Boris Johnson sparked immediate controversy with a pledge to deliver Brexit October 31 even if he can’t renegotiate Mrs May’s deal
- His comments risk alienating pro-Remain Tories
- At least four ministers are expected to announce over the weekend
Boris Johnson, the Tory leadership frontrunner, electrified the battle to replace Theresa May by declaring that he is ready to lead Britain out of the European Union without a deal in October.
The stampede for Downing Street was underway within hours of Mrs May’s emotional statement confirming that she would make way for a successor in July.
The Labour leader Mr Corbyn, however, called for a general election to be called in the wake of Mrs May’s departure: “The last thing the country needs is weeks of more Conservative infighting followed by yet another unelected prime minister.
Jeremy Hunt, the Foreign Secretary, and the senior Tory MP Sir Graham Brady, brought the field of declared candidates to five as they announced they were standing.
Cabinet ministers Sajid Javid, Matt Hancock and Michael Gove, as well as former minister Dominic Raab, are also expected to announce bids for the top job over the weekend.
‘We will leave’
Mr Johnson immediately sparked controversy as he pledged to deliver Brexit by the current EU deadline of the end of October – even if it proved impossible to renegotiate Mrs May’s controversial agreement.
“We will leave the EU on October 31, deal or no deal,” the former Foreign Secretary told an economics conference in Switzerland. He said: “The way to get a good deal is to prepare for a no deal.”
His comments risk alienating pro-Remain Tories who argue that a no-deal Brexit should be ruled out by the next Prime Minister.
The defence minister, Tobias Ellwood, accused him of “playing purely to our base with eye-catching commitments”.
Mrs May confirmed she was stepping down following the hostile reception to her final attempt to achieve a Commons majority for her Brexit blueprint by offering MPs a vote on a second referendum.
Her voice cracking and fighting back tears, she said she would step down as Tory leader on 7 June and leave Downing Street in late July once her replacement had been elected.
“I will shortly leave the job that it has been the honour of my life to hold – the second female prime minister but certainly not the last,” she added.
“I do so with no ill-will, but with enormous and enduring gratitude to have had the opportunity to serve the country I love.”
Contenders joining the race
Watched by her husband Philip and Downing Street staff, she appeared to warn against the election of a hard Brexiteer by urging the next Prime Minister to seek common ground across the Commons.
“Such a consensus can only be reached if those on all sides of the debate are willing to compromise,” she said.
Sources confirmed that Mr Hunt, one of the ministers who had attacked the suggestion of MPs having a vote on a second referendum, would run for the leadership.
He told his local paper, the Farnham Herald: “I’ll make the announcement on my own candidacy at the appropriate time.”
Sir Graham stood down a chairman of the 1922 Committee of Tory MPs, which has played a central role in deposing Mrs May, to launch his bid.
“I have been approached by a number of colleagues across the party both inside and outside Parliament asking me to put myself forward as a candidate,” he said.
Rory Stewart, the International Development Secretary, and Esther McVey, the former minister, have already thrown their hats in the ring.
Other potential candidates include Andrea Leadsom, who resigned from the Cabinet this week, Penny Mordaunt, the Defence Secretary, and Liz Truss, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury.