Rivals round on Boris Johnson as Tory leadership battle heats up

Michael Gove leads the attack with ‘don't pull out’ dig at Boris

Boris Johnson

A number of Tory leadership hopefuls have rounded on frontrunner Boris Johnson, as the gloves come off in the campaign to replace Theresa May.

Making a formal pitch in advance of the first round of voting, Michael Gove said: “If I get through, which I’m sure I will, to the final two this is what I will say to him: Mr Johnson, whatever you do, don’t pull out. I know you have before, and I know you may not believe in your heart that you can do it. But the Conservative Party membership deserve a choice.”

Gove later denied that the remarks were a personal attack on Johnson.

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The Express said that the environment secretary spoke out “in a fit of desperation to deflect questions about his own cocaine use,” while The Guardian called it a “punchy speech” that was “laced with jibes”.

Another hopeful, Jeremy Hunt, also made apparent digs at Johnson yesterday. “We need to get real – we are facing a constitutional crisis,” he said.

“Our new prime minister will still preside over a hung Parliament. This extremely serious moment calls for an experienced, serious leader. We need the art of tough negotiation, not the art of empty rhetoric.”

The media has interpreted a remark made by Matt Hancock as a thinly veiled attack on Johnson. The health secretary said: “The only way you can do the job is if you know your heart – if you’re honest to yourself and know what you stand for.”

The Guardian says that was “another coded swipe” at Boris. Dominic Raab’s remark that Brexit would not be delivered with “bluff and bluster” was also, says The Guardian, a dig at Johnson.

Meanwhile, Johnson’s promise that he would cut tax for the rich has come under fire from his leadership rivals. Gove said the one thing he would “never do as prime minister” was to “give the already wealthy another tax cut”.

Raab said that if Johnson were to win, he would allow the Conservatives to be portrayed as the “party of privilege” and that the former foreign secretary was “only in it to help the wealthy”.

Economists say the move would cost the Treasury about £10bn a year, The Times reports, and that only about 14% of the population would earn enough to benefit from the policy, with 83% of the gains going to the top 10% of households.

Ten candidates have secured the eight nominations needed to enter the first round of the contest. Former universities minister Sam Gyimah dropped out of the race.

The candidates 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 leader of the House Andrea Leadsom, former work and pensions secretary Esther McVey, former Brexit secretary Dominic Raab and International Development Secretary Rory Stewart.

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