Tory grandees are considering rule changes for the race to be the next Prime Minister as Chancellor Philip Hammond challenged contenders to explain why they would not end up as ‘Theresa May mark two’ on Brexit.
The influential 1922 Committee which represents Tory backbenchers is meeting on Tuesday to decide on how the Conservative leadership race is handled amid growing criticism over the number of candidates in the field, which currently stands at 13.
And in a biting intervention in the battle for Downing Street, Mr Hammond suggested that everyone would be “grumpy and dissatisfied” over an eventual withdrawal deal, but one had to be agreed on.
The Chancellor told the BBC: “My challenge to all the candidates is explain to me how you will avoid becoming Theresa May mark two, stuck in a holding pattern.
“And an extension of time to try to renegotiate, when the EU have already said they have finished the negotiation and, indeed, have disbanded their negotiating team, strikes me as a not very auspicious policy.”
Mr Hammond insisted a Brexit deal was needed.
He said: “We will all have to give up something to get to a deal that will work.
“We will all be grumpy about it, we will all be dissatisfied.
“But in many ways that is the only way forward for the country.
“If we end up with a deal that means half the people in this country think they achieved total victory and the other half think they have been totally defeated, that is not the recipe for unity in the future.
“And countries that are not unified are not successful.”
The comments came amid reports that the 1922 Committee was set to try and cut back the raft of 13 leadership candidates as quickly as possible.
Mr Hammond accepted that Boris Johnson was favourite to be next PM, but insisted the ex-foreign secretary did not have a realistic solution to the Brexit deadlock.
The Chancellor said: “I’m clear that Boris Johnson is the favourite, look at the bookies’ odds at the moment.
“He’s very well regarded by our membership.
“I disagree with his approach to the Brexit problem.
“He hasn’t, in my view, yet set out a realistic solution to managing Brexit.
“Saying we will leave on October 31, deal or no deal is not an answer, because we won’t leave either with a proper deal or with no deal on October 31.
“So, candidates need to be honest about the situation we are in.”
Meanwhile, the One Nation group of ‘centre right’ Tory MPs were set to hold leadership hustings on Tuesday.