The Conservatives are not guaranteed a win at the next general election simply by delivering Brexit, one of the party’s leadership contenders has warned.
Sajid Javid acknowledged that the Tories are divided and said the party looks “incompetent”, after failing to take the UK out of the EU earlier this year.
Victory for the Conservatives the next time voters go to the polls will be “incredibly hard”, he told members at a book launch focusing on Britain’s future after Brexit.
But Mr Javid, speaking alongside fellow leadership hopefuls Matt Hancock and Dominic Raab, added that the party can have a bright future if it harnesses the “energy” of those within its ranks.
The volume of essays, Britain Beyond Brexit, was launched in London on Monday by the Centre for Policy Studies think tank.
Mr Javid, whose essay warns that the party must do more to attract young and ethnic minority voters, said: “If we think that we can win the next election just by delivering something that we should have done anyway, we are absolutely kidding ourselves.”
He said delivering Brexit is about more than just leaving the EU.
He added: “That’s the easy bit. The hard bit is yet to come. Because we’ve got to reflect why so many people voted the way that they did in the biggest democratic exercise this country has ever seen.”
Mr Raab agreed, saying Brexit is a “necessary condition, not a sufficient condition, for winning the next election”.
He added: “But we should be under absolutely no doubt after Peterborough and the European elections. We will not get a hearing for all of the brilliant stuff in this book unless we deliver Brexit by the end of October.”
Mr Hancock described himself as having the “drive” and “enthusiasm” to be the next prime minister, but added that he is confident the party can succeed no matter who the next leader is.
He said: “No matter who wins, I am confident from today that the opportunity we have as a party and the opportunity we have as a country is huge and is there for the taking.”
In his essay, Mr Javid said the party must tackle the forces of “hate and nationalism” and support a “modern, tolerant, global Britain”.
Health Secretary Mr Hancock focused on the power of technology and innovation to deliver prosperity in his essay, while Mr Raab argued that the Tories must have a pro-enterprise message, supporting “buccaneering free traders” around the world and taking on vested interests at home.
In a foreword to the collection, Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson said that the Brexit impasse meant the Conservatives had failed to address some of the “massive challenges” facing society.
“Unless the Conservatives start to focus on that bigger picture, we could well find ourselves out of power for a generation,” she warned.