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Ten Conservative MPs have been officially confirmed as candidates for the leadership of the Party after nominations closed yesterday. They are Environment Secretary Michael Gove, Health Secretary Matt Hancock, former Chief Whip Mark Harper, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, Home Secretary Sajid Javid, former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, former Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom, former Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey, former Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab, and International Development Secretary Rory Stewart. Former Universities Minister Sam Gyimah, the only candidate who supported a second Brexit referendum, withdrew from the contest yesterday, after failing to win the eight nominations from other Conservative MPs required to enter the race. The first round of voting is due to take place this Thursday.
A number of the candidates launched their campaigns at separate events in London yesterday, outlining their approach to Brexit and domestic policy. Hunt, who was endorsed by Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt, said that a Government under his leadership would seek to “engage seriously” with the EU, adding, “from my conversations with European leaders, it is clear to me there is a deal to be done, they want us to come up with proposals.”
Raab described himself as a “conviction Brexiteer” who had “the plan, the discipline and the focus” to lead the UK out of the EU by the end of October. Raab suggested he would enter negotiations with a “best final offer” to Brussels based on the so-called ‘Malthouse compromise’, the proposal to deal with the Irish border question using technology and “operational cooperation.”
Gove said he was prepared to delay the Brexit date for whatever duration is “required” if there is progress made in negotiations with the EU.
Meanwhile, Javid told LBC radio, “It is absolutely my priority and it has been the government’s priority to leave with a deal because whilst No Deal can’t be taken off the table…The focus should absolutely be the deal,” adding that he would “offer to pay for the entire cost” of a new border system for both Britain and Ireland, saying it would be “worth the economic price” if it helps achieving a deal.
Elsewhere, Leadsom yesterday said she is planning to seek a “managed exit” from the EU, adding that it would be “to take the elements of the Withdrawal Agreement that parliamentarians would agree to and that the EU would like to see in place and to put it to parliament and to the EU Commission that these elements are things that would work for all of us and can be delivered by October 31.”
Leadsom, Harper and Stewart will all officially launch their campaigns today. Six of the ten contenders (Gove, Hunt, Javid, Raab, Leadsom and Harper) are also due to appear this afternoon for hustings before the 1922 Committee of Conservative backbenchers.
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The UK’s overall economy contracted by 0.4% in April, which represents the biggest decrease since March 2016, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealed yesterday. Manufacturing output decreased by 3.9% in April, the biggest fall since June 2002, while car production fell by 24% after several carmakers shut down their activities in the UK.
Meanwhile, yesterday’s ONS data showed that the UK’s overall exports of goods and services increased by 4% in the twelve months to April 2019, reaching a record high of £645.8 billion. International Trade Secretary Liam Fox commented that these “record-breaking figures putting total UK exports at over £645 billion demonstrates the resilience of our economy, despite the increasingly uncertain global economic environment.”
A draft of the EU institutions’ strategic agenda for 2019-2024 seen by EurActiv reveals that EU leaders plan to focus on migration and strengthening the EU’s external border controls, saying, “First and foremost we must ensure the integrity of our physical space. We need to know and be the ones to decide who sets foot on EU territory.” The document also says that leaders are “determined to find a way through on internal migration and asylum policy.” Other strategic goals mentioned in the draft include strengthening the economy and combating climate change.
Elsewhere, thirteen EU countries, including Italy and Austria, are drafting a ‘non-paper’ to revive talks on EU enlargement, primarily with the Western Balkans in mind. The paper is likely to be presented at a meeting of EU28 ambassadors in Brussels tomorrow. A diplomat from one of the thirteen countries told EurActiv, “The idea is to launch a call for the opening of accession negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia,” adding, “It is also a form of pressure, meant to say that the dilemma of whether we first need a deepening of the EU and enlargement later is artificial and wrong.”
Separately, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte’s office released a statement overnight saying that both governing coalition partners, the Five Star Movement and the League, agreed to work together to avoid the EU launching an infringement procedure against Italy over its budgetary issues. The Five Star Movement’s leader and Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio said, “We will need a dialogue with Europe but also a firm stance.”
In a new blog for Conservative Home, Open Europe’s Stephen Booth looks at the next Prime Minister’s Brexit options and argues that “the challenge for any leader in delivering a new package will not only be to tread carefully in Brussels, and above all Dublin, but to find the numbers in Parliament to back a deal.”