Brexit dominates agendas as race for No. 10 kicks off

British Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt after delivering his speech at the launch of his campaign to be the next Conservative Party leader, in London yesterday. Mrs Theresa May stepped down as leader of the party last Friday, and nominations to replace
British Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt after delivering his speech at the launch of his campaign to be the next Conservative Party leader, in London yesterday. Mrs Theresa May stepped down as leader of the party last Friday, and nominations to replace her were submitted yesterday.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG
Britain's Work and Pensions Minister Amber Rudd (left) and Defence Minister Penny Mordaunt at the launch of Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt's campaign to become the leader of the Conservative Party, in London yesterday.
Britain's Work and Pensions Minister Amber Rudd (left) and Defence Minister Penny Mordaunt at the launch of Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt's campaign to become the leader of the Conservative Party, in London yesterday.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Leading Brexiter Johnson vows tax cuts in bid to replace May

LONDON • Leading Brexit advocate Boris Johnson promised tax cuts for higher earners if he becomes Britain's next prime minister as the contest to replace Mrs Theresa May - and take charge of the divorce from the EU - officially kicked off.

Mrs May stepped down as leader of the ruling Conservative Party last Friday, having failed three times to win Parliament's support for her Brexit deal that was supposed to address Britain's biggest political crisis in a generation.

Nominations to replace her were submitted yesterday, and each of the 11 declared candidates must secure at least eight backers from the Conservatives' 300-plus elected lawmakers. A number of the contenders look set to fall short, and voting later this week will whittle the field down further.

Several candidates made their pitches at various campaign launches yesterday. While all were keen to set out a domestic agenda, it was Brexit that dominated.

Nearly all promised that they could solve the Brexit conundrum - which eluded Mrs May in three years of EU talks - in just three months, between the new leader being chosen at the end of next month and the current exit date of Oct 31.

"Without Brexit, there will be no Conservative government and maybe no Conservative Party," Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt said at his campaign launch.

"From my conversations with European leaders, it is clear to me there is a deal to be done; they want us to come up with proposals."

Mr Dominic Raab, who quit as Brexit minister over Mrs May's divorce deal, said he too could get a new agreement but promised that the United Kingdom would leave the EU on Oct 31 no matter what, even if that meant reverting to basic World Trade Organisation trade terms. "I'm the Brexiter that you can rely on," he said.

At his launch, Health Minister Matt Hancock, who has ruled out a no-deal departure, said: "We don't need a 'leaver', we don't need a 'remainer', we need a leader for the future."

The differences between the candidates reflect the Conservative Party's disunity on the issue, which has meant that, three years after Britain voted by 52 per cent to 48 per cent to quit the EU, it remains unclear how, when or even whether it will leave.

 
 
 
 

The uncertainty has hit the British economy, which shrank by 0.4 per cent in April, official figures showed yesterday - a bigger drop than any economist had forecast in a Reuters poll last week.

Former foreign minister Johnson is the bookmakers' clear favourite to succeed Mrs May and, according to polls, the most popular with the 160,000 party members who will ultimately make the choice.

He did not launch his campaign with a high-profile appearance but instead outlined his plans in a newspaper column and interview.

However, his pledge to raise the point at which workers begin paying a 40 per cent income tax to £80,000 (S$139,000) from £50,000 still attracted much media attention, and prompted his rivals to say they would rather focus on helping the lower-paid. Mr Johnson's proposed move would cost £9.6 billion a year.

Mr Johnson, who has also suggested that London could withhold an agreed £39 billion Brexit payment, is one of a number of candidates who have promised to take Britain out of the EU with or without a deal on Oct 31.

The flamboyant former mayor of London has often been accused of focusing on style over substance and failing to grasp details, something to which his rivals alluded.

"We won't get a good deal with bluff and bluster," said Mr Raab, one of the most hardline advocates of Brexit.

Mr Hunt, seen as another front runner in the race for No. 10 Downing Street, said "a serious moment calls for a serious leader". His campaign received a significant boost when Work and Pensions Minister Amber Rudd and Defence Minister Penny Mordaunt gave him their backing.

And Environment Minister Michael Gove, who had also been seen as a front runner, was hoping to get his campaign back on track after admitting taking cocaine when he was a young journalist. Mr Gove apologised but critics accused him of hypocrisy, noting that, in a previous role as education minister, he had signed off on rules banning teachers for life for taking cocaine.

While the leadership battle unfolds, Mrs May remains Prime Minister. Her replacement is due to be in place by the end of next month.

REUTERS


WHERE THEY STAND ON BREXIT

LONDON • Here are the various hopefuls looking to succeed Prime Minister Theresa May, and their strategies on whether Britain should leave with a negotiated deal, no-deal or whether there should be a second referendum.

ACTIVELY SEEKING NO-DEAL

ANDREA LEADSOM

Ms Leadsom, 56, quit as leader of the House of Commons on May 22, triggering the prime minister's downfall the next day. She wants a "managed" no-deal exit with no deadline extensions.

ESTHER MCVEY

The 51-year-old resigned as work and pensions minister last year over Brexit compromises. A blue-collar Conservative, she wants to leave the EU by the end of October and favours a future free trade agreement with the bloc.

OPEN TO NO-DEAL IN OCTOBER

BORIS JOHNSON

The former foreign minister, 54, says he would get Britain out of the EU "deal or no deal" in October. The favourite in the race vows to withhold the country's Brexit bill if the EU does not offer improved withdrawal terms.

DOMINIC RAAB

An ardent eurosceptic, the 45-year-old former Brexit minister resigned in protest at the deal struck with the EU by Mrs May. He says Britain should be ready to walk away from the EU without an agreement.

SAJID JAVID

The current Interior Minister, Mr Javid, 49, voted for Britain to stay in the EU in 2016 but has since become an advocate of Brexit. He wants to leave on Oct 31, preferably with a deal but would prefer no-deal over no Brexit.

NO TO NO-DEAL IN OCTOBER

MICHAEL GOVE

Considered the second favourite, the 51-year-old eurosceptic is seen as a possible unifying figure between the two wings of the party. Mr Gove has signalled he could be open to delaying Brexit again rather than leave without a deal on Oct 31.

JEREMY HUNT

The Foreign Minister supported remaining in the EU but has since switched sides. The 52-year-old says he will push hard for a new deal with Brussels without taking the possibility of a no-deal outcome off the table.

MARK HARPER

A former chief whip, Mr Harper, 49, did not serve under Mrs May. He says an extension would be needed beyond Oct 31 to secure a deal but is prepared to leave without one.

AGAINST NO-DEAL AT ALL

RORY STEWART

The International Development Minister, 46, says a no-deal exit would be "damaging". Mr Stewart used to work in the Foreign Office.

MATT HANCOCK

The 40-year-old Health Minister is one of the party's rising stars. He opposed Brexit during the 2016 referendum before switching sides.

SECOND REFERENDUM

SAM GYIMAH

The 42-year-old quit as universities minister last year to endorse a second referendum.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 11, 2019, with the headline 'Brexit dominates agendas as race for No. 10 kicks off'. Print Edition | Subscribe