London: The contest to succeed Theresa May as UK prime minister has quickly shifted into high gear as rival candidates battle over the rights and wrongs of forcing through a no-deal Brexit.
Dominic Raab, who quit as Brexit secretary over May’s divorce deal with the European Union, outraged moderate Conservatives by threatening to sideline Parliament and take Britain out of the EU without a deal against the wishes of MPs if necessary to deliver Brexit by the October 31 deadline.
Michael Gove, eurosceptic and cabinet minister, said he’d always choose no deal over no Brexit but would be open to another short delay if an accord was in reach.
They were two of four Tories taking part in a second day of behind closed door hustings in Parliament on Wednesday as the party seeks a replacement to May, who will stand down Friday over her failure to deliver Brexit.
Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt and Health Secretary Matt Hancock also addressed the “One Nation” caucus of Conservatives, who want the party to focus on unifying issues of social policy, rather then Brexit.
Raab said he might suspend Parliament in order to force through a no-deal Brexit, going beyond any of his rivals. Hunt said he didn’t think it would work though wouldn’t rule it out. At a similar event Tuesday, Andrea Leadsom, who last month resigned from the cabinet over May’s Brexit strategy, said she’d previously considered prorogation but decided against it, according to former minister Nicky Morgan, who attended both hustings.
Leaving the EU without a deal would be virtually impossible in the current parliamentary session, because MPs have voted against it. However, prorogation would end the session, blocking MPs from stopping a no-deal exit before October 31.
Raab’s comment was met with silence, according to Amber Rudd, the Work and Pensions Secretary who organised the hustings.
“It’s outrageous to consider proroguing Parliament,” she said afterward.
While all four candidates Wednesday ruled out bringing Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage into their negotiating team, Raab said he would consider working with him, according to Morgan. Farage wants a hard Brexit as soon as possible.
Nominations for the new leader open and close June 10, after May has stepped down. Candidates need eight members of Parliament, and then lawmakers vote in a series of secret ballots until just two remain. The final pair then take part in hustings around the country from June 22 and the Conservative Party’s estimated 160,000 members mail in their votes with the process due to wrap up in the week of July 22.
Gove, the evening’s first speaker, said he’d allow another short Brexit extension in order to get a deal over the line, Morgan said. Those comments are likely to anger Brexit campaigners who oppose another delay. The UK was originally due to leave the EU on March 29, but May’s failure to get her Brexit deal through Parliament led to a six-month delay.
When it comes to getting a deal through, Gove wants to renegotiate the controversial backstop arrangement in the Withdrawal Agreement, which prevents a hard borer between Northern Ireland and the Republic in the event of a no-deal Brexit. Gove says he wants “a full stop” to the backstop, George Eustice, another MP who supports Gove, said. As prime minister, Gove would pursue a Canada-style trade deal, Eustice said.
‘Theresa in trousers’
Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt wouldn’t discuss an extension to the October 31 deadline at this stage, according to Richard Graham, a supporter who was in the meeting of Tory MPs.
Instead, he’s pitching himself as the best man for the job because he’s already effectively at the table. Hunt told lawmakers he had spoken to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte about his Brexit ideas, though wouldn’t reveal the contents of the discussions, according to Graham.
But Hunt was keen to stress he isn’t just “Theresa in trousers,” Morgan said. He said the last time the UK prorogued Parliament for a long time — in the 17th century — the country ended up in civil war, Morgan said.