Dominic Raab refuses to rule out suspending Parliament to push through no deal

  • Video report by ITV News Political Correspondent Paul Brand

Dominic Raab has refused to rule out suspending Parliament to push through a no-deal Brexit, as the Tory leadership hopefuls went head-to-head in the first televised debate of the campaign.

Five of the six MPs hoping to become the next Tory leader took part in the Channel 4 debate, presented by Krishnan Guru-Murthy.

The candidates who took part in Channel 4's debate were Jeremy Hunt, Michael Gove, Dominic Raab, Sajid Javid and Rory Stewart.

The sharpest exchange came when Mr Raab said it was not "illegal" to prorogue Parliament to push through a no deal Brexit.

Dominic Raab refused to rule out suspending Parliament to push through a no deal. Credit: PA

He said: "Every time you rule out suspending parliament, you weaken the UK’s negotiating stance."

His fellow candidates turned on him after the suggestion, as International Development Secretary Rory Stewart said doing so would be "undemocratic" and "strike at the heart of our constitution".

"Parliament is not a building. Parliament is our democratic representatives and they will meet regardless of what the prime minister wants," he said to applause from the studio audience.

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said shutting Parliament would be a "profound mistake" and "wrong".

Michael Gove believes he can get Brussels to change the deal on the table. Credit: PA

Home Secretary Sajid Javid also ruled it out: "You don’t deliver democracy by trashing democracy.

"We are not selecting a dictator of our democracy. We are selecting a prime minister of our democracy."

Mr Raab warned that Parliament could not stop a determined prime minister, but this drew a sharp retort from Environmental Secretary Michael Gove who told him: "You cannot take Britain out of the EU against the will of Parliament."

Mr Gove believes he can get the European Union to change their approach to Brexit.

Five out of the six MPs standing to become the next Tory leader took part in the race. Credit: PA

All candidates, except Mr Stewart would be prepared to leave the EU without a deal.

He said Brussels did not see it as a credible threat because the EU was aware of the damage it would do the UK.

"We are not going to get a different deal from Europe," he said.

Mr Javid said it was a "complete nonsense" to take away the threat of no deal although he acknowledged not enough had been done to prepare for it.

"The number one mistake that was made was not planning for no deal. I have never walked into a room without the ability to walk away without signing."

Rory Stewart arrives ahead of the live television debate. Credit: PA

Mr Hunt said the next prime minister had to be prepared to sit down and negotiate with Brussels to get a better deal than that negotiated by Theresa May.

"It is fundamentally pessimistic to say we cannot do that," he said.

Current frontrunner Boris Johnson did not participate in the debate and has avoided taking part in media interviews as he leads the pack following the first ballot on Thursday.

He was 'empty-podiumed' by Channel 4 and a lectern was left available "if he changes his mind", the broadcaster said.

Jeremy Hunt and Sajid Javid believe no deal should remain on the table. Credit: PA

Mr Johnson was taunted about his absence by Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt who said it raised questions about his ability to take on the job of prime minister.

"Where is Boris? If his team won't allow him out with five fairly friendly colleagues, how is is he going to deal with 27 European countries?" he said.

A Channel 4 statement said: “We are disappointed that Mr Johnson will not be taking part in the debate to face members of the public for full scrutiny alongside the other candidates.

"There will be a lectern available if he changes his mind.”

The televised debate was the first to be held in the contest. Credit: PA

Mr Johnson received 114 votes from MPs in the first ballot of the race, Jeremy Hunt came second with 43 votes and Michael Gove was third, with 37 votes.

Esther McVey, Mark Harper and Andrea Leadsom were eliminated from the first ballot, and Matt Hancock, who received 20 votes, dropped out of the race.

Further ballots will take place next week until just two candidates remain on the ballot paper and members of the Conservative Party will choose who they want as the next Tory leader.