Tory leadership hopeful Andrea Leadsom has launched her bid to succeed Theresa May with a promise that delivering Brexit by October 31 would be a “hard red line”.
The former leader of the House said she would ramp up preparations for the UK’s departure from the EU “in all circumstances” if she entered No 10.
In contrast, Mark Harper, who is also launching his campaign on Tuesday, warned it “just isn’t possible” to guarantee Britain would be out by the end of October.
Meanwhile Rory Stewart, who is also set for his campaign launch, has launched a blistering attack on the “eye-watering” spending promises made by other contenders, including frontrunner Boris Johnson.
With the battlelines sharpening, Mrs Leadsom, who quit last month over Theresa May’s final attempt to get her deal over the line, warned Brexit could not be delayed any further.
“Over the past three years politics has failed dismally, it has failed to deliver on the biggest democratic decision in our history,” she said.
“Fulfilling that democratic decision is urgent and vital, it cannot and will not be put off any longer.
“Leaving the EU on October 31 is for me a hard, red line.”
Mr Harper, who was chief whip under David Cameron, insisted he was the only candidate with a “credible, deliverable plan”.
The self-described “underdog” in the contest said he would go back to Brussels to re-negotiate the Northern Ireland backstop.
While he said he would not take no-deal off the table, he warned the parliamentary arithmetic meant no new leader could promise to take the UK out by the latest EU deadline of October 31.
“One thing I’m not promising, as much as I’d like, is that we will leave deal or no-deal come October 31.
“Why? It’s because I’m being straight with you and it just isn’t possible,” he said.
“As a chief whip who has had to operate when the numbers were tight, I know how Parliament works and I know how to count.”
Mr Stewart meanwhile has warned the lavish tax cuts promised by other contenders – including Mr Johnson’s pledge to raise the threshold for the 40% tax rate to £80,000 – were damaging the party’s reputation for fiscal prudence.
“We simply cannot make spending and tax cut promises that we can’t keep,” the International Development Secretary said.
“We cannot criticise Jeremy Corbyn for reckless spending pledges if we start doing the same ourselves. Cheap electoral bribes could cost us dear.”
With 10 contenders confirmed for the first round of voting on Thursday, Home Secretary Sajid Javid has released a video ahead of his campaign launch on Wednesday, featuring his family home in Bristol – and even their pet dog.
“I wanted to give back to the country that’s given me so many opportunities,” said Mr Javid, whose father came to Britain from Pakistan in the 1960s and became a bus driver.
I got into politics because I wanted to give back to our country, which has given me so many opportunities. I'm proud to be able to share my story with you. Check out my campaign video and join me at https://t.co/idVRwMVc79pic.twitter.com/L7cypOHNmA
— Sajid Javid (@sajidjavid) June 11, 2019
Meanwhile Mr Johnson, who has so far avoided the TV and radio studios and has yet to announce his campaign launch, is coming under pressure to set out his position in public.
The clear frontrunner in the contest, who has said Britain must leave the EU by October 31, deal or no-deal, appears determined to avoid any chance of mistakes which could damage his prospects.
However Health Secretary Matt Hancock, who has launched his leadership bid on Monday, said it was essential that all the contenders opened themselves up to public scrutiny.
“I certainly think that everybody who puts their name forward to be prime minister should be open to scrutiny, should be accountable, should come on the Today programme and on other broadcast programmes,” he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.
“I think everybody should participate in the proposed TV debates and I think we have got to ask the question, why not?”