Boris Johnson cemented his status as Tory leadership front runner today after getting backing from three rising star ministers.
The former foreign secretary now has public support from 40 MPs after Rishi Sunak, Robert Jenrick and Oliver Dowden hailed him as the candidate to ‘inspire the country and revitalize our party’.
The latest pledges mean Mr Johnson has pushed further ahead of main rivals Michael Gove and Jeremy Hunt – who have 25 and 24 respectively.
Mr Johnson made his pitch to One Nation Tories at a hustings event last night, delivering a stark warnined that the Conservative Party faces ‘extinction’ if it does not deliver Brexit by the end of October.
Giving a leadership pitch to more than 80 Tory MPs, the front runner said his party would never be forgiven if it failed to get Britain out of the EU by the new deadline.
He admitted No Deal would be ‘disruptive’ and said it was not his aim, but insisted he was the only candidate who could put Nigel Farage ‘back in his box’.
He urged MPs to recognise the gravity of the threat to the party from failing to secure a departure before the Brexit extension ended.
Mr Johnson also ruled out a coalition with Mr Farage’s Brexit Party, branded Jeremy Corbyn the weakest opposition leader in a generation and vowed not to hold a second referendum.
Giving a leadership pitch to more than 80 Tory MPs, the front runner said his party would never be forgiven if it failed to get Britain out of the EU by October 31 (file photo)
Mr Johnson’s warning came as:
- Donald Trump said Mr Johnson would do a ‘very good job’ as prime minister – and offered a similar endorsement to Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt;
- Michael Gove is also meeting the US president for face-to-face talks before the state visit comes to a close;
- Tory grandees changed the leadership rules to require candidates to have the backing of at least eight fellow MPs;
- Low-profile candidates James Cleverly and Kit Malthouse have pulled out of the race, thinning the field to 11;
- Mr Hunt has unveiled a slick campaign video stressing his credentials as an entrepreneur and negotiator;
- The Conservative Party said the leadership race would be concluded in time for Britain to have a new prime minister by the week of July 22, when the Commons rises for the summer.
Mr Johnson spoke along with three of the other Tory leadership candidates at a hustings run by the centre-right One Nation group.
Mr Johnson spoke along with three of the other Tory leadership candidates at a hustings run by the centre-right One Nation group (pictured: Mr Johnson leaves his residence in south London on May 28)
So far, he has attracted more declared supporters than any of the other candidates, although Michael Gove and Mr Hunt have both attracted significant support. Mr Johnson said he believed he was the best candidate to ‘excite’ the electorate.
‘We are looking at a very difficult situation and we must get ready, eventually but not immediately, to beat Jeremy Corbyn and put Farage back in his box,’ he said.
‘We are facing an existential crisis and will not be forgiven if we do not deliver Brexit on October 31. I believe I am best placed to lift this party, beat Jeremy Corbyn and excite people about conservatism and conservative values.
‘We need to realise the depth of the problems we face –unless we get on and do this thing, we will be punished for a very long time.
In the first leadership hustings, Mr Johnson warned of an existential crisis and said he was the only candidate who could put Nigel Farage ‘back in his box’
‘There is a very real choice between getting Brexit done and the potential extinction of this great party – but I believe I can take on Farage and win back the voters being won over by him.’
Mr Johnson said the Brexit plan that did have the support of the Commons was the Brady amendment – which mandates that Theresa May’s deal will be passed only if the Irish backstop is scrapped.
He said this was the basis of a future arrangement – but he added the country must be ready for No Deal.
Mr Johnson said a second referendum would be divisive and said: ‘I will be against it with every fibre of my body. It was a tough experience for the country and a lot of us have been a bit bloodied.
‘It would be absolutely anti-democratic. The public are fed up to the teeth of kicking the can down the road.’
Mr Johnson told the hustings: ‘The way to win in any seat is to stop banging on about Brexit and put that bawling baby to bed, pacify it and recapture the political agenda with one nation Conservatism.
‘That’s how I won in London twice and how we can beat the Lib Dems now.’
One MP, James Duddridge, said: ‘He had them in the palm of his hands even though it’s not his natural territory.’
Former Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said: ‘There is a dawning realisation on so many colleagues that he is only one who can save the party.’