No Tory leadership candidate can make Brexit happen by 31 October deadline, contender Mark Harper warns
It is "not credible” for any Tory leadership candidate to vow to take Britain out of the European Union by 31 October, Mark Harper has said, as he became the latest contender to launch his bid for the top job.
Speaking at his formal campaign launch in Westminster on Tuesday, the former chief whip insisted he would be “prepared and comfortable” to leave the EU without a deal.
But he warned his fellow candidates that there was now not enough time to either renegotiate Theresa May’s Brexit deal or overcome the objections of MPs to leaving without an agreement in October.
Mr Harper - a former immigration minister - is among ten candidates vying to replace Theresa May as Conservative party leader after securing the required backing of eight MPs.
Spelling out his plan for Brexit, the MP said a no-deal outcome would only be “credible” if Britain demonstrated it had strained “every sinew to get a deal”.
Mr Harper said: “Which is why, I’m afraid, the bit where I perhaps make myself unpopular with my Conservative colleagues, is when I say that it is not going to be possible to leave on 31 October.
“I would love to. I voted in parliament to leave on 29 March. I voted to leave on 12 April. I voted against extending Article 50 twice. But not enough people in Parliament did so.
“And I’m afraid it is not credible to say you can renegotiate the Withdrawal Agreement and get it through both houses of Parliament by 31 October.
“It’s not credible to say that you can somehow make Parliament vote through the existing unchanged withdrawal agreement by 31 October and it’s not credible to say, if you haven’t properly tried to get a deal, that Parliament won’t be able to stop you.”
The Tory candidate would instead only commit to making Brexit happen before the next general election - but he insisted he would not kick “the can down the road” after his party was hammered at last month’s European elections.
“We’re not getting 9% in a national set of elections again,” he said. “I don’t think the Conservative Party can survive, forcing our voters to vote for other people time after time after time.”
'LEVEL WITH PEOPLE'
He also took aim at Conservative leadership frontrunner Boris Johnson, who has drawn flak for keeping a low profile throughout the campaign so far.
Mr Harper said: “If you want to be Prime Minister, and you want to lead this country, I think you have to be prepared to set out your stall. I think you have to open yourself up to questioning. And you have to be prepared to level with people about the challenges. And I think you have to be prepared to be questioned about it.”
He also dismissed candidate Dominic Raab's suggestion that he could prorogue Parliament in a bid to stop MPs blocking a no-deal Brexit, warning that it would “test our constitution to destruction” and risked dragging the Queen into politics.
And he ruled out quitting the Tory leadership race if offered a Cabinet job by one of the other contenders, and said he felt “very confident” that he would make it through the leadership battle’s first round of voting by Tory MPs this Thursday.