Conservative leader hopefuls challenge Johnson’s pledge on no-deal exit

Tories ‘are toast’ if October Brexit deadline is missed, says Raab

Several Tory hopefuls vying to replace British prime minister Theresa May turned their fire on favourite Boris Johnson on Sunday by questioning his pledge to leave the European Union by the end of October no matter what.

With former London mayor and foreign minister Mr Johnson keeping a low profile, the other candidates have targeted the air waves to try to present their cases to lead the Conservative Party.

Candidates on Sunday questioned his ability to navigate Britain's departure from the EU, saying his pledge to leave on October 31st was nigh on impossible and would set Britain on track for a no-deal Brexit.

“The difference between me and Boris is that I would try for a deal,” said foreign minister Jeremy Hunt, who is running in second place in the leadership contest.


“I am not going to create a set of circumstances that makes it all but impossible to get a deal because I think we should be offering the country some better choices,” he told the BBC Andrew Marr Show, adding that he was the only “alternative”.

One of Mr Hunt’s supporters, work and pensions minister Amber Rudd, went further, making a thinly veiled criticism of what she described as some candidates “do-or-die approach” to Brexit without “considering the consequences to people’s jobs”.

Rory Stewart, another Conservative leadership hopeful, took issue with Mr Johnson’s argument that the only way to get an improved deal from the EU was to prepare for leaving without an agreement and using that as leverage.

“They are not scared of it because it is not a credible threat. The European Union knows no deal cannot get through parliament,” he told the BBC.

“How is Boris going to deliver Brexit, how? . . . I don’t even know what he believes. He won’t talk to me, he won’t talk to you, he won’t talk to the public. We want to know what he believes,” said Mr Stewart, international development minister.

Dominic Raab, a former Brexit minister who is more in tune with Mr Johnson but declined to say whether he would back him, said there was time to catch up with the frontrunner by taking part in debates to explain policy. All the candidates, except for Mr Johnson, will take part in a debate later on Sunday.

“The Tory party will be toast unless we are out by the end of October,” Mr Raab told Sky News. “I certainly think the Conservatives cannot win an election unless we’ve delivered Brexit.”

Mr Raab, who has said he would leave with or without a deal, defended his refusal to rule out suspending Parliament to ensure it could not block Brexit.

“What is really scandalous here is the way that people are trying to sabotage the will of the people and break their promises left, right and centre to get us out of the EU,” he said.

“The big mistake we made in these negotiations was taking no-deal off the table. When we start ruling things out we only weaken our chances of getting a deal.

Mr Hunt said he believes it is possible to negotiate a new deal with the EU that would do away with the need for an Irish Border backstop.

“When you talk to European leaders as I do they want to solve this problem,” he told BBC1’s The Andrew Marr Show.

“They say that if they were approached by a British prime minister, someone they were willing to deal with, who had ideas how to solve the Northern Irish border, they would be willing to re-negotiate the package. – PA, Reuters