‘Believe in Brexit’ to be in my cabinet, says Tory leadership hopeful McVey

Conservative MPs must “believe in Brexit” to join the top table if Tory leadership hopeful Esther McVey gets her way.

Ms McVey said she would only have “committed Brexiteers” in her cabinet until the UK was out of the EU, which she pledged would happen by the October 31 deadline.

Separately, rival leadership candidate Matt Hancock has said no deal is “not a credible option” and set out how he would renegotiate the existing Political Declaration on the thorny issue of the Irish border.

However, former work and pensions secretary Ms McVey signalled she would boot Tories who “did not believe in Brexit” out of the Cabinet.

“I believe at the moment we actually have to have a team that believes in Brexit,” she told LBC radio.

“This is the most difficult delivery that we have got to give and we have got to give it by October 31.

“I think you need to have people who believe in Brexit to deliver this by October 31.”

Their comments came as the influential European Research Group (ERG), chaired by Jacob Rees-Mogg, published a blueprint for Brexit that would see the UK leave the EU without a deal.

Speaking at a Policy Exchange event, Mr Hancock said the “most urgent task” facing a new prime minister was to achieve a Brexit deal that faced the “hard truths”.

He said: “A credible plan to deliver Brexit must be grounded in reality and the reality is there are hard truths.

“The first hard truth – No deal is not a credible policy choice available to the next prime minister.

“As the speaker has made clear, Parliament will block it as it did in March.

“That means the alternative is either a deal to leave the EU or a general election or second referendum and potentially no Brexit at all.”

EU and Union flags
Conservative leadership candidates are split over the viability of a no-deal Brexit (PA/Stefan Rousseau)

There was no need to rip up the Withdrawal Agreement, Mr Hancock insisted, as he laid out his plan to set up a Border Council to ensure there would be no hard border on the island of Ireland and to set a time limit on the backstop.

“I’m confident that this as a whole package can be negotiated,” he said.

“We know the EU was considering proposing a time limit in the previous negotiations… The time limit would be an addendum rather than reopening of the Withdrawal Agreement.”

Matt Hancock
Matt Hancock says the new PM will have to face some hard truths about Brexit (PA/Dominic Lipinski)

Mr Hancock agreed with leadership rival and frontrunner Boris Johnson that the Conservatives faced “potential extinction” if they failed to deliver Brexit but pointed to the “need for a progressive, optimistic, centrist force in British politics”.

Signalling a different direction to opponents like Dominic Raab, who wants to slash taxes, the Health Secretary set out priorities including “fully funded public services”.

He added: “The opportunity for a party that stands for these things is enormous because the other major parties have left that ground and are concentrating on the hard left in the case of Labour and in rejecting the referendum result in the case of the Lib Dems.”

Hardline Brexiteers demanded that the next prime minister signs up to the October 31 deadline at the first leadership hustings, organised by the One Nation group of centre-right Conservatives and held in private last night.

More than 80 MPs packed into a Commons committee room to hear from Mr Johnson, Andrea Leadsom, Sajid Javid and Rory Stewart.

Kit Malthouse
Housing minister Kit Malthouse has withdrawn from the leadership race (PA/Isabel Infantes)

Another drop-out saw the leadership contenders whittled down to 11, with Kit Malthouse joining James Cleverly in pulling out of the race ahead of the party setting out new rules to speed up the contest.

Candidates now need to secure support from eight MPs to enter the contest, at least 16 votes in the first ballot on June 13, and 32 in the second round on June 18.

The winner – and the next prime minister – will be decided by Tory members from the two candidates remaining at the end of the process by the week beginning July 22.

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