Delivering Brexit “on a deal that can get through this Parliament” is the “only way” to leave the EU by Halloween, Conservative leadership candidate Matt Hancock has said.
The Health Secretary said the Conservative Party needs to “back business and not bash business” as he took a swipe at rival Boris Johnson over his pro-business credentials.
Referring to a remark attributed to Mr Johnson last year where he said “f*** business” following concerns from some in industry that a hard Brexit would damage the economy, Mr Hancock told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “This is incredibly important for the future of the country, for the future of the Conservative Party, that in this leadership debate we understand that we need to be a pro-business party. We need to support businesses because they’re the ones who create the jobs.”
Mr Hancock added: “We have to have a Brexit policy that’s based on reality, we can’t have a general election before we’ve delivered Brexit; that means we have to deliver Brexit through this Parliament.
“People who think that Parliament would just lie down and ignore its ability to have influence, I think that didn’t happen before 29th March and I doubt it would happen again.
“So it just shows that we need to deliver Brexit on a deal that can get through this Parliament – that is the only way to leave on 31st October, which is very much what I want to do.”
Newly declared contender Braintree MP and Brexit Minister James Cleverly told Today he was “Brexit tooth and claw” and had been consistent on the issue.
Mr Cleverly said no-deal “can be delivered, but not pursued”, adding: “But it’s also really important we understand that not delivering Brexit would be, in my mind, significantly more damaging, our political reputation with the country would be damaged.”
No-deal, he said, was “still one of the options” but added “it is not my preferred destination”.
He said: “Until we have delivered Brexit we will not have the legitimacy to talk about any of the other issues that we absolutely have to talk about.”
Theresa May, he added, went into the job “uncontested and untested”, adding “she didn’t fit well with the role of Prime Minister and it saddens me to say that”.
Leadership contender and international development secretary Rory Stewart said he was “signing up now” to the “clean campaign” pledge, adding: “This leadership contest without the voice of Boris Johnson is like the Today programme without John Humphrys…
“I think he is the favourite, he’s the front runner, he’s the real big beast here and he’s the person that all of us have to stake out our positions against, he’s the one to beat.”