Amber Rudd has warned Conservative MPs considering not voting for their own party at the European elections they are “making a mistake”.
The work and pensions secretary urged colleagues to reject the “extreme parties” on either side of the Brexit divide. “All Conservatives should vote Conservative,” she said on Thursday.
In a sign of the divisions over Europe fracturing the Tories, Brexiteer MPs Anne Marie-Morris, Lucy Allen and Maria Caulfield have all said they could vote against their own party. While pro-Remain former Tory deputy prime minister Michael Heseltine has said he will not vote for a pro-Brexit Tory MEP candidate.
With two weeks to go until the European elections, there is no sign of a formal Tory campaign launch or a policy manifesto. The party is braced for heavy losses amid the Brexit deadlock in Westminster and is under heavy pressure from Nigel Farage’s new Brexit Party.
A survey from ConHome found three out of five Tory party members were planning to vote for the Brexit Party.
It has been suggested Theresa May, who is facing backbench demands to resign sooner rather than later, could ask MPs to vote for a fourth time on a version of her Brexit deal next week before the elections.
Taking questions after her speech on employment in London this morning, Rudd said it was her “hope” the Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB) could be voted on soon but it would only be done when the government was “sure we can get the numbers”.
Asked about the absence of a full-throttle Tory campaign, Rudd said: “I will be out talking to people about why they should vote Conservative. We are the right party in terms of a strong economy and a balanced approach to Brexit.”
And she urged her colleagues in parliament to do the same. “The Conservative Party is the only party that offers a practical, compassionate approach to governing the country and a way of delivering on Brexit that is balanced, and careful, and is straight with people.”
Rudd, who campaigned strongly for Remain, said the Tories were the only party that had a “practical, pragmatic way forward of delivering” on the referendum.
Amid calls for May to quit, Rudd said the party should “hold our nerve” and allow PM to pass a Brexit deal before handing over the keys to No.10.
“I believe that she has a plan now, hopefully to do a deal with Labour, if not to bring forward indicative votes. We need to back her on that,” she said.
Rudd, who has previously indicated she could enter the race, dodged questions about whether she would be a candidate and said only she was “committed” to her current cabinet job.
Esther McVey, Rudd’s pro-Brexit predecessor, today confirmed she would stand for leader. Andrea Leadsom, the Commons leader, also said this week she was “seriously considering” running. Rory Stewart, the new international development secretary, has also said he intends to stand. Boris Johnson, Jeremy Hunt, Sajid Javid, Penny Mordaunt and Matt Hancock are also expected to join crowded field.
Jeremy Corbyn launched Labour’s campaign today and the Lib Dems will do the same this evening. The Brexit Party, pro-EU Change UK and the Greens have also all launched their campaigns.