Rivals for PM pick their partners
Could Remainer Amber Rudd REALLY team up with pro-Brexit BoJo in a bid for No10? Jacob Rees-Mogg thinks so. And it’s not the only odd coupling as MPs make their moves for the top job
JACOB Rees-Mogg today urges fellow Tories to back a ‘unity’ leadership team of Boris Johnson and Amber Rudd if Theresa May is toppled during the crisis over her Brexit deal.
The influential hardline Brexiteer uses an article in today’s Mail on Sunday – published on the right – to signal his backing for pro-Brexit Mr Johnson to team up with Remainer Rudd, who yesterday infuriated No10 by suggesting that the UK could pursue alternative options including ‘Norway Plus’ should Theresa May’s Brexit plan be rejected by MPs.
Mr Rees-Mogg’s plea comes as the main rivals for Mrs May’s crown prepare to launch their leadership bids. The Mail on Sunday can reveal that Home Secretary Sajid Javid was canvassing support among MPs on Friday, asking them directly if they would back him in a tilt at No10.
A source said: ‘Sajid does not think she will have to go next week, but is preparing for the possibility she might be forced to.’
He is understood to have discussed running on a joint ticket with Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, but the pair are at odds on who would take the top job in such a relationship.
Meanwhile, former Brexit Secretaries David Davis and Dominic Raab are also said to be locked in tense negotiations about who should be the ‘senior man’ if they join forces on one ticket.
Mr Rees-Mogg, chairman of the European Research Group of Tory MPs, calls on Mrs May to stand down ‘regardless of whether she goes down to a crushing Commons defeat this week or tries to pull the vote’, adding: ‘It would be much better if she left of her accord rather than face a no-confidence motion.
‘Then a plan to benefit from Brexit is needed, as is the leadership ticket to progress and unite the country and the party. If, for example, leading figures from either side were prepared to come together such as Boris Johnson and Amber Rudd, they could potentially deliver the Brexit people voted for with a global, outward-looking UK that could succeed.’
The Somerset MP also rejects the claim by Mrs May – made in this newspaper today – that opposing the deal could open the door to a Jeremy Corbyn-led Government, saying instead that ‘refusing to deliver Brexit would lay a carpet of the deepest red upon which Mr Corbyn could walk into Downing Street’. A joint ticket with Mr Johnson as leader and Work and Pensions Secretary Ms Rudd as his deputy might unite the two Brexit factions – but it would create headaches when it came to forging a compromise between Mr Johnson’s ‘clean break’ Brexit and Ms Rudd’s Norway preference. Ms Rudd yesterday became the first Cabinet Minister to discuss publicly the merits of a ‘Plan B’ if Mrs May’s deal is defeated in Tuesday’s crunch vote.
In that case, she said, she would prefer a ‘Norway Plus’ model that would involve staying part of the European Economic Area, describing it as a ‘plausible’, but not a ‘desirable’ Plan B.
During the 2016 referendum campaign, Ms Rudd famously described Mr Johnson as a man obsessed with becoming PM, saying he was ‘not the man you want to drive you home at the end of the evening’. But last month she told The Mail on Sunday that she regularly lunched with Mr Johnson and said: ‘I don’t know what he’s going to do. He’s full of surprises. We chat, we’re not enemies.’
A similar paring between Sajid Javid and Jeremy Hunt may struggle to unite warring Conservatives. As both backed Remain, they have held talks with Leaver Andrea Leadsom in a bid to ‘shore up’ their support across all wings of the party.
Mr Javid and Ms Leadsom are to hold a shared Christmas drinks party next week, which has been seen as a ‘not subtle’ attempt to lay the ground for a leadership bid. But insiders say the trio had cooled on the idea in recent days over who would take the top job.
Meanwhile, Brexiteers are squabbling over who could successfully be deployed as a ‘stop Boris’ candidate from their ranks.
Mr Raab’s resignation from the Cabinet last month over Mrs May’s deal boosted his chances, but also pitted him against Mr Davis, his former mentor. It is understood that allies of
Mr Davis have urged Mr Raab to stand aside and back Mr Davis’s bid, on the grounds that Mr Raab is ‘not experienced enough’ to run now and not yet ready to handle the ‘pressure of media scrutiny’. However friends of Mr Davis denied any of his allies had said that. Mr Raab’s colleagues also denied the reports. Tory party chiefs believe that, if Mrs May is forced from office, then a replacement must come from the Cabinet. Others tipped to run, if only to secure themselves a strong position in a future administration, include Environment Secretary Michael Gove, Treasury Secretary Liz Truss and International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt. But Brexiteers are angry Mr Gove and Ms Mordaunt did not resign over Mrs May’s Brussels deal.
Senior Tories have also tipped a ‘grey man’ stepping in, with Cabinet Office boss David Lidington tipped as a ‘caretaker leader’. However, his strong Remain views mean he would almost certainly be challenged by a Brexiteer, wrecking any chance of a ‘coronation’ and plunging the Government into a bitter six-week leadership battle.