ERG deputy willing to stand for Tory leadership to deliver no-deal Brexit
European Research Group (ERG) deputy chairman Steve Baker has announced he could stand in the Tory leadership contest to deliver a no-deal Brexit.
Launching a paper on how to rip up the current Brexit deal and achieve a “clean, managed” exit from the EU, Mr Baker said the new leader must be willing to follow its recommendations.
Otherwise, Mr Baker said, the group would need to put forward its own candidate – and he was willing to join the race when it officially opens on Monday.
With 16 names signed on the policy paper, including former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith, Mr Baker indicated he already had the minimum number of nominations to enter.
“I am in the hands of my colleagues,” he said.
“If we get to the opening and closing of nominations on Monday and we collectively agree there must be somebody who is willing to do this then I would be willing to be the person who gets nominated.”
He added: “If you’re asking am I decided that if they ask me to do it I will, you bet.”
Brexiteers were “spoiled for choice” for candidates, Mr Baker added, and named three candidates – Esther McVey, Dominic Raab and Boris Johnson – he believed could back the ERG paper.
“I have to say Esther, Dom and Boris are all three of them excellent candidates, talented people,” he said.
“All of them I believe capable, with their own approach, of in the end delivering a satisfactory exit from the EU and indeed win a general election.”
A range of conversations would now need to take place, said Mr Baker, now there was “a stake in the ground” on how to deliver Brexit.
But Mr Baker insisted the next Tory leader must take a hardline stance on opposition to Brexit – even booting out Chancellor Philip Hammond, who has suggested he would vote to bring down the Government rather than see a no-deal Brexit.
He said: “A leader is going to have the courage, determination and resolve to say to some of our colleagues ‘if you choose to threaten me with bringing down this government I’m afraid I dare you’…
“I did go through some training on this – in moments of death or glory, you tell people what you’re doing, you don’t participate.”
Ms McVey was first to respond, describing the paper as “spot on”.
She said: “The Withdrawal Agreement is dead and only a clean Brexit on October 31 will deliver the referendum result and ensure we don’t fatally wound our party and allow Jeremy Corbyn to become prime minister.
“The EU has repeatedly said it won’t re-negotiate the Withdrawal Agreement and Parliament has resoundingly rejected the Withdrawal Agreement three times.
“So let’s stop wasting time having artificial debates about re-negotiating backstops or resurrecting botched deals, let’s keep hold of our £39 billion and let’s actively embrace leaving the EU without a deal.”
But 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.
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.”
Mr Baker’s potential candidacy would take the number of contenders in the leadership race back up to 12 if he does decide to stand on Monday.