The runners to succeed Theresa May as British prime minister have set out their rival plans to negotiate Brexit, with a focus on persuading the Irish government and the European Union to shift their position.
With 13 candidates now in the race, it’s imperative for all of them to win support from Conservative members of parliament. That’s providing most of them with an incentive to avoid talking about the compromises that these MPs are likely to have to face in the coming months. Instead, they’re talking about the compromises they’d like other people to make.
Home Secretary Sajid Javid, Health Secretary Matt Hancock and former Leader of the House of Commons Andrea Leadsom have all been talking up the idea of technological solutions to the Irish border issue. Where they differ is on what they say they’d do if these solutions don’t persuade the EU to shift its position before the October 31 deadline by which Britain is due to leave.
For Leadsom, the plan is to leave whatever happens, though she insisted Sunday that “managed exit” was a better description than “no-deal Brexit.” In theory, a prime minister might be able to deliver a no-deal Brexit without parliament’s consent, but as Leadsom’s plan involves legislation, there would be opportunities for MPs to try to force her to change course. She told the BBC that she didn’t believe they would do so.
“We have to leave the EU at the end of October,” she said. “The Withdrawal Agreement Bill is dead - the EU won’t reopen the Withdrawal Agreement and the UK Parliament won’t vote for it.”
But earlier, Justice Secretary David Gauke had warned that he wouldn’t be able to support a no-deal Brexit.
Environment Secretary Michael Gove has yet to set out a plan, but his team didn’t dispute a Sunday Telegraph report that he would be ready to delay Brexit until late 2020 in order to resolve the differences between the EU and the U.K. parliament.
For Hancock, the solution is for parliament to leave on October 31 with the existing deal, having tried to change it, and then to try to resolve remaining issues in an implementation period that could last a long time. He said he wants to avoid going into the Irish backstop.
Javid, challenged on the BBC about what he would do, replied that he couldn’t imagine seeking a further extension from the EU. But he didn’t rule out doing so if forced by Parliament.
“That’s not something I would do, but we are a parliamentary democracy and what we’ve seen in the last few months is Parliament has taken on some extraordinary powers to initiate its own legislation,” he said. “So if it’s statute, if it’s the law, I would not break the law if I was prime minister.”
The surprise of Sunday was former Universities Minister Sam Gyimah’s announcement that he’ll run for the top job. His pitch is distinct from all the other candidates, and is likely to struggle to win support from colleagues: He said the country needs a second referendum.
“There’s a wide range of candidates out there, but a very narrow range of views on Brexit being discussed,” he told Sky News. “While there’s a broad sweep of opinion in the country on how we move forward at this critical time, that is not being reflected in the contest at the moment.”