership.
  • The off-camera hustings took place inside Parliament, with each candidate fielding questions in turn.
  • Visit Business Insider’s home page for more stories.

LONDON – Conservative leadership candidates on Monday faced a grilling from journalists about their plans to break the Brexit deadlock and the policies they would introduce as prime minister.

Five of the six candidates left in the race to replace Theresa May in Downing Street – Rory Stewart, Dominic Raab, Jeremy Hunt, Michael Gove, and Sajid Javid – agreed to participate in the hustings, which took place in parliament at Westminster, but Boris Johnson was accused of avoiding scrutiny after refusing to participate.

The former foreign secretary – a breakaway favourite to replace Theresa May as prime minister – opted not to make an appearance in parliament to face questions from journalists.

His campaign team say he is busy preparing for the BBC TV debate on Tuesday which he has agreed to participate in, having also refused to appear on a leadership debate on Sunday night hosted by Channel 4.

Read Business Insider’s live blog on the event below.


1. Rory Stewart: ‘We’ve got four other candidates selling unicorns’

GettyRory Stewart MP.

Kicking off is Rory Stewart, who says it is “for the birds” to claim that the next prime minister could get a new Brexit deal from Brussels and says trying to do so would “waste an astonishing amount of time.”

His plan is to try and persuade parliament to support his Brexit deal. The International Development Secretary says have “every reason” to think his plan to get the current Brexit plan approved by parliament will fail “because, of course, Theresa May failed three times.”

He says his “plan B” is to form a Citizens’ Assembly as a “threat to parliament.” It would be formed of a representative section of the population – much like a jury – and offer a number of recommendations to parliament on how to break the Brexit deadlock.

He says he would not allow a Citizens’ Assembly to recommend an undeliverable Brexit deal – a “unicorn that’s never going to get through Brussels.”

“What’s the point of that? We’ve got four other candidates selling unicorns,” he says.

Stewart needs to persuade about 45 MPs to support Theresa May’s Brexit deal in order for it to pass. He reckons about 12 of those would come from Tory colleagues, meaning he would have to reach out to opposition benches to get the deal through, targeting Labour politicians in Leave-voting seats like Lisa Nandy, the MP for Wigan, he said.

He ducked the question of whether he would vote to leave or remain in a second referendum and says it would be a “very difficult decision”.

But he says it would be “catastrophic” if there was another vote. “Second referendum: really bad idea,” he says.


2. Sajid Javid: “the most well-qualified person to put Boris through the paces”

Jack Taylor/Getty ImagesSajid Javid MP

Next up is the Home Secretary Sajid Javid who is pitching himself as the best placed candidate to take on Boris Johnson in the final round of this contest.

“The candidates need to be credible. People don’t want to see an Oxford Union debate. They want to see two candidates who both represent change,” he says, adding that he’s the most “well-qualified person to put Boris through the paces and test him.”

He says the contest between the final two leadership candidates should be a “positive debate that the country wants to see.” “What they don’t want to see is taking chunks of each other. If this turns into some kind of vicious debate it’s Labour that wins.”

On a second referendum he says that he would vote leave again: “We cannot as a country keep having this debate about in or out of the EU again and again and again,” he says.

Asked about Trump’s recent comments about Sadiq Khan and knife crime, the home secretary replies: “President Trump should stick to domestic politics. It is unbecoming for a leader of a great state to keep try interfere in other county’s domestic politics.”

He attacks Rory Stewart for “trying to appel to Labour voters” and says the country deserves better than the final round in the contest to be between two old Etonians.

Asked what he would do if faced with a choice between revoking Article 50 or leaving without a deal, he replies that he would opt for “no deal.”


Jeremy Hunt: “I can be trusted to go to Brussels and get a deal that can get through [parliament].”

Leon Neal/Getty ImagesJeremy Hunt

Next up is the Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt who opens by saying that he is the only candidate who can be trusted to negotiate a deal with the EU that would be able to secure support from a majority in the House of Commons.

“I believe it is possible to renegotiate this deal [with the EU]” he says, “if they have a prime minister who they are willing to negotiate a deal with.”

On the prospect of leaving without a deal, he says that there is a difference between “a hostile no-deal” and a “pragmatic no-deal,” but says ultimately the democratic risks of not leaving the EU are higher than the economic risks of a no-deal Brexit.

On his main rival, Boris Johnson, Hunt dismisses the importance of his charisma: “If we have a general election before Brexit… no amount of campaigning brilliance will avoid total and utter devastation for the Conservative party.”

Asked about Trump tweeting Katie Hopkins’ Londonistan tweet, Hunt replies that the president “has his own style,” but that he agrees with the “sentiment” of Trump’s views on Khan’s handling of knife crime.

Asked whether Boris Johnson is partly to blame for the continued incarceration of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, he replies that “I’m not going to comment on that because everyone makes mistakes.”

Hunt also attacks the Speaker John Bercow: “I profoundly disagree with the way he has used his office to further a particular agenda,” he says, adding that “the Speaker has to be neutral.”


Dominic Raab: “I can be trusted to deliver Brexit”

Next up is Dominic Raab. The arch-Brexiteer – who says he would be willing to suspend parliament in order to force through a no-deal Brexit – resigned as Brexit Secretary last year in protest at Theresa May’s Chequers plan to leave the EU.

Multiple reports citing sources in Brussels, who sat on the opposite side of the negotiating table during his brief stint in Cabinet, have said that Raab was unimpressive and difficult to deal with.

Asked about those reports, Dominic Raab says: “All the people in Brussels briefing against me are doing so “because, in their own words, I said things to them no one else dared to.”

He claims reports that he sought a three-month time limit on the Irish backstop are false.

“It was clearly an attempt by Dublin to discredit my good faith attempt to find a solution,” he says, reflecting an ongoing dispute between himself and Irish premier Leo Varadkar.

Asked by Business Insider’s Adam Payne how a set of failed negotiations as Brexit Secretary qualifies him to become PM, Raab says: “These negotiations broke down because ultimately the prime minister and the Cabinet were not willing to hold the line.”

He says his new Cabinet would not cave to demands from Brussels.


1. Gove: We need people ready to be prime minister ‘from day one’

Leon Neal/Getty Images

Michael Gove, the environment secretary, is up. “I have shown during the course of this weekend increased momentum” in the leadership race, he says.

“We need to make sure that in the final two, that we have people who are ready to be PM from day one,” he says.

“The critical question you need to ask yourselves is ‘do you think that individual could do the job?”

He pitches himself as the man to solve the thorny issue of the Irish backstop: “There is no candidate in this race who understands the politics of Ireland better than I do,” he says.

He says he will “supercharge the work” on alternative arrangements to the backstop, but ultimately is keen to avoid leaving with no deal.

He says he’d extend Article 50 by “days and weeks” if both sides were close to a revised deal, and claims it’ would be “folly to abandon that process and go immediately for no deal.”

On Donald Trump’s tweet attacking London Mayor Sadiq Khan – which quoted far-right UK commentator Katie Hopkins – the environment secretary says: “It is always a mistake to retweet anything that Katie Hopkins tweets.”

Asked how Gove would respond to suggestions he isn’t popular enough nationally to be prime minister, he says he would contest the suggestion.

“I decided to support the Leave campaign, and be its co-chairman, at that time people said it was impossible for Leave to win,” he says.

“But it was me who made the case in the TV studios – and I won.”

He adds that polling by Tory peer Lord Hayward has found that “Jeremy Hunt and I are better equipped to win back voters who have gone to the Lib Dems than some of the other candidates.”

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