Most Tory leadership candidates in favour of scrapping NI protocol

Rishi Sunak is frontrunner to succeed Johnson but memo casts doubt on his popularity with British public

Nine candidates to succeed Boris Johnson have launched their campaigns with disagreements on tax policy but almost unanimous agreement on scrapping the Northern Ireland protocol, deporting refugees to Rwanda and pursuing a culture war against trans rights.

Former chancellor of the exchequer Rishi Sunak is the frontrunner with 33 MPs endorsing him, with trade minister Penny Mordaunt in second place with 19 endorsements.

The 1922 Committee of Conservative backbenchers will on Monday to set out the rules for the two-stage election in which exhaustive ballots of MPs select two candidates to go forward to a vote of the entire party membership. The committee is expected to require candidates to secure a minimum number of endorsements from fellow MPs to qualify for the first round of voting, which is likely to be on Wednesday.

“That will be an exacting process to get it down to the last two before parliament goes into recess on July 20th, and then we’ll have to wait and see how that turns out,” said committee treasurer Geoffrey Clifton-Brown.


Truss expectation

Nine candidates had declared by Sunday night, including chancellor of the exchequer Nadhim Zahawi, transport secretary Grant Shapps and attorney general Suella Braverman. Former health secretaries Sajid Javid and Jeremy Hunt, former equalities minister Kemi Badenoch and foreign affairs committee chairman Tom Tugendhat have joined the race. Foreign secretary Liz Truss is expected to do so on Monday.

Mr Sunak, Mr Hunt, Ms Braverman and Mr Tugendhat said they would support the Northern Ireland protocol Bill which would give British ministers the power to unilaterally scrap most of the protocol. Mr Tugendhat, who enjoys good relations with politicians in Dublin and Belfast, said he hoped the Bill would help him to secure a deal on the protocol with Brussels.

“As somebody whose great grandparents came from Limerick, I can tell you I would be a leader for the whole community,” he told the BBC.

“As we know very well, north/south, east/west, whatever way you are trading it needs to work and we need to make sure Northern Ireland remains the best place to do business.”

Mr Hunt, who is competing with Mr Tugendhat for votes from the liberal wing of the party, said he hoped that, without Mr Johnson, relations with the EU would improve.

Rwanda and trans issues

“I think we have to be very clear with the EU that no British prime minister could allow a situation where we don’t have an internal market, where businesses from England can export freely to businesses in Northern Ireland,” he told LBC.

Mr Hunt and Mr Tugendhat joined more right-wing candidates in backing Mr Johnson’s policy of removing asylum seekers to Rwanda before their applications were processed and not allowing them to settle in Britain even if their claims were upheld. Ms Braverman, who has the support of more hardline Brexiteers, said Britain should leave the European Convention on Human Rights.

Ms Braverman, Ms Badenoch and Mr Sunak backed a campaign against further legal recognition for transgender people, although Mr Shapps said the Conservative party should “let people live their lives”.

“I just don’t think we need to get caught up in some US-style debate and aggressive war on these issues. It’s just not necessary,” he told Sky News.

Diehard allies of Mr Johnson have blamed Mr Sunak for precipitating the torrent of resignations that toppled him, and the Daily Telegraph published a memo shared among MPs attacking the former chancellor.

Accusing him of abandoning Conservative principles as chancellor, the memo suggests Mr Sunak has been plotting to secure the leadership for months and casts doubt on his popularity with the public.

“Let us keep this a Conservative party with a small ‘c’. There is nothing Conservative about the ‘big tax and big spend’ agenda of Rishi Sunak. It’s not even One Nation. It’s time for the party decisively to move on,” it says.

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is China Correspondent of The Irish Times