Tory leadership hopefuls who do not back Theresa May’s Brexit deal will fail in their bids to become prime minister, a former cabinet minister has said.
Nicky Morgan warned contenders including Dominic Raab that Brexiteer MPs who have switched to backing the prime minister’s deal “at this hour of great national need” would question leadership challengers’ priorities unless they also fell into line.
She also told HuffPost UK’s Commons People podcast that she has “no desire and no intention” of standing for the leadership herself, after May promised to stand down once Brexit is delivered in a bid to win support for her deal.
And Morgan suggested there could be a transition of power between May and a new leader - either a Tory or even the head of a new national unity administration - in the 14 day period after the government loses a vote of no confidence, if parliament remains in deadlock over Brexit.
But she first warned Tory leadership contenders the party needs someone who is going to “heal some divisions”, suggesting a hardline Brexiteer like Raab would struggle to win any contest.
Boris Johnson almost immediately backed May’s deal after she promised to quit before phase two of Brexit negotiations with the EU, despite once likening it to a “suicide vest”.
But former Brexit secretary Raab has suggested he will stand firm with hardliners and vote against May’s deal, calling for it to be renegotiated with the EU, which both the PM and Brussels have ruled out, or for ministers to prepare for no deal.
But Morgan warned: “My honest truth is at this hour of great national need any Conservative MP who doesn’t vote for the prime minister’s draft agreement, I think will find it very difficult to get traction in the Conservative Party for their leadership bid.
“Looking at what Conservative MPs are now saying amongst themselves, looking at what people like Richard Bacon, Michael Fabricant, James Gray, other people who have been very clear they don’t like the agreement - if they can vote for it they will be saying hang on, when we were asked by the prime minister... if you, X leadership candidate, could not do it, where are your priorities for the country?
“At the moment there is only one leadership candidate who is out there who is holding out and that is Dominic Raab.”
If May fails to get her deal passed it is unclear whether she would still stand down as Tory leader.
She would almost certainly have to ask for a long delay to Brexit and commit Britain to taking part in European elections.
That could trigger a vote of no confidence in the government which opposition parties could win with the help of hardline Tory Brexiteers.
A 14-day ‘cooling off’ period following the vote could allow a new government to form without the need for an election, giving parliament an opportunity to reset on Brexit, Morgan suggested.
“We live in highly unprecedented times and I wouldn’t discount the possibility of a collection of people, I don’t want to see Jeremy Corbyn anywhere near the levers of power but it could be others who actually do stitch together,” she said.
“We have seen the tectonic plates shifting with The Independent Group, there might be something else that happens, I don’t think we can rule anything out.”
Asked if she wanted to be Tory leader, Morgan said: “It’s very nice that people are thinking about me, I have got to say I have no desire and no intention of standing.”