Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt launches a thinly veiled attack on Boris Johnson today as she warns the Tories against ‘riding the tiger of populism’.
Miss Mordaunt, a senior lieutenant of leadership contender Jeremy Hunt, also suggests Mr Johnson is a divisive leader who might ‘scare off’ the majority of voters.
In an article for the Daily Mail on the opposite page she hails Mr Hunt as a ‘unifier’ who can negotiate a way through the Brexit impasse.
While not naming Mr Johnson, she warns against picking a leader who will create ‘further division by just reinforcing factions in the party, Parliament or the country’.
Pictured: Tory frontrunner Boris Johnson appearing on BBC Radio 4’s World at One on Friday
Her comments will be seen as the opening salvo in the battle to defeat Mr Johnson, who won an emphatic victory in the first round of the Tory leadership contest this week. They also suggest Mr Hunt’s team is preparing for the final head-to-head round of the leadership contest when he will try to win over Tory members.
Mr Hunt went on the offensive yesterday, attacking Mr Johnson’s apparent reluctance to appear in Tory leadership debates and asking: ‘What would Churchill say?’
In her article for the Mail, Miss Mordaunt writes: ‘The next leader must deliver unity and Brexit fast and well. So why are staunch leavers like myself and Liam Fox backing Jeremy Hunt? … Because we don’t need to convince the already convinced.
Miss Mordaunt, a senior lieutenant of leadership contender Jeremy Hunt (pictured), also suggests Mr Johnson is a divisive leader who might ‘scare off’ the majority of voters
‘There are dangers to riding the tiger of populism. Not least that it scares off the majority. Not least that it consumes you last.’ The intervention from one of the leading lights of the Leave campaign came as:
- Health Secretary Matt Hancock quit the race, sparking a scramble among the remaining candidates to secure his endorsement and that of his 20 MP backers;
- Boris Johnson finally agreed to attend a live TV BBC debate between the candidates on Tuesday after the next round of voting is complete;
- The remaining six candidates vowed to go ahead with a Channel 4 debate on Sunday despite Mr Johnson vetoing the event warning of ‘blue on blue’ attacks;
- Mr Johnson made his first appearance in the broadcast studios since the campaign began when he insisted he had taken cocaine ‘only once’;
- Allies said Esther McVey, who was ousted in the first round of voting would endorse Mr Johnson;
- The chairman of the Conservative Muslim Forum sparked uproar after comparing Mr Johnson to Hitler and calling him a ‘buffoon’.
Mr Hunt finished second in Thursday’s vote with 43 votes, six ahead of Michael Gove, and leaving him facing a close race to secure second spot.
Chuka under fire
Chuka Umunna yesterday refused calls to put himself up for a by-election after signing up to the Liberal Democrats, saying his constituents were happy with his decision.
Mr Umunna, MP for Streatham, left Labour to join Change UK in February – and has now joined Sir Vince Cable’s party.
Mr Umunna said that when he spoke to his constituents, most ‘commended’ him because they support Remain. He also claimed that the only people who had attacked his decision were Corbynista activists.
But Labour MPs lined up to demand he resign to force a by-election, with party chairman Ian Lavery mocking his party-hopping and tweeting: ‘Put your immense popularity to the good people of Streatham. Let’s have a People’s Vote on you and your principles.’
He began the day by needling Mr Johnson over his failure to appear in public during the campaign. Mr Johnson has come under fire for a ‘submarine’ strategy of making few comments in newspapers and at his campaign launch.
On the Radio 4 Today programme, Mr Hunt said he had been on Today 16 times this year, while Johnson had only appeared once.
After Mr Johnson appeared on the World At One on Radio 4 yesterday, Mr Hunt teased him, tweeting: ‘Sounds like someone was listening to the Today programme this morning.’
Mr Hunt’s allies say his experience conducting diplomatic negotiations will help him get a better Brexit deal.
Miss Mordaunt says he has the ‘ability to negotiate a way through’ and will not hesitate to leave with No Deal if he cannot secure one.
But she goes on to warn of ‘division’ among Conservatives if the party chooses the wrong leader, adding: ‘To leave with a deal, we need to take the majority with us.’
Her intervention will turn up the heat on Tuesday’s vote in which the remaining candidates must secure 33 votes each to stay in.
Appearing on the BBC, Mr Johnson committed to leaving the EU by October 31, adding: ‘It would be absolutely bizarre to signal at this stage that the Government was willing once again to run up the white flag and delay again.’
Muslim leader’s Hitler jibe
The chairman of the Conservative Muslim Forum compared Boris Johnson to Adolf Hitler yesterday.
Mohammed Amin branded the frontrunner a buffoon – and said he would quit the Tory party after more than three decades of membership if the former foreign secretary was elected.
In an explosive radio interview, he said Mr Johnson should not enter Downing Street because he is not ‘sufficiently moral to be prime minister’ and that he has ‘insufficient concern about the nature of truth’.
Mr Amin told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘I am not prepared to be a member of a party that chooses him as its leader. I would resign after 36 years.’
Asked about Mr Johnson’s popularity with grassroots members of the party, Mr Amin said: ‘There are many horrible people who have been popular. Popularity is not the test. We don’t expect our politicians, our prime ministers, to be saints. But we do require a basic level of morality and integrity.’
He added: A lot of Germans thought that Hitler was the right man for them.’ He acknowledged that his comparison was shocking and stressed: ‘I am not saying Boris Johnson wants to send people to the gas chamber, clearly he doesn’t. He’s a buffoon.’
Mr Amin claimed a column Mr Johnson wrote in The Daily Telegraph last August comparing women who wore burqas to ‘letter boxes and bank robbers’ had put Muslim women at risk.
We must not ride the tiger of populism: PENNY MORDAUNT backs Jeremy Hunt as she says Britain needs a democrat, listener and negotiator
By Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt
Backing Hunt: Miss Mordaunt, who wants Tory unity
Let me apologise to the millions of people, outside of Westminster without a Conservative Party membership card, who are watching those who do choose their Prime Minister.
You are going to be subjected to hustings, wall-to-wall broadcast coverage, and copious column inches all about the candidates, their families, their pets and their ovens!
What you won’t have is a vote. All Conservatives should remember that the decision we are taking has a profound effect on you.
Whoever we select has one hell of a shift. The challenges they face are about so much more than the fortunes of a political party.
People are angry and frustrated. Trust in politicians is at an all-time low. We gave you a clear mandate to leave, so why haven’t you done it yet? What part of ‘WE WANT TO LEAVE’ do you not understand?
In truth, the reason Brexit hasn’t happened yet has nothing to do with the lack of mandate, but the lack of a majority to enact it. True, some politicians have tried to frustrate the process. On the Labour side for political gain. On the Conservative side, for purity of outcome.
Every sensible Conservative knows that we either leave Europe or we leave government. It’s as simple as that. But we should also remember that there is a far more important reason why we must deliver Brexit: The country needs us to.
Having given the vote to the people we must implement their choice. Faith in democracy and our politics depends upon it. Business needs us to extract it from this limbo. It can prepare for any eventuality, but not every eventuality. It must have some certainty. It must have it soon.
The people want this settled swiftly. But we must also settle it well.
How we Brexit must preserve the opportunities that come from leaving the EU, such as the benefits of an independent trade policy. Deliver it well and we can do so much better than just WTO terms. If we manage to secure a good deal, we’ll have less to mend now and more to spend later on clear and present needs, like education, social care, the NHS and our Armed Forces.
And in the coming months a new leader must bring us together.
The nation, like my party, has been divided on this issue. Half of us are appalled that the other half voted to leave, that half appalled that we have yet to leave. If we Brexit well we can restore that pride in each other and move on as a country.
The next Leader must deliver unity and Brexit fast and well. So why are staunch leavers like myself and Liam Fox backing Jeremy Hunt?
Firstly, because we don’t need to convince the already convinced. There are dangers to riding the tiger of populism. Not least that it scares off the majority. Not least that it consumes you last.
The greatest act of patriotism in the last three years was not people like me who voted to leave, but those who voted remain and accepted the result, Jeremy included. We don’t need a Remainer or a Leaver. We need a democrat. We need a listener. We need a negotiator. We need a unifier. We need an intelligent, experienced leader to reach out to help us get the majority we need to break free. He has the ability to negotiate a way through. He knows Europe’s leaders well and is respected by them. He knows what he must do if he cannot secure a deal and he has been strong and resolute on this point the whole time I have been in Cabinet.
All his working life he has been someone who does, not just says. Who creates opportunities, not just exploits them. Who brings people together, not divides them.
To deliver Brexit we need to find a consensus in the party. We must not end up with further division by just reinforcing factions in the party, Parliament or the country. We must use this time to map out a plan, persuade others of it, signal both our resolve and our ideas to Brussels, and reassure those worried about the future why they should be confident.
In order to leave with a deal, we need to take the majority with us.
This is as true for Brexit as it is for the next General Election.
This contest is not about the next man, it’s about the next majority.
To secure that majority we need Jeremy Hunt.