Tory leadership candidates: Brexit vs Remain - how do the hopefuls stack up?

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06.06.2019 18:06

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Eleven Conservative MPs are still jockeying to become the next prime minister and Tory party leader. Two have already dropped out of the race ahead of the deadline for nominations which is the week beginning June 10. One of the biggest and most contentious topics is Brexit - an issue which has already antagonised the nation, split the Conservative party and cost Mrs May her job. So where do each of the hopefuls stand on the Brexit issue?

Boris JohnsonBoris Johnson is currently the most-backed candidate with 48 MP supporters according to the Conservative Home website.He was a prominent figure for the Vote Leave campaign prior to the in-out referendum vote in 2016.The former foreign secretary wants to remove the Irish backstop plan from the Withdrawal Agreement but he has said the UK will leave on October 31 “deal or no deal”.Mr Johnson said the “way to get a good deal is to prepare for no deal”.But he added that a no-deal exit would cause “some disruption”.

He suggested the solution to the current deadlock would be to replace the Irish backstop with “alternative arrangements” to avoid a hard border, so as to facilitate a “managed exit” from the EU.The backstop is the insurance policy, negotiated by the UK and the EU, to avoid a hard Irish border (a border with checks and infrastructure).After Brexit, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland could be in different customs and regulatory regimes, which could mean products being checked at the border.To avoid this, the backstop would keep the UK in a customs union with the EU, until such time as both sides reach a trade agreement that would avoid a hard border. But, it is a controversial move as it would prevent the UK from doing its own trade deals.

Jeremy HuntForeign secretary Jeremy Hunt is the second most popular candidate with 32 MPs backing his bid.Mr Hunt supported the remain vote during the 2016 referendum and backed a second referendum with any withdrawal agreement.While deliberations were ongoing in Parliament, he backed the proposal to keep the UK in the single market.However, in 2017, Mr Hunt said he changed his mind over Brexit, due to the “arrogance of the EU Commission”.The foreign secretary said if the only way to leave the EU was with no deal then he would do that, but it is not his preferred option.He added that he believes there is a prospect of doing a better deal.He is in favour of changes to the Withdrawal Agreement and he thinks it is possible to get them made by the deadline in October.Mr Hunt also wants changes to the Irish backstop.He proposed sending a new negotiating team team to Brussels, which would include representatives of the European Research Group (the group of Conservative MPs who support harder forms of Brexit) and members of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party.

Michael GoveMichael Gove is the third most supported candidate with 30 MPs backing his bid.The environment secretary was a prominent member of the Leave campaign in 2016 and has said he would consider a further delay to Brexit past the deadline of October 31.But Mr Gove has said if a better deal is within reach by that date, then he would sanction a “short delay” to finalise it.His plan is to go back to Brussels and negotiate changes to the “backstop”.Primarily, he said he would aim for a free trade agreement, based on the EU/Canada deal and guarantee the rights of EU nationals in the UK.He also said he would rule out a further referendum and if it came down to a choice of no deal or no Brexit, he would opt for a no deal Brexit.

Dominic RaabDominic Raab has 24 MPs supporting his bid to replace Theresa May.The former Brexit secretary was a supporter of the Leave campaign in 2016 and has said that he would re-open the withdrawal agreement.He said that leaving on World Trade Organisation terms “is far better than leaving with a fatally flawed deal”.He also refused to rule out proroguing Parliament ahead of the October 31 deadline to prevent it blocking a no-deal Brexit.In terms of the backstop Mr Raab wants to “overhaul” it and has said his Brexit policy would be based on the “Malthouse compromise”.The proposal, drawn up by backbenchers from Leave and Remain wings of the Tory Party, would retain “the vast majority” of Mrs May’s Brexit deal, but importantly replace the Irish backstop with “alternative arrangements” involving “advanced customs and trade measures” and checks away from the border.He has also outlined that the future relationship between the UK and the EU “must centre on a ‘best in class’ free trade agreement (such as the EU-Canada agreement), not a customs union or any other hybrid arrangement requiring close regulatory alignment”.

Sajid JavidHome secretary Sajid Javid has gained 17 supporters for his leadership bid.Mr Javid was a Remain campaign supporter before the Referendum vote in 2016.The home secretary said he would focus on the Withdrawal Agreement, with changes to the backstop.He talked about “a new digitised” Irish border, which could be “done in a couple of years” and would not involve any infrastructure on the border.He added he would make a “grand gesture” to the Irish government by paying for this necessary infrastructure to digitise the border.Mr Javid also said he cannot envisage circumstances where he would want an extension to the UK Brexit deadline and that country must therefore prepare for a no-deal Brexit.

Matt HancockMatt Hancock has 12 MPs supporting his leadership bid at the moment.In terms of Brexit, Mr Hancock supported the Remain campaign.He said that leaving with no deal is not an option and so it is a choice between leaving with a deal and not leaving at all.The health secretary has set out a “Brexit delivery plan”, which involves setting up an Irish Border Council to come up with a plan for avoiding a hard border in Ireland.He said he would “seek a time limit to the backstop” and proposes negotiating a comprehensive free trade agreement, which would involve leaving the single market and the customs union.He also said that he would “enshrine the rights of EU citizens in law”.

Mark HarperMark Harper, a self-confessed “underdog” in the race to replace Theresa May, currently has six MP supporters backing him.The former chief whip backed the Remain campaign in 2016, but has since changed his mind.He said that it is “not credible” that a Brexit deal could be renegotiated with the EU and be passed by Parliament by the deadline on October 31.He added he wants the UK to leave with a deal, which implies seeking a further extension.But he said that leaving with no-deal remains an option, if the alternative is not leaving at all.He said he would travel to Brussels to negotiate changes to the backstop and that this would involve “building strong relationships with the Republic of Ireland, both communities and all parties in Northern Ireland”.

Esther McVeyEsther McVey has six supporting MPs backing her bid to become the next prime minister.She said that the UK needs a “clean break” from the EU on World Trade Organisation terms.But also said that if the EU made a better offer, she would listen.The former work and pensions secretary said that if the EU is “truly faced with no deal” it could be “prepared to move away from their fixed position, listen, remove the backstop, and negotiate a free-trade deal”.

Rory StewartRory Stewart currently has the backing of six MPs.He recorded an intention to campaign to remain in the European Union in 2016.In terms of his Brexit position, Mr Stewart has said a no-deal Brexit would be “catastrophic” and that it is “undeliverable” and “unnecessary”.The international development secretary is advocating citizens’ assemblies for Brexit to negotiate a compromise and added that he will focus on pushing through Mrs May’s existing deal, as there is “no evidence” the EU will offer another deal.

Andrea LeadsomAndrea Leadsom has been supported by three MPs in her bid to replace Mrs May.She backed the Leave camp in 2016 and has proposed a “managed exit” rather than a renegotiation.Ms Leadsom wants to leave the EU on October 31 and has proposed a three step Brexit plan.Step one is to introduce a bill to deal with the rights of EU citizens in the UK and another deal including “sensible measures” already negotiated and agreed such as the goods already in circulation and Gibraltar.Step two would “significantly ramp up preparations” for leaving the EU in October by working on “alternative arrangements” for the Irish border.The third step would see involve delegating ministers to speak with key EU leaders and convene a summit in early September with the EU to agree “sensible measures” and “ensure a smooth exit”.

Sam GymiahSam Gymiah is the most recent candidate to announce his bid and was part of the Remain camp prior to the Referendum vote in 2016.The former universities minister has proposed another referendum to break the Brexit deadlock.He said that the referendum would have two questions: Leave or Remain and Mrs May’s deal or No Deal.He said that leaving without a deal would be an “abject failure”.

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