Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s bid to be the next Tory leader and prime minister has received a significant boost after he won the backing of two senior cabinet ministers.
Both Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd and Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt gave their support to Mr Hunt at the official launch of his leadership campaign.
Their endorsement had been much-sought by Conservative hopefuls, with Brexiteer Ms Mordaunt’s backing especially beneficial to Mr Hunt – who backed Remain at the 2016 EU referendum – in burnishing his Brexit credentials.
In what has been dubbed “manic Monday” in Westminster, four of the Tory leadership candidates formally launched their campaigns amid ongoing rows between rivals over Brexit policy and tax proposals.
Candidates have until 5pm to secure the backing at least eight Tory MPs in order to make it through to the first round of voting.
The final list of candidates will be announced by the Conservatives’ 1922 committee around 6pm.
So far, 11 Tory MPs have declared their intention to stand for the party’s leadership.
Speaking at his launch event, Mr Hunt continued his implicit criticism of Boris Johnson, the bookies’ favourite to win the Conservative leadership contest.
Mr Hunt told his supporters “a serious moment calls for a serious leader” as he warned both the UK and the Conservative Party were in “grave peril” due to a failure to deliver Brexit.
“Without Brexit there will be no Conservative government and maybe no Conservative Party,” he said.
The foreign secretary did not rule out delaying Brexit further, beyond 31 October, in order to reach an agreement with the EU and in Westminster.
But he stressed: “The one thing I can say categorically is that I will never take action to provoke a general election before we have delivered Brexit because that will be absolutely fatal for our party.”
At the launch of his own campaign, former Brexit secretary Dominic Raab labelled himself the “Brexiteer you can rely on” as he claimed the UK had been “humiliated” in Brexit negotiations with the EU.
Mr Raab also took aim at Mr Johnson’s pledge to raise the level at which people pay 40% income tax from £50,000 to £80,000.
He suggested such a promise to cut taxes for higher earners would leave a future prime minister contesting marginal seats with Labour with “the caricature that ‘you’re the party of privilege and your only in it to help the wealthy'”.
“Can you imagine going to the House of Commons with a tax cut which, rightly or wrongly, will be caricatured as benefiting people who are well off?” he added.
Mr Raab also stuck by his threat to, if necessary, suspend parliament to stop MPs blocking a no-deal Brexit.
He said: “The one thing I haven’t done, which other candidates have, is take things off the table which only weaken our negotiating leverage in Brussels.”
Health Secretary Matt Hancock suggested Mr Raab’s stance was an affront to those D-Day veterans who were honoured last week.
At his own launch event, Mr Hancock said: “There’s this idea from some people that to deliver Brexit we should suspend our parliamentary democracy – that we should prorogue parliament.
“But that goes against everything that those men who waded onto those beaches fought and died for, and I will not have it.”
Mr Hancock also took a swipe at Mr Johnson’s tax proposals, stressing he would only cut taxes “when we can afford it”.
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