Michael Gove tells Conservative MPs he would consider delaying Brexit

Tory polling expert warns Boris Johnson too divisive

Michael Gove has told Conservative MPs that he would consider seeking a further delay to Brexit beyond October 31st if Britain and the EU were close to an agreement.

Britain’s environment secretary told Conservative leadership hustings at Westminster that he would seek to negotiate a “full stop” to the backstop through alternative arrangements to keep the Irish Border open.

Former Brexit secretary Dominic Raab said, however, that he would take Britain out of the EU with or without a deal and he refused to rule out proroguing parliament to prevent MPs from stopping him.

Nominations to succeed Theresa May as Conservative leader close next Monday and former foreign secretary Boris Johnson has a clear lead in endorsements from MPs and in polls of the party membership. But Tory polling expert Robert Hayward warned on Wednesday that Mr Johnson is such a divisive figure that he would struggle to lead the Conservatives to victory in a general election.

Recent polls

Lord Hayward said an analysis of recent polls suggested that, although the Conservatives needed Brexiteer votes to win an election, the party also needed the support of those who do not identify strongly with either side in the referendum. He pointed to a YouGov poll that found that 23 per cent of those who voted Conservative in 2017 thought Mr Johnson would make a “very bad” prime minister.

Lord Hayward said polls pointed to foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt as the leadership candidate best equipped to win an election for the Conservatives.

Another candidate, international development secretary Rory Stewart, accused his rivals of misleading voters by claiming they could renegotiate the withdrawal agreement by October 31st.

"Let's take a candidate like Boris. He's saying that he's going to go to Europe, and he's going to negotiate a new deal before October 31, and if he doesn't get a new deal by 31 October he's going to go no deal. Anyone who knows anything about Europe can assure you there is not the slightest hope of getting a new deal through Europe by October 31st. Not a hope," Mr Stewart told the BBC.

Nigel Farage's Brexit Party hopes to win its first Westminster seat on Thursday when Peterborough, currently held by Labour, votes in a byelection. Mr Farage said on Wednesday that his party would not sit in the European Parliament with the far-right Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF) group which includes Matteo Salvini's League and Marine Le Pen's Rassemblement national.

“Following a brief social meeting with a member of the ENF Group last week there has been much speculation, fuelled by that individual, that the Brexit Party will join them in their European Parliament group. I can confirm that this is not the case and that the Brexit Party will not be joining the ENF group.

Welsh government

The Labour-run Welsh government on Tuesday joined Scotland’s devolved government in calling for Britain to remain in the EU. Until now, the government in Cardiff has backed Labour’s official policy of a soft Brexit.

"As a government, we will now campaign to remain in the EU. And to make that happen, parliament should now show the courage to admit it is deadlocked and legislate for a referendum, with 'remain' on the ballot paper," Welsh Brexit minister Jeremy Miles said.