Former Chief Whip Mark Harper joins Tory leadership race with blast at Cabinet rivals
Mark Harper has become the latest MP to mount a challenge to become the next Conservative leader and Prime Minister.
The former Chief Whip, the twelfth candidate to throw their hat into the ring, said he was the underdog in the race to succeed Theresa May, but insisted that meant he had "the strongest fighting spirit".
And he took a swipe at his rivals who have spent the last three years in government failing to get Brexit over the line.
“We've seen basically the same faces saying the same things that they've been saying for the last three years,” he told the Daily Telegraph.
“A number of them have tried to position themselves as fresh faces but I'm afraid they've sat around the Cabinet table sharing the responsibility with the Prime Minister.”
He added: "I've not heard any fresh thinking. On Brexit, this means building a better relationship with the Irish government, as well as including the Cabinet and wider party in the conversation before agreeing a deal with Brussels."
The intervention comes weeks after he told PoliticsHome’s sister title, The House magazine, that he understood why traditional Tory voters would not be backing the party in the EU elections – where they subsequently came fifth.
He said: “I had lots of people I talked to … who normally vote Conservative and have voted Conservative all the time and were very frustrated about us not having delivered Brexit and I wasn’t able to persuade them to vote for us...”
In his latest pitch, the Forest of Dean MP also said he that coming from a working class background, he understood the “real world”.
"I believe that people should be given the freedom to live their life how they want and that their hard work should be rewarded," he said.
“I believe that every child should get the best possible start in life and the chance to fulfill their potential.”
Mr Harper joins an already-crowded field of Tory contenders, including Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, Dominic Raab, Jeremy Hunt, Andrea Leadsom, Sajid Javid, Esther McVey, Matt Hancock, Rory Stewart, James Cleverly and Kit Malthouse.
Nominations close on 10 June, and Mrs May's successor is expected to be in place at the end of July.
Former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith said Tory rules should be changed to slash the number of MPs taking part in the race.
He said: "We have to be very focused that the person who wins this will, the day after, be the Prime Minister and have to pick up the pieces of Brexit and all the other elements."