Race to be PM enters last stretch with final hustings

Conservative Party leadership candidate Boris Johnson Credit: Joe Giddens/PA

The race to be Tory leader and next Prime Minister enters its last stretch as Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt prepare to take part in the final hustings of the campaign.

The move comes as Brexit continued to dominate the battle for Downing Street.

As both candidates prepared to stake their case publicly again, Cabinet member Amber Rudd insisted either man would have to compromise on EU withdrawal if they get the keys to Number 10.

And Prime Minister Theresa May was set to use a speech on Wednesday to stake out her legacy as premier and give her overview on the state of national politics.

Work and Pensions Secretary Ms Rudd, who backs Mr Hunt in the election, said she was “surprised” by the hardline stance taken by the Foreign Secretary and Mr Johnson on EU withdrawal in Monday’s leadership debate.

Ms Rudd told the Politico website: “I think they will find they have to compromise.

“I was surprised by what they both said and I think their views will collide with the reality when whichever one wins, starts negotiating and starts dealing with a Parliament which may be more difficult than they think to engage with.”

Ms Rudd, who said she had been persuaded by Mr Hunt that a no-deal option should be in the Government’s “armoury” ahead of the October 31 Brexit deadline, said: “There are lots of unknowns to get through before we get to the end of October.”

The comments came as The Times reported Mr Johnson wants to trigger a general election “while Jeremy Corbyn is still around”.

The newspaper said Mr Johnson’s team plan to overhaul the Tory election machine if the ex-foreign secretary takes the keys to Number 10.

The reports came after Mr Johnson’s campaign aides moved to play down claims that they are considering plans to prorogue Parliament in late October – a move which could prevent MPs stopping a no-deal Brexit.

Parliament would be unlikely to sit for a week or two ahead of the speech, which could hamper MPs’ chances of blocking a no-deal Brexit if a deal had not been passed by that point.

A source close to the campaign told PA the team was “discussing everything as an option”, but Mr Johnson wanted to secure a deal with Brussels and avoid a no-deal exit.

Asked if he was prepared to bring down the Government to avoid a no-deal Brexit, Tory MP Simon Hoare, chairman of the Commons Northern Ireland Committee, told the BBC: “I hope it doesn’t come to that.

“I have always made very clear that when push comes to shove, I will  take an interest in what is best for my constituents of North Dorset, and leaving without a deal… on WTO terms will be disastrous for UK agriculture.

“And that is something I am not prepared to stand idly by, twiddling my thumbs and watch happen.”

Credit: PA Graphics

As the Tory leadership race headed to its climax, the new president of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen insisted that Brexit could be delayed beyond the end of October if there was a good reason for postponement.

Meanwhile, Change UK MP Anna Soubry, who quit the Tories over Brexit, was scathing about Mr Johnson, telling ITV News: “He couldn’t even be trusted to clean the loos.”

The new Tory leader, and Prime Minister, will be announced next Tuesday.