Environment Secretary Michael Gove will enter the race to be next Prime Minister on Sunday as the fight for the Tory crown showed signs of turning increasingly bitter.
The Press Association understands prominent Brexiteer Mr Gove will join an already crowded field after Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt and ex-Cabinet ministers Dominic Raab and Andrea Leadsom threw their hats into the ring.
As the Tory battle for Downing Street intensifies, Mr Gove’s intervention is likely to cause concern to current front-runner Boris Johnson.
A spectacular fall out between the two former allies in the 2016 leadership contest helped destroy both men’s chances of the top job.
Mr Gove is posing as a self-styled “unity candidate” as he attends the Hay Festival on Sunday.
Mr Hunt claimed his business background would help resolve Brexit as the leadership tussle fired up with International Development Secretary Rory Stewart launching a strongly-worded attack on Mr Johnson.
Both Mr Raab and Mrs Leadsom said they would be prepared to order a no-deal Brexit in October if necessary.
Mr Hunt told The Sunday Times: “If I was prime minister, I’d be the first prime minister in living memory who has been an entrepreneur by background.
“Doing deals is my bread and butter as someone who has set up their own business.”
Mr Hunt’s emphasis on his entrepreneurial past is being seen as swipe at Mr Johnson who reportedly once said “f*** business” in relation to Brexit.
© AFP/Getty Images Theresa May as she announced her resignation outside 10 Downing street
In a reference to mythical sea monsters, Mr Hunt said. “The real question is: who has got the experience to avoid the Scylla and Charybdis of no deal or no Brexit. I’ve got very important experience in that respect.
“We can never take no deal off the table but the best way of avoiding it is to make sure you have someone who is capable of negotiating a deal.”
The comments came after Mr Johnson insisted he would take the UK out of the EU on October 31 with or without a deal.
© Getty Dominic Raab said it’s time for a new direction
Mr Raab has told the Mail on Sunday he would prefer to leave the EU with a deal, but said the UK must “calmly demonstrate unflinching resolve to leave in October – at the latest”.
Mrs Leadsom, whose resignation helped trigger Mrs May’s dramatic resignation statement, told The Sunday Times that if elected PM, the UK would quit the EU in October with or without a deal.
She said: “To succeed in a negotiation you have to be prepared to walk away.”
© Thomson Reuters British Prime Minister Theresa May delivers a statement in London, Britain, May 24, 2019. REUTERS/Simon Dawson
Sparks began to fly in the contest with Mr Stewart saying he would refuse to serve in a government led by Mr Johnson as he appeared to compare the ex-foreign secretary to Pinocchio.
Mr Stewart was scathing about Mr Johnson’s no deal stance, insisting that such a position was “damaging and dishonest”.
He told the BBC: “I could not serve in a government whose policy was to push this country into a no-deal Brexit.
Britain’s former Leader of the House of Commons Andrea Leadsom reacts as she leaves from her home in London on May 23, 2019. – UK House of Commons leader Andrea Leadsom announced her resignation from the government on Wednesday over Prime Minister Theresa May’s handling of the Brexit crisis. (Photo by ISABEL INFANTES / AFP) (Photo credit should read ISABEL INFANTES/AFP/Getty Images)
“I could not serve with Boris Johnson.”
In a clear dig at Mr Johnson, the International Development Secretary tweeted: “The star name will not always be the best choice.
“There may be times when Jiminy Cricket would make a better leader than Pinocchio.”
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said he was running for leader because the party needed to look to the future and attract younger voters.
© Wiktor Szymanowicz / Barcroft Media LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM – MAY 21: Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Matt Hancock arrives for the weekly Cabinet meeting at 10 Downing Street on 21 May, 2019 in London, England. Ministers are due to debate a package of measures proposed by the Prime Minister Theresa May to gain the support of Labour MPs when the EU Withdrawal Agreement Bill returns to the Commons in early June. (Photo credit should read Wiktor Szymanowicz / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
He said he would take a different approach to try and get Commons support for a Brexit deal than the one Theresa May used.
He said: “She didn’t start by levelling with people about the trade-offs.
“I think it is much, much easier to bring people together behind a proposal if you are straightforward in advance.”
© Provided by The Press Association Ex-foreign secretary Boris Johnson (David Mirzoeff/PA)
Chief Secretary to the Treasury Liz Truss said she would not stand for the leadership.
She told the Sunday Telegraph that she would back a contender who supported Leave in the 2016 referendum.
Labour has said it will trigger a Commons no-confidence vote in the new prime minister when they take office.
© Thomson Reuters Britain’s Chief Secretary to the Treasury Liz Truss is seen outside Downing Street, as uncertainty over Brexit continues, in London, Britain May 21, 2019. REUTERS/Hannah Mckay
The new Tory leader looks set to take over as prime minister at the end of July after Mrs May finally laid out a timetable for her exit from Downing Street.
The timetable for the contest will see nominations close in the week of June 10, with MPs involved in a series of votes to whittle down what is set to be a crowded field to a final two contenders.
Tory party members will then decide who wins the run-off.