Mark Francois bets on himself to take over as Tory leader
Brexiteer Mark Francois has bet on himself to take over as Tory leader.
The European Research Group (ERG) vice-chairman, best known for threatening the EU with “perfidious Albion on speed” if the UK fails to Brexit, said Theresa May would be out of a job this summer.
Mr Francois said he did not know which Brexiteer he would back to take over the reins when Mrs May goes, because “they all folded” and backed her deal – but did not rule himself out of the running.
When asked if he would stand for Conservative Party leader himself, Mr Francois said: “I think that’s unlikely.
“Lightheartedly I put £10 on myself at William Hill last weekend, really as a bet with a friend of mine, and I got the stunning odds of 200/1.
“It’s not impossible there will be an ERG candidate but that’s unlikely to be me.”
The Rayleigh and Wickford MP has form on Brexit bets, having previously challenged Labour’s Sir Keir Starmer to a £50 bet for Help for Heroes over the Brexit date.
Mr Francois bet that the Prime Minister would bring back her deal for a third vote on Tuesday March 26 – but it was eventually held on Friday of that week.
He has publicly called for Mrs May to quit and backed 70 local Conservative associations in their call for an unprecedented early no confidence vote in her leadership, which is not allowed under existing rules until December.
Although Mrs May has been given yet another reprieve after the 1922 Committee of Tory backbenchers ruled against the plan, Mr Francois said she would not survive the European election result.
With bookies predicting the Conservative vote will be “annihilated” by the Brexit Party in the May vote, he predicted there would be a summer contest where “the establishment will get their comeuppance” and a Brexiteer candidate will “absolutely romp it”.
“One way or another, we’re going to have a leadership election this summer, realistically,” he said.
“That gives us time to pick a new leader before our party conference.
“I think after the EU elections, if the bookies are right and we have a pretty grim night, I think the 1922 executive will move, I think it’s really quite likely they’ll do it then.
“The vote last night was only 9:7 so you’ve only got two people to change their minds on the executive and you’ve got a rule change and can get an indicative ballot.”
But Mr Francois said he had been badly let down by Brexiteer colleagues, who had “folded” and backed Mrs May’s deal at the eleventh hour last time.
“I haven’t backed any candidate for the leadership because they all folded,” he said.
“If one of them had held out on meaningful vote three, I would naturally have wanted to vote for them, but they all folded.
“The only way we’re going to get out now, having marched through all this mud, is to pick a leader that actually believes in it.”
He stressed the decision should lie with the grassroots membership rather than MPs, so it can be said “even if all of you didn’t vote for me, I have the imprimatur of the party members and therefore you’ve got to give me a chance to lead you”.
Despite the lack of an obvious candidate, Mr Francois was adamant he would not defect to nor vote for Nigel Farage’s new party, as he was “a Tory first and last”.
Instead, he said he would continue to push for a new leader who would back a hard Brexit, even if that meant leaving the EU with no deal, because “I have never believed all the Project Fear rubbish”.
“There might be some temporary disruption of a kind but nothing the British people can’t manage,” he added.
“Historically they’re a pretty resilient, stoic lot.
“They’re often a lot more robust than many of their bed-wetting politicians, to be honest.”
When asked if he thought he would be seen as the hero in the history books telling the Brexit tale, he said: “I don’t know about that, but the Prime Minister wrote to every MP a couple of months ago and said we will all be judged at the bar of history, or words to that effect.
“I am happy to be so judged.”