‘Now is the time to remember our duty to the people’
Boris Johnson launches his leadership bid with one mission: leave the EU on October 31
BORIS JOHNSON promised he had the “guts and the courage” to take Britain out of the EU by October 31 as he launched his campaign to become Prime Minister.
The former foreign secretary said yesterday that the time had come “to remember our duty to the people and the reasons for the Brexit vote”.
He promised to provide the “clarity” of vision needed to deliver the result of the EU referendum with or without a deal, and warned MPS they would face “mortal retribution” from voters if they tried to stop Brexit.
Mr Johnson relied heavily on his record during eight years as mayor of London as evidence that he could beat Labour at the ballot box, and after facing questions about his integrity, he insisted: “I do what I promise to do as a politician.”
Hours later, his plans were given a huge boost when an attempt by Labour and Remain-supporting MPS to block a no-deal Brexit flopped in the Commons. Eurosceptics were jubilant after the effort to hijack the parliamentary timetable in order to pass legislation preventing a no-deal Brexit was defeated by 309 votes to 298.
The result silenced critics of Mr Johnson, including Philip Hammond, the Chancellor, who had earlier accused the Conservative leadership front-runner of promising the “impossible” with his pledge that there would be no further Brexit delays.
Mr Johnson moved a significant step closer to Downing Street yesterday as he secured the backing of 81 MPS, more than twice as many declared supporters as any other candidate.
As Tory MPS hold the first round of voting in the leadership election today, he knows he will effectively be through to the final head-to-head if he can secure 105 votes, which would be more than a third of the parliamentary party.
MPS are already debating whether other candidates will pull out rather than face a battle with Mr Johnson if he has the backing of both Tory MPS and members. Speaking in front of a broad coalition of supporters from both the Leave and Remain wings of the Conservative Party, Mr Johnson said he would “unite this country and unite this society” by completing Brexit.
He said he was not “aiming” for a nodeal Brexit but it was “astonishing that anyone could suggest dispensing with that vital tool of negotiation”.
Better and “vigorous” preparation for no deal was needed, he said, because: “It is only if we have the guts and the courage to get ready for it that we will carry any conviction in Brussels and get the deal we need.”
Asked about those who wanted to stand in the way of Brexit, he said: “I think if we now block it, collectively as parliamentarians we will reap the whirlwind and we will face mortal retribution from the electorate.” Mr Johnson also said the British people wanted a “resolution” to Brexit, adding: “That is our mission today and that is why I am standing before you, because now is the time to remember our duty to the people and the reasons for the Brexit vote.”
Geoffrey Cox, the Attorney General, yesterday became the 81st MP and the sixth Cabinet minister to come out in support of Mr Johnson.
Michael Gove, Mr Johnson’s arch-rival, currently has 32 public backers, two ahead of Jeremy Hunt, while Dominic Raab has 22 supporters, Sajid Javid 18 and Matt Hancock 16.
If MPS backing other Brexiteer candidates such as Mr Raab, Esther Mcvey and Andrea Leadsom switch their votes to Mr Johnson as back markers are eliminated, Mr Johnson would have 121 votes, more than enough to reach the last two.
The result of the first leadership vote will be announced at 1pm today. The last-placed candidate will be eliminated, along with any candidate who fails to get at least 16 votes. Four further votes are planned for next week, but with Mr Johnson building such a commanding lead, few MPS believe all four elimination rounds will be needed.
One prominent supporter of Mr Johnson said last night: “Once the first round is out of the way, you will quickly see other candidates folding because they will have one eye on a Cabinet job.”
Earlier, Mr Hammond said it was not “sensible” for candidates to “box themselves into a corner” by promising Britain would leave the EU by Oct 31. But his prediction that “Parliament will not allow a no-deal exit” was undermined by the Commons vote in which eight Labour MPS voted with the Government to keep no deal on the table and only 10 Tory MPS rebelled.
Mr Javid, the Home Secretary, became the last of the leadership candidates to launch his campaign yesterday, saying Mr Johnson was “yesterday’s news” and that the party needed someone who represented the future.
Boris Johnson said at the launch of his party leadership campaign that MPS would face ‘mortal retribution’ if they thwarted Brexit