Home secretary Sajid Javid won new support in the Conservative party as the campaign to replace Prime Minister Theresa May gained momentum with favourite Boris Johnson facing flak for promising to use money threat against the EU.
Javid, the only Asian in the race, won support from Ruth Davidson, leader of the party in Scotland, who said he is best placed to unite the country deeply divided by Brexit. According to her, he has the attributes to ‘chart the best course’ on Brexit.
As candidates pushed their claims to be the next prime minister, Johnson said he would withhold the estimated £39 billion ‘divorce bill’ the UK will need to pay Brussels to leave the European Union, as a lever to get a better Brexit agreement.
“I think our friends and partners need to understand that the money is going to be retained until such time as we have greater clarity about the way forward,” he told the Sunday Times, adding that the money is a “great solvent and a great lubricant” in getting a good deal.
However, Peter Ricketts, former head of the Foreign Office, slapped down his threat, tweeting: “What an excellent way to begin our life as an ‘independent’ country needing new trade agreement…by massively defaulting on our debts!”
The foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt claimed that German Chancellor Angela Merkel is willing to renegotiate the Brexit deal – so far resolutely refused by Brussels. It would depend if the new prime minister has the “right approach”, he claimed.
Michael Gove, environment secretary, who has come in for much criticism over his confession overtaking cocaine in the past, faced further ire from Javid, who as home secretary is responsible to deal with drug trafficking.
Javid told Sky News: “Anyone that takes class A drug needs to think about that supply chain that comes, let’s say, from Colombia to Chelsea, and the number of lives that are destroyed along the way … people should be thinking about the impact they’re having on others.”
May stepped down on Friday as leader of the Conservative Party but will remain as prime minister until her successor is elected and takes over from her in July, after completion of the two-phase leadership election.
The first phase will see party MPs vote in several rounds from next week until 11 candidates in the fray are whittled down to two. The second phase will see over 1.2 lakh party members casting their votes on the two candidates, with the result declared in the week beginning July 22.