Theresa May launched her Conservative leadership bid today with series of digs at her rival Boris Johnson.
In the sombre surroundings of the library at the Royal United Services Institute in Whitehall, the Home Secretary pitched herself as the serious and sensible candidate to succeed David Cameron as Prime Minister.
May, who campaigned for the UK to remain in the EU, quashed talk of a second referendum and said reform of freedom of movement was essential in any post-Brexit deals with Brussels.
She also ruled out a snap General Election, claiming the Tories had a mandate to rule until 2020.
Earlier this week, Johnson claimed immigration concerns were not the main reason why millions voted Leave – prompting fears among Brexit campaigners that freedom of movement may not be reformed in any post-divorce agreement.
May made it clear freedom of movement would have to change as part of a deal, but she was unable to confirm whether EU citizens currently in the UK would be affected by any new agreement.
After being introduced by Brexit campaigner Chris Grayling, who is chairing her leadership bid, May said: “There is clearly no mandate for a deal that involves accepting the free movement of people as it has worked hitherto.”
She went on: “I want to be clear that as we conduct our negotiations, it must be a priority to allow British companies to trade with the single market in goods and services – but also to regain more control of the numbers of people who come here from Europe.
“Any attempt to wriggle out of that – especially from leadership candidates who campaigned to leave the EU by focusing on immigration – will be unacceptable to the public.”
May’s press conference came less than an hour after Justice Secretary Michael Gove sensationally announced he was standing for Tory leader.
Gove had previously backed Johnson for the top job, but said today the former Mayor of London “cannot provide the leadership or build the team for the task ahead.”
May took the opportunity to make joke at Johnson’s expense after being asked about her own experience of negotiating with EU leaders.
She said: "Boris negotiated in Europe and I seem to remember last time he did a deal with the Germans he came back with three nearly-new water cannon."
Others standing for the Conservative leadership are Stephen Crabb, Liam Fox, Andrea Leadsom.
Nominations to succeed David Cameron closed at 12noon today, and after a series of ballots among Tory MPs the final two candidates will be put to the party's membership.
The winner will be announced on September 9.
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