Boris Johnson's Brexit plan could prove fatal to Tory party, says former leader William Hague – live news

William Hague, the former Conservative party leader and former foreign secretary, has written a candid column (paywall) in the Daily Telegraph today about the Tory leadership contest. You would not guess it from the rather dull headline the paper has put on it – in the paper edition, “We Tories face a tough choice, but for me one candidate stood out” – but that might have something to do with the fact that the Telegraph is enthusiastically backing Boris Johnson, its star columnist, for next PM, and Hague is effectively arguing Johnson could destroy the Conservative party.

Hague backs Hunt for Tory leader – although he also says a no-deal Brexit would be disastrous. Perhaps the column was written before Hague read Hunt’s speech yesterday, in which Hunt significantly hardened up his Brexit stance, saying that he would start his premiership on the assumption that a no-deal Brexit was the most likely outcome.

Here are the main points from Hague’s article.

  • Hague warns that Boris Johnson’s Brexit strategy could prove fatal to the Conservative party. Near the start of his column he says:

The whole idea of a broad, centre-Right party, which has an unbroken history in this country from Robert Peel to Theresa May, is now under threat. Serious mistakes in the coming months could be terminal for the world’s most enduring political force.

And then later he explains that Johnson’s determination to deliver Brexit by 31 October in all circumstances, despite parliament’s opposition to no-deal, could lead to a general election which would be disastrous for the Tories. He explains:

For the fundamental problem with willingly threatening a no-deal Brexit, or saying it will happen at the end of October, come what may, is that this new prime minister has no guaranteed majority in the House of Commons. Faced with that reality, the grotesque expedient of somehow ignoring a majority in parliament – which would mean at worst an election and, even at best, the complete inability to pass any legislation afterwards – has reared its head.

Boris has demonstrated his strong convictions by saying “do or die” and refusing to rule out the proroguing of parliament. But in doing so, however much I wish him well if he is elected, he has lost my vote, because “do and then die” could very easily be the outcome.

  • Hague says a no-deal Brexit could be disastrous for the economy, for the union and for the Conservative party. He explains:

There is of course a second criterion, namely who can best take party and country out of the spectacular mess that the process of leaving the EU has become. The Conservatives face immense twin dangers, although many in the party are focused on only one of these without realising the full scale of the other.

Behind them is the Brexit party in full cry, threatening electoral calamity if the promised exit hasn’t happened soon. But ahead of them is a no-deal Brexit, with its unknown consequences. It is as if a flock of sheep is running full tilt from the wolves while little realising it might be heading for a cliff. For the Tory party to ignore the pleas of manufacturing businesses and farms, risk placing the union in greater jeopardy, and leave the country in the humiliating position of starting endless new negotiations in a less advantageous position, is a combination that is dangerous indeed.

Ironically, Hunt’s “heading for a cliff” metaphor is exactly the same as one used by the SNP yesterday – although the SNP version was more colourful; Kirsty Blackman described Johnson and Hunt as the “Thelma and Louise of Brexit”. But the SNP is opposed to both Johnson and Hunt. Hague has concluded Hunt would be the best Tory leader because Hague thinks he would be best placed to achieve a Brexit deal, even though yesterday Hunt stressed his willingness to manage without a deal.

  • Hague casts doubt on whether Johnson has the ability to run government effectively. He says:

Jeremy Hunt … is one of the most talented ministers with whom I have shared the cabinet table. One of the reasons he was health secretary for so long was that his senior colleagues did not believe anyone else could handle it. In the coalition government, I watched him, through one winter after another, deal with the strains on the NHS with steady and unflappable competence. Good humoured and rational in all circumstances, he is definitely someone you want with you in a crisis …

All governments can only function properly if the occupant of No 10 masters the machinery of it for themselves. They cannot be aloof from it. Whether the civil servants run down the corridors depends on the 24-hour-a-day grip, focus and drive of the man or woman at the top. I hope Boris Johnson can deliver that, but I know for sure that Jeremy Hunt can. I therefore have to lean very heavily towards voting for him.

We’ve got a Tory leadership elections hustings this morning, so there is a lot more of this to come.

Here is the agenda for the day.

9am: New MEPs take their seats in the European parliament in Strasbourg for the first time.

Morning: EU leaders meet in Brussels again to continue their debate about who should hold the top jobs in the EU. They have already been talking for 20 hours without reaching agreement.

Around 11.30am: Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt take part in a Conservative leadership election hustings in Belfast.

11.30am: Philip Hammond, the chancellor, takes questions in the Commons.

12.30pm: Nick Boles, the independent MP who left the Tories over Brexit, speaks at an Institute for Government event.

As usual, I will be covering breaking political news as it happens, as well as bringing you the best reaction, comment and analysis from the web, although I will be focusing mostly on the Tory leadership contest. I plan to publish a summary at lunchtime and then another when I finish.

You can read all the latest Guardian politics articles here. Here is the Politico Europe roundup of this morning’s political news. And here is the PoliticsHome list of today’s top 10 must-reads.

If you want to follow me or contact me on Twitter, I’m on @AndrewSparrow.

I try to monitor the comments below the line (BTL) but it is impossible to read them all. If you have a direct question, do include “Andrew” in it somewhere and I’m more likely to find it. I do try to answer questions, and if they are of general interest, I will post the question and reply above the line (ATL), although I can’t promise to do this for everyone.

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William Hague

William Hague Photograph: Dan Kitwood/PA


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