Bat­tle for sec­ond heats up as Ste­wart is knocked out

●Gove camp set to round on Hunt for back­ing Re­main dur­ing ref­er­en­dum

The Scotsman - - FRONT PAGE - By PARIS GOURTSOYAN­NIS West­min­ster Cor­re­spon­dent

Sup­port­ers of Michael Gove will round on Jeremy Hunt over his sup­port for staying in the EU in 2016 as the pair bat­tle to be­come the fi­nal chal­lenger to Boris John­son.

One MP back­ing Mr John­son said that un­less the bal­lot of party mem­bers to choose be­tween the fi­nal two can­di­dates fea­tured two Brex­i­teers, “I’m afraid the re­sult will be very pre­dictable”.

Rory Ste­wart’s up­start bid for the Tory lead­er­ship came to an end yes­ter­day evening af­ter ten of his sup­port­ers aban­doned him, leav­ing him in last place in the fi­nal bal­lot. Mean­while, Chan­cel­lor Philip Ham­mond is­sued a warn­ing to the lead­er­ship field, promis­ing to “fight and fight again” for eco­nomic prag­ma­tism, and say­ing that a no-deal sce­nario would en­dan­ger the Union while burn­ing through a £27 bil­lion Brexit war chest.

Talks are un­der­stood to have be­gun be­tween Mr Ste­wart and Mr Gove over a pos­si­ble en­dorse­ment.

Mr Ste­wart hinted at “dark arts” be­ing de­ployed by the John­son cam­paign to push him out of the con­test by loan­ing votes to Home Sec­re­tary Sa­jid Javid. MPS blamed the col­lapse

in sup­port on a lack­lus­tre per­for­mance in the sec­ond live TV de­bate on Tues­day night, in which Mr Ste­wart ap­peared ex­as­per­ated and re­moved his tie half­way through the pro­gramme.

There was also spec­u­la­tion at West­min­ster that some of Mr John­son’s back­ers had lent him sup­port in or­der to en­sure that hard Brex­i­teer Do­minic Raab was elim­i­nated in Tues­day’s sec­ond bal­lot.

Oth­ers claimed Mr John­son’s ri­vals had lent sup­port to Mr Ste­wart to en­sure he could ap­pear on the BBC TV de­bate to at­tack the fron­trun­ner.

One of Mr Ste­wart’s sup­port­ers was quoted promis­ing to “find out which of those thiev­ing, men­da­cious, ly­ing bas­tards let us down”.

The In­ter­na­tional De­vel­op­ment Sec­re­tary was praised by his ri­vals for an in­ven­tive cam­paign that saw him en­gage di­rectly with the pub­lic, in per­son and on so­cial me­dia.

Mr Ste­wart said: “I am so moved and in­spired by the sup­port I have re­ceived over the last few weeks – it has given me a new faith in pol­i­tics, a new be­lief in our coun­try.

“I didn’t get enough MPS to be­lieve to­day – but they will. I re­main deeply com­mit­ted to you and to this coun­try.”

Mr John­son stretched his lead fur­ther, pick­ing up 17 new votes for a to­tal of 146, nearly half of the par­lia­men­tary Con­ser­va­tive Party.

Mr Gove closed the gap on sec­ond place, pick­ing up ten new votes to fin­ish on 51, just three behind Mr Hunt, who gained eight votes for a to­tal of 54.

A Hunt sup­porter said the cam­paign had ex­pected to slip into third af­ter Mr Raab’s sup­port­ers re­dis­tributed their votes.

Mr Javid re­fused to bow out of the race af­ter gain­ing five votes to fin­ish in fourth, on 38. Two more bal­lots are sched­uled to­day to re­duce the field to the fi­nal two.

The Gove cam­paign sig­nalled it would launch an all­out at­tack on Mr Hunt over Brexit to over­haul the For­eign Sec­re­tary to­day.

“If we want a true con­test in the coun­try, we need two Brex­i­teers on the fi­nal bal­lot,” said the MP Stephen Kerr, adding that Mr Gove was “an in­tu­itive union­ist com­mit­ted to strengthen­ing the Union”.

Mr Kerr ap­pealed to Mr Ste­wart’s sup­port­ers to get on board, say­ing he shared “One Na­tion val­ues” with Mr Gove. “I think Boris would pre­fer an­other op­po­nent in the fi­nal two other than Michael,” he said.

For­eign Sec­re­tary Mr Hunt in­sisted that com­ing sec­ond for a third time meant he was the can­di­date best placed to take on Mr John­son in the fi­nal stage of the con­test.

“If I make it to the fi­nal I will put my heart and soul into giv­ing him the con­test of his life: in pol­i­tics to­day the un­ex­pected of­ten hap­pens,” he said.

“The stakes are too high to al­low any­one to sail through untested.”

Last night the Work and Pen­sions Sec­re­tary Am­ber Rudd was re­ported to be host­ing a din­ner for Ste­wart sup­port­ers in a bid to win them over to Mr Hunt’s side.

Scot­tish Tory leader Ruth David­son said she would cam­paign for Mr John­son if he wins the con­test, de­spite sug­gest­ing he was dis­hon­est dur­ing the 2016 EU ref­er­en­dum.

“I have chal­lenged Boris John­son, I’ve chal­lenged lots of col­leagues when I think they’ve mer­ited chal­leng­ing,” Ms David­son told the BBC.

“I think in terms of the de­bates on Brexit, I didn’t call him a liar; I said that the peo­ple out there de­served the truth, and they did, and I stand by that. And if there’s some­thing which I think de­serves chal­leng­ing... then I won’t re­sile from that, and I don’t think he would ex­pect me too ei­ther.”

Pressed on whether she would cam­paign to re­turn Mr John­son to Down­ing Street in a gen­eral elec­tion, Ms David­son – who is back­ing Mr Javid for the party lead­er­ship – replied: “Up against Jeremy Cor­byn? Yes.”

With all four can­di­dates still in the race say­ing they would be will­ing to con­sider a nodeal Brexit, Mr Ham­mond used a speech to the Bankers’ and Mer­chants’ Din­ner at the Man­sion House in Lon­don last night to warn of the risk it would pose to the Union.

He warned a chaotic exit from the EU would risk “soak­ing-up all the fis­cal head­room we have built, and more”, mean­ing £27bn in extra bor­row­ing.

The Chan­cel­lor called on can­di­dates to set out how they planned to de­liver a rene­go­ti­ated Brexit deal, and what their Plan B was.

“I can­not imag­ine a Con­ser­va­tive and Union­ist-led government ac­tively pur­su­ing a Nodeal Brexit; will­ing to risk the Union and our eco­nomic pros­per­ity and a gen­eral elec­tion that could put Jeremy Cor­byn in Down­ing Street, to boot,” Mr Ham­mond was ex­pected to say.

“And I will not con­cede the very ground we stand on. I will fight, and fight again, to re­make the case for prag­ma­tism and, yes, for com­pro­mise in our pol­i­tics – to en­sure an out­come that pro­tects the Union and the pros­per­ity of the United King­dom.”

Mean­while, the Ir­ish Cen­tral Bank warned a dis­or­derly no-deal Brexit would re­sult in 110,000 fewer jobs in the Repub­lic. Mark Cas­sidy, di­rec­tor of eco­nomics and statis­tics at the bank, said the ef­fect of the UK crash­ing out of the EU would be se­vere and re­sult in a per­ma­nent loss of eco­nomic out­put. He said if a deal could be secured, the neg­a­tive ef­fects of Brexit could be “con­tained”.

But he said the im­pact of a dis­or­derly, no-deal sce­nario would “have very se­vere and im­me­di­ate dis­rup­tive ef­fects with con­se­quences for al­most all ar­eas of eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity”.

COM­MENT “I am so moved and in­spired by the sup­port I have re­ceived over the last few weeks – it has given me a new faith in pol­i­tics” RORY STE­WART

0 Clock­wise from main: Boris John­son an­swers ques­tions from jour­nal­ists; Rory Ste­wart­says he re­mains deeply com­mit­ted to the peo­ple of Bri­tain; Charles Walker, cen­tre, reads out the re­sults of yes­ter­day’s bal­lot in which Boris John­son edged fur­ther ahead with 143 votes

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