Conservative party leadership candidates make pitch to MPs

Favourite Theresa May says number of EU migrants to UK may rise ahead of Brexit deal

The five candidates to succeed David Cameron as prime minister will make their case before Conservative MPs

this evening, amid sharp disagreements about Britain's strategy in negotiations to leave the EU. Home secretary Theresa May, the clear frontrunner, has ruled out starting formal withdrawal talks before the end of this year and has left open the prospect of Britain remaining in the EU single market after it leaves the union.

Although Ms May has promised to end the unlimited free movement of people from the EU, she acknowledged yesterday that the number of EU citizens moving to Britain could rise in the medium term.

"If we're looking ahead over the coming months and years, once we get the issue of the EU negotiation sorted, the right deal for Britain, we may very well see in the run-up to that, people wanting to come here to the UK before that exit happens, so there are factors you can't always predict what the timing and numbers of those will be," she told the BBC's Andrew Marr.


Pledges of support

Ms May is the clear frontrunner, with pledges of support from more than 100 MPs, five times more than her closest rivals, energy minister

Andrea Leadsom

and work and pensions secretary

Stephen Crabb


Ms Leadsom

, who is emerging as the leading standard-bearer for those who campaigned for


, said yesterday Britain should start the formal process of withdrawal as soon as possible.

“It’s not just about leaving the EU, but it’s about giving certainty to businesses, it’s about saying to the world we’re open for business, let’s get some free trade agreements started as soon as we can. It’s about saying to young people we’re sorting out the issues around competition from EU migrants for your jobs – you know businesses need to upskill British workers, so we just need to get on with it,” she said.

Secret ballots

MPs will start voting tomorrow in a series of secret ballots to whittle down the field to two candidates to go before party membership. Ms May and Mr Crabb both opposed Brexit in the referendum, while the other candidates, Ms Leadsom, justice secretary

Michael Gove

and former defence secretary

Liam Fox

, campaigned for Britain to leave the EU.

As Labour MPs continued to pressure their leader Jeremy Corbyn to step down, one of Britain's most powerful union leaders has called on the parliamentary party to allow the unions to broker a deal between the two sides. Unite leader Len McCluskey, who supports Mr Corbyn, accused the MPs, 80 per cent of whom have voted no confidence in their leader, of attempting a "political lynching" that could plunge the party into civil war.

“The trade unions can broker a peace – with Jeremy as our leader and the genuine concerns of the PLP, we can bring people together,” he said.

MPs hope Mr Corbyn will step aside voluntarily before facing a challenge from Angela Eagle or Owen Smith, both former frontbenchers, but the leader has insisted he will fight any challenge. Writing in the Sunday Mirror, however, Mr Corbyn said he wanted to find a way of working with MPs that took account of their concerns about his leadership.

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is China Correspondent of The Irish Times