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Race to succeed May turning toxic already: Contenders trade first blows

Former Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab announces his intention to run for Tory leader in today’s Mail on Sunday

The race to succeed Theresa May exploded into life last night as contenders traded the first vicious blows of the contest – and one of the frontrunners launched his ‘Stop Boris’ manifesto.

Former Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab announces his intention to run for Tory leader in today’s Mail on Sunday. In an article for the newspaper, he positions himself as the contest’s arch-Brexiteer by pledging to ‘demonstrate unflinching resolve’ to leave the EU – without a deal if necessary.

It comes as Boris Johnson’s rivals try to mobilise against an expected pact between the former Foreign Secretary and pro-Remain Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd, designed to unite both Brexit wings of the party.

Within hours of Mrs May giving her tearful resignation speech on Friday, the battle for No 10 started to turn toxic. In an extraordinary day:

Aid Secretary Rory Stewart launched an astonishing attack on Mr Johnson, saying he would not serve under a ‘Pinocchio’ and branding his fellow Old Etonian’s Brexit stance ‘damaging, unnecessary and dishonest’. It prompted former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith to call Mr Stewart’s opening salvo ‘stupid’.

Mr Johnson’s supporters dismissed as a ‘dog**** smear’ claims by rivals that he promised a second referendum to pro-Remain Cabinet Ministers to buy their support; 

Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced he was running by saying Mrs May’s successor must be more brutally honest about the trade-offs required to get a Brexit deal through Parliament;

Tory leadership contender Rory Stewart has explicitly said he could not serve in a government led by Boris Johnson as he branded a No Deal Brexit 'dishonest'

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, another frontrunner, attacked Mr Hancock for his lack of No Deal planning and set out his own pro-business manifesto.

Mrs May prepared to make a series of policy announcements before she leaves No 10 to ensure her legacy;

The Tories braced themselves for devastating results in the European elections this evening, with Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party expected to lead their wipeout;

It emerged that Mr Johnson’s family held a summit at which they agreed to rally round to help him to win the keys to No 10;

Home Secretary Sajid Javid boosted his leadership credentials by forcing social media companies to co-operate with police trying to crack down on paedophiles and other criminals.

Mr Raab, second favourite in the race behind Mr Johnson, writes today that ‘the country feels stuck in the mud, humiliated by Brussels and incapable of finding a way forward… That is why I will put myself forward to lead the Conservative Party and our country’.

He says that tackling Brexit ‘will require leadership with conviction… we must calmly demonstrate unflinching resolve to leave when the extension to negotiations ends in October – at the latest. I would prefer that we leave with a deal…but we will not be taken seriously in Brussels unless we are clear that we will walk away on World Trade Organisation [WTO] terms if the EU doesn’t budge’.

Setting out his pitch to be leader just hours after Theresa May announced her departure, the former foreign secretary said it was time to 'put Brexit to bed'

Mrs May will stand down on June 7, triggering a Tory leadership contest which will produce a new Prime Minister by the end of July.

Mr Stewart, who announced his intention to stand earlier this month, dubbed Mr Johnson ‘Pinocchio’ – implying a reputation for mendacity – and said: ‘I could not serve in a Government whose policy was to push this country into a No Deal Brexit. I could not serve with Boris Johnson.’ Liberal Democrat MP Sir Ed Davey said he had been told other Tories would also refuse to serve under Mr Johnson. He said: ‘Rory has shown himself to be a politician of principle and I am hearing similar noises from several other Conservative MPs. A few are saying privately that they will resign the Tory whip if he is elected.’

Senior EU sources have said that any request to extend Article 50 beyond October was likely to be rejected if Mr Johnson became PM – although he has vowed to take Britain out of the EU on October 31, ‘deal or no deal’.

Matt Hancock has joined the race to be the next leader of the Conservative Party 

Accusing Mr Johnson of going back on his word, Mr Stewart claimed: ‘I spoke to Boris two weeks ago about this and I thought he had assured me that he wouldn’t push for a No-Deal Brexit. But it now seems that he is coming out for No Deal. It would be a huge mistake.’

But one of Mr Johnson’s supporters said: ‘Boris’s position is not No Deal, it is to go back Brussels to get a deal but we can’t kick the can for ever. To suggest otherwise is dishonest.’ One pro-Boris MP added: ‘A lot of people are going to embarrass themselves in the next six weeks, but I didn’t realise we would see someone do it so quickly.’

The potential ‘Bamber’ alliance between Mr Johnson and Ms Rudd, first revealed by The Mail on Sunday earlier this year, has spooked rivals. It has been dubbed the juggernaut option because of the number of MPs it could attract.

Dominic Grieve threatened that he and other Tory MPs could help sink a Johnson-led government that pursued No Deal

Yesterday Ms Rudd rowed back on her previous public criticism of Mr Johnson, and repeatedly avoided answering questions from the BBC about his integrity, instead saying: ‘I’m not going to start maligning any of my colleagues.’

Supporters of Mr Raab argue that as the price for Ms Rudd’s support, Mr Johnson could be forced to drop or dilute his No Deal stance. However, others say Ms Rudd is more likely to buckle, as she has softened her opposition to No Deal as long as ‘sufficient preparations are made’.

Mr Johnson’s supporters have been infuriated by claims that he offered a second referendum between ‘WTO rules and Remain’ to woo Remainers to his campaign. The idea horrifies Brexiteers, and one source close to Mr Johnson said: ‘It is not true. It is a dog**** smear, pure and simple.’ But another Cabinet-level source said: ‘I have definitely heard Boris float it. How serious he was is another matter.’

In a sign of their strengthening alliance, The Mail on Sunday understands Ms Rudd had a key role in stopping Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson publicly attacking Mr Johnson despite being one of his most voracious critics. On Wednesday, Ms Davidson said she would work with him if he wins, having previously said he would alienate Scottish voters.

Last night Mr Hunt also set out his pro-business agenda, telling the Sunday Times: ‘If I was Prime Minister, I’d be the first Prime Minister in living memory who has been an entrepreneur by background. Doing deals is my bread and butter.’ 

Hunt lambasts Hancock over no-deal

 By Harry Cole for The Mail on Sunday

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has formally thrown his hat into the ring to become the next Prime Minister, saying the Tories need to target younger voters.

He also claimed an early Election could spell doom for the party, warning that ‘it would be a disaster for the country and it would risk Corbyn by Christmas’.

Mr Hancock, 40, vowed to bring a new style of leadership to Downing Street if he wins and accused Theresa May of not being honest about the difficulties of Brexit.

As he launched his bid for power, an astonishing attack by his predecessor and leadership rival Jeremy Hunt came to light.

In a withering letter to the Prime Minister – seen by The Mail on Sunday – Foreign Secretary Mr Hunt criticised the Health Department’s No Deal planning.

He branded proposals to help Britons who live in the EU get access to medical help after a hard Brexit as ‘controversial’ – and warned that they could fall short of what people might expect. Insiders likened the unusually forthright private intervention into the activities of his old department to ‘a drive-by shooting’.

When confronted about the letter, Mr Hunt attempted to play down his criticism, saying: ‘The Foreign Office will always have a role advising the Health Department on British citizens’ access to healthcare abroad, but Matt’s leadership on No-Deal preparation has been second to none.’

However, his letter warned that many expats will not have yet registered in the EU countries where they live, so risk being unable to use local doctors and hospitals if Britain leaves the EU on October 31 without a deal.

Attacking the so-called ‘exceptional and humanitarian’ plans to alleviate the problem, Mr Hunt wrote: ‘The scheme will be controversial and there is a high risk that the Government could be criticised for both not publicising the scheme earlier and not making it more generous in scope.

‘I encourage the Department of Health to work up a proposed fallback option.’

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