Conservative leadership field slims to six as Boris Johnson agrees to TV debate

Written by on 14/06/2019

The field of Conservative leadership contenders has slimmed to six after Health Secretary Matt Hancock dropped out of the race.

Having secured the support of just 20 MPs in Thursday’s first round of voting, Mr Hancock suggested his pitch of looking beyond Brexit had failed to convince his party.

He told Sky News: “It’s quite clear that whilst I’ve put myself forward as the candidate of the future and focused on the future and what we need to do after Brexit, that the party is looking for somebody who’s more in the here and now.”

The remaining Tory candidates will now be looking to secure both Mr Hancock’s and his supporters’ backing ahead of the second ballot of Conservative MPs on Tuesday.

Mr Hancock revealed he would make an announcement on who he might support in the “coming days” following talks with the remaining contenders.

However, he signalled he would not be supporting frontrunner Boris Johnson – who comfortably won Thursday’s first ballot – after it was reported the ex-foreign secretary had privately assured Tory Brexiteers he will keep open the option of suspending parliament to ensure Brexit happens on 31 October.

“Proroguing parliament would be wrong,” Mr Hancock added.

“It would be against all the democratic ideals that we stand for as a country and also it would be totally impractical and it would never work.”

Mr Johnson has faced criticism over his suggested “submarine” strategy during the Tory leadership contest, with his campaign notable for a lack of media appearances.

His rivals issued a joint-statement on Thursday night committing themselves to upcoming televised debates on Channel 4 and the BBC.

Mr Johnson appeared to bow to increasing pressure to make a similar commitment by pledging on Friday to participate in the BBC debate, scheduled for next Tuesday evening.

However, he will not take part in Channel 4’s debate this Sunday.

Sky News is planning to host a 90-minute debate between the final two candidates.

Explaining his reasons to BBC Radio 4, Mr Johnson claimed the “best time” for a TV leadership debate would be after Tuesday’s second ballot of Tory MPs.

He said: “It is important that we have a sensible grown-up debate and my own observation is that in the past when we’ve had loads of candidates, it can be slightly cacophonous.

“The public have had quite a lot of blue-on-blue action, frankly, over the last three years and don’t necessarily need a lot more of that.”

Mr Johnson also used the radio interview to make a fulsome commitment that, should he become prime minister, the UK would leave the EU in 139 days’ time.

“My commitment is to honour the will of the people and take this country out on 31 October and to get this thing done,” he said.

With his rival candidate Michael Gove’s campaign having suffered from the revelation he took cocaine when he was a journalist, Mr Johnson described his own use of the drug as “a single inconclusive event that took place when I was a teenager and which I’ve extensively described”.

Asked if he has ever taken cocaine since, Mr Johnson replied: “No.”

Mr Johnson won support for his bid to succeed Theresa May as Tory leader from businessman and ex-Labour peer Lord Sugar on Friday.

But Mohammed Amin, chair of the Conservative Muslim Forum, told Sky News he would quit the Tory party after 36 years of membership if Mr Johnson was elected leader.

Referring to Mr Johnson’s previous comparison of Muslim women in burkas to “letterboxes” and “bank robbers”, Mr

Mr Amin said: “He chooses to attack some of the most vulnerable people in our society as a way of advancing his own career.”

Home Secretary Sajid Javid, who came fifth in the first round of voting, told Sky News he would “absolutely” remain a candidate in the Tory leadership race ahead of Tuesday’s second round.

If he was elected prime minister, Mr Javid said he “wouldn’t seek a delay” to Brexit and would stick to the current 31 October deadline.

“You have to have a deadline and you have to focus on it,” he said.

Mr Javid wants to pass a Brexit deal, with changes to the Irish border backstop arrangement, but would also continue preparations for a no-deal Brexit.

“I don’t want no deal, but if you want to be prime minister of this country you have to be responsible and you have to prepare because it could happen,” Mr Javid said.

He added: “I do think we could have done more in the last three years to prepare, I think we absolutely could have.”

Mr Javid has expressed his surprise he was not invited to the recent state dinner at Buckingham Palace during Donald Trump’s visit to the UK.

“There’s clearly someone inside Number 10 who decided the home secretary should not come,” said Mr Javid, who has previously criticised the US president.

“I don’t know who that someone is and I don’t why they made that decision.”

But Mr Javid added, as far as he is aware, Mrs May “didn’t even know” his request to attend had been turned down.

(c) Sky News 2019: Conservative leadership field slims to six as Boris Johnson agrees to TV debate


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