David Davis has refused to rule himself out of any race to replace Theresa May as Tory leader and prime minister.
The former Brexit secretary also declined to say he would back the PM, as she fights for her political survival in a vote of no confidence on Wednesday night.
Davis has been tipped as one of many hardline Brexiteers who could bid for the leadership should May’s premiership fall.
Other potential candidates include a string of cabinet ministers, including Home Secretary Sajid Javid, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt and International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt.
It comes after 1922 committee chair Sir Graham Brady announced the threshold of 48 letters from Tory MPs calling for a challenge to May had been breached on Wednesday morning.
Asked directly whether he would stand, Davis said: “Answering questions like that just biases the run of the vote.
“The vote is going to be made independently by the Conservative party in parliament without people like me or anybody else influencing it.”
He was answering questions from reporters at the launch of the A Better Deal paper in central London, where he appeared alongside DUP leader Arlene Foster, whose party is kingmaker in parliament, propping up May’s government.
And asked how he would vote in the confidence vote, he replied: ″I will cast my vote this evening [...] in what I judge to be the national interest.
“That means [...] we must have a reset of negotiations in such a way that protects the integrity of the United Kingdom, and that’s the importance of Arlene Foster being here.”
Davis, who stepped down when May announced her Chequers deal in the summer, went on: “I was going to make that judgement [on how I would vote] based on what the prime minster brought back from Brussels, but that’s obviously not going to happen.
“But she is my prime minister still so before I tell you or anybody else what my vote will be, I will give her the courtesy of listening to what she has to say this evening to the ’22 committee.”
He added he regretted the fact the PM pulled the so-called meaningful vote on her Brexit deal.
“There is no risk free operation in any part of this process,” he said, referring to the confidence vote. “I was sorry the PM pulled the vote, frankly. I thought it would have been better to go the distance of the vote and then send her to Brussels with the reinforcement of that behind her.”
A Better Deal proposes retaining many elements of May’s package but removes what they referred to as “poison pills” which prevented her securing cross-party support.
Backers of the new approach – including former Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab, who succeeded Davis before stepping down himself – said parliament had effectively rejected the PM’s deal by making it impossible for her to get it through the Commons.
The document, drawn up by a former adviser to Liam Fox, Shanker Singham, customs expert Hans Maessen and lawyer Robert MacLean, proposed:
- No single customs territory between the UK and the EU, allowing Britain to regain control over tariffs and regulations and negotiate trade agreements with other countries;
- A 10-year, extendable backstop featuring advanced customs facilitation measures to keep the Irish border open, a zero-tariff free trade agreement in goods and a commitment by all parties not to place infrastructure on the border;
- Mutual recognition of regulations, with measures to ensure that the animal health and disease control zone on the island of Ireland can be maintained;
- Level playing field provisions on labour, the environment, competition and state aid;.
- The removal of geographic indications provisions from the Withdrawal Agreement, to be considered as part of a later free trade deal;
- The removal of language on World Trade Organisation collaboration, ensuring that the UK can operate independently in the WTO.
In response to the paper, Labour MP Alison McGovern MP, leading supporter of the People’s Vote campaign for a second referendum, said: “David Davis’s fantasy Brexit is no more credible or realistic than every other cake-and-eat-it scheme. Closing your eyes and wishing for a magic solution to the Irish border question does not make it appear.”