Boris Johnson today warned that the Tories will ‘kick the bucket’ unless they deliver Brexit by Halloween – as he finally emerged from his bunker.
Formally launching his leadership campaign, Mr Johnson vowed to stick to the October 31 deadline at all costs, saying ‘delay means Corbyn’.
At an event in Westminster packed with his MP backers – and his girlfriend Carrie Symonds – the former foreign secretary said he was the only candidate who could counter the threat from Labour and Nigel Farage’s surging Brexit Party.
Mr Johnson is the hot favourite to win the race to take over from Theresa May in Downing Street – despite rivals such as Jeremy Hunt and Michael Gove accusing him of adopting a ‘submarine’ strategy of avoiding scrutiny.
He has promised to take questions from journalists at the launch this morning, something he has not done for months.
However, the scale of the challenge Mr Johnson faces if he does triumph will be underlined within hours of his appearance, when MPs stage a vote designed to kill off No Deal.
Speaker John Bercow has caused fury by bending parliamentary rules to allow a motion to be put down by Labour with cross-party support. It would seize control of Commons business from the government at the end of this month so a law can be passed banning the UK from crashing out of the EU without an agreement.
Boris Johnson (pictured arriving at his campaign launch today) has vowed to stick to the October 31 Brexit deadline, saying ‘delay means Corbyn’
Ten MPs are on the ballot as Tory MPs prepare to vote on who will be their next leader
Alongside Ms Symonds in the audience today were an array of senior Tories – including Cabinet ministers such as Geoffrey Cox, James Brokenshire and Liz Truss, as well as influential Eurosceptics Jacob Rees-Mogg and Steve Baker.
Mr Johnson was introduced by the booming voice of Mr Cox, who insisted it was time for a new approach to politics. He said Mr Johnson would ensure ‘full self-governance outside the EU’.
The move to wrest control of Parliamentary business from the Government has the backing of former Tory Cabinet minister Sir Oliver Letwin, as well as all the Liberal Democrats, SNP and Greens.
International Development Secretary Rory Stewart indicated he supported Parliament’s efforts to block No Deal, but later said he would not vote for it after being warned he could face the sack.
The move follows an extraordinary decision by Mr Bercow to allow Labour to table a Commons business motion, which would normally be the preserve of the Government.
How will the Tory leader battle play out?
THURSDAY, JUNE 12
This will be another critical day, as the first ballot takes place.
Anyone with fewer than 16 votes will be automatically eliminated, and at least one will be ejected.
THURSDAY, JUNE 19
Further rounds of voting will take place during June until there are just two candidates left by this point.
They will then go to a run-off ballot of the 160,000 Tory members.
WEEK OF JULY 22
The winner is due to be declared this week.
They will take over from Mrs May as PM shortly afterwards – probably in time to take a session of PMQs before the Commons breaks up for its summer recess.
Mr Johnson’s status as frontrunner was boosted today as a poll predicted he could win a majority of 140 seats in a general election.
The ComRes research for the Telegraph identified him as the only candidate capable of besting both Jeremy Cobryn on the left and Nigel Farage on the right.
Ahead of the first round of voting by MPs tomorrow, Mr Johnson has nearly double the number of public pledges of support from colleague as rivals Mr Gove and Mr Hunt.
Mr Johnson is expected to say today that any further delay beyond the current Article 50 deadline of Halloween would mean ‘defeat’ for the Tories at the next election.
He will say that Brexit will never be delivered if MPs give the ‘slightest hint that we want to go on kicking the can down the road’ adding in his campaign launch speech: ‘Delay means defeat.
‘Delay means Corbyn. Kick the can and we kick the bucket.’
Mr Johnson will say his preferred solution is to negotiate a new Brexit deal with the EU, but the central plank of his campaign is that Britain will leave the EU by October 31 with or without a deal – something his critics say is not possible to guarantee.
But the launch today promises to be turbulent as it is the first time Mr Johnson has faced sustained questioning from reporters for months.
There were claims today that business leaders are deeply worried about the prospect of him getting the keys to Downing Street, after he jibed ‘f*** business’ when asked about their Brexit concerns at a meeting last year.
Mrs May warned the Cabinet yesterday that Parliament would never allow her successor to take Britain out of the EU without a deal.
During a fractious meeting of her top team, the outgoing Prime Minister said: ‘There were as many people, if not more, on the Stop No Deal side as there were in the ERG [group of Eurosceptic Tory MPs] who would not support my deal. My successor is going to have the same problem.’
One senior Tory last accused Mr Bercow, who has spoken out against Brexit in the past, of ‘constitutional vandalism’.
But his decision means MPs will be asked to vote on a Commons motion today which would give pro-Remain MPs control of the parliamentary timetable on June 25. Labour said MPs would then ‘have the chance to introduce legislation that could help avoid the UK crashing out of the EU without a deal’.
The legislation is expected to focus on ruling out the option of suspending Parliament to push through No Deal, which has been floated by leadership contenders Dominic Raab and Esther McVey. But a Tory source involved in the move last night said further legislation would follow if any new PM tried to pursue a No Deal Brexit.
Former Cabinet minister Priti Patel was among the MP backers at Mr Johnson’s campaign launch today
Treasury chief secretary Liz Truss (left) and senior backbench Brexiteer Steve Baker were also at the launch today
Ex-defence secretary Gavin WIlliamson (pictured) has been coordinating Mr Johnson’s charm offensive in Parliament, and was at the launch today
Jeremy Hunt staged his own photocall with supporters in Westminster today as Mr Johnson held his launch
Tory grandee Oliver Letwin (l) and Labour shadow Brexit Secretary Kier Starmer are co-signatories of the motion which could deprive a future PM of the No Deal negotiating strategy
Commons Speaker John Bercow (pictured) has caused fury by allowing Labour to table a Commons business motion, which would normally be the preserve of the Government
The source said: ‘We will start by ruling out proroguing Parliament but at a bigger level it is showing that Parliament will block No Deal.
‘We are flexing our muscles to remind Boris and anyone else that they cannot do this.’
The initiative is modelled on the successful bid by Labour’s Yvette Cooper earlier this year to change the law and force Mrs May to seek an extension to Article 50 rather than leave without a deal.
That bid passed by just one vote. But a rebel source insisted there were ‘easily enough’ Conservative MPs to push it through this time.
How would the Remainer plan work?
Normally only the government can table business motions in the Commons.
But Speaker John Bercow has bent the rules to allow Labour to lay a motion in their Opposition day slot, with support from other parties.
If passed in a vote this afternoon, the plan would seize control of the Parliamentary timetable on June 25.
On that date MPs will be able to put forward legislation instructing the government how to handle the Brexit process.
Initially the Remainers say this law would be restricted to preventing the Commons from being suspended to stop it blocking No Deal at the end of October – as some Tory leadership hopefuls have suggested.
However, rebels have made clear they will go further if any PM tried to take the UK out of the bloc without a deal.
Former Tory minister Nick Boles has said he will fly back from abroad to back the bid.
The move is also embarrassing for Mr Gove, who counts Sir Oliver among his leading supporters. Mr Gove last night described the proposals as ‘Labour’s plans’ and vowed to ‘resist them’.
He said: ‘While I would prefer to leave the EU with a better deal, we must not rule out No Deal. If ultimately it came to a choice between No Deal and no Brexit, I would choose No Deal.
‘Labour’s plans to seize control of the business of the Commons must be resisted.’
Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer described the Tory debate about No Deal as ‘disturbing, ludicrous and reckless’.
He added: ‘We have witnessed candidates openly advocating a damaging No Deal Brexit and even proposing dragging the Queen into politics by asking her to shut down Parliament to achieve this.’
The move came as ministers argued over Brexit at a meeting of the Cabinet.
Government Chief Whip Julian Smith warned that Parliament could ultimately prevent a No Deal exit and would use ‘all endeavours’ to do so.
Mr Barclay called for preparations to be stepped up for a potential No Deal Brexit in October, but was slapped down by Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd, who said the cash would be better spent dealing with priorities like child poverty and education.
Boris’ leadership bid boosted by support from Brexit Secretary
Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay outside Downing Street
Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay last night weighed in behind Boris Johnson’s leadership campaign as the former foreign secretary pledged to take Britain out of the EU in October, come what may.
Mr Johnson will use his long-awaited campaign launch today to warn that the Conservative Party will ‘kick the bucket’ if it fails to deliver Brexit by October 31.
The odds-on favourite to succeed Theresa May will warn that ‘delay means defeat’.
Last night his campaign significant boost with the backing of Mr Barclay, the most senior Cabinet minister to date to support his bid for power.
Mr Barclay, who has responsibility for preparing the UK for a possible No Deal Brexit, said Mr Johnson was best placed to lead Britain out of the EU.
‘As Brexit Secretary I have seen first-hand the challenges the Government has faced in ensuring that we honour the result of the referendum and leave the European Union,’ he said.
‘We must leave on the October 31 – any further delays will continue to fracture public trust in not only our democratic system but also the Conservative Party.
‘We need a leader who will deliver Brexit and who has the ability to defeat both Corbyn and Farage. We also need to seize the global opportunities of Brexit and renew a sense of optimism in the potential it offers. The candidate best placed to do that is Boris Johnson and he has my full support.’
Mr Johnson, who has not given a public speech or broadcast interview since March 12, has faced criticism from rivals for avoiding scrutiny, with Michael Gove accusing him of hiding in a ‘bunker’.
But he will break his silence this morning with a campaign launch in central London, at which aides said he would take questions from the media.
He will seek to portray himself as the ‘unity’ candidate, arguing that it is only possible to unite the country and the Tory Party once the 2016 referendum verdict has been delivered.
Critics have warned that Mr Johnson is on a collision course with Parliament by refusing to countenance any further delay to Brexit.
But today he will warn that Britain will not get the best deal from Brussels if there is even the ‘slightest hint’ of delay. He will say: ‘Now is the time to unite this country and unite this society, and we cannot begin that task until we have delivered on the primary request of the people; the one big thing they have asked us to do. After three years and two missed deadlines, we must leave the EU on October 31.
‘We simply will not get a result if we give the slightest hint that we want to go on kicking the can down the road with yet more delay. Delay means defeat. Delay means Corbyn. Kick the can and we kick the bucket.
‘With every week and month that goes by in which we fail to deliver on our promise I am afraid we will further alienate not just our natural supporters but anyone who believes that politicians should deliver on their promises.’
Mr Johnson has 69 public backers among MPs. He has succeeded in winning support from both wings of the party, with pro-Remain MPs nervous about his stance on Brexit believing he represents the best chance of preventing Jeremy Corbyn ever winning power.
Today he will remind MPs that he twice defeated Mr Corbyn’s ally Ken Livingstone to become mayor of London, saying: ‘We cannot let them [Corbyn’s Labour] anywhere near Downing Street and I would remind you that the last time I faced an emanation of that Marxist cabal I defeated him when the Conservatives were 17 points behind in London. And we can do it again.’
Mr Johnson is expected to top the ballot in the first round of voting in the Tory leadership contest tomorrow.
Supporters are quietly confident that he now has the momentum to reach the final two, which will be decided by MPs next week. Party members will then choose the leader.
But aides, who have shielded him from the cameras, remain nervous that a single gaffe could yet wreck his campaign.