Brexit: Theresa May refuses unconditional support for next PM

Theresa May Image copyright EPA

Theresa May has refused to promise unconditional support for her successor’s Brexit plan.

Asked if she would back whichever Brexit outcome the next prime minister achieves, including a no-deal Brexit, she said that amounted to agreeing to “whatever happens in future”.

Jeremy Hunt or Boris Johnson will be announced as the winner of the Tory Party leadership race on 23 July.

Both men have said they would try to renegotiate a deal with the EU.

Speaking to journalists on her official flight to the G20 summit in Osaka, Mrs May said: “It is important that we deliver a Brexit that is good for the British people.

“It will be up to my successor to take this forward. To find the majority in Parliament that I was not able to find and to deliver the decision of the British people in 2016.”

Mr Johnson has said the UK must leave on 31 October “deal or no deal”, but that the chances of a no-deal Brexit happening are a “million to one”.

However, in an interview with Conservative Home, Mr Johnson said every member of his cabinet would have to be “reconciled” with the policy of leaving on 31 October – with or without a deal.

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Media captionBoris Johnson: 31 October must not be a ‘papier-mache’ deadline

Speaking to the BBC he said not leaving on 31 October would mean “a very, very serious further loss of confidence in politics”. “Let’s not turn this into some papier-mache deadline,” he added.

Foreign Secretary Mr Hunt said if the UK got to October without the prospect of a deal, “we will leave without a deal”.

But he also called the Brexit date a “fake deadline” that could trigger a general election if Parliament rejects a no-deal Brexit.

A no-deal exit would see the UK leave the customs union and single market overnight and start trading with the EU on World Trade Organization rules.

The EU has repeatedly said it will not renegotiate the withdrawal agreement, despite this featuring in the plans of both candidates.

Will Theresa May be a backseat driver?

By John Pienaar, BBC deputy political editor

Theresa May arrived in Osaka something of a leader in limbo – an outgoing prime minister beset by incoming crises at home and abroad.

So far she’s been conspicuously trying to stay above the fray of the Tory leadership contest.

She’s told no-one who she voted for in narrowing the field down to two; she’s taken no sides.

On the RAF Voyager flight into Osaka, she gave journalists a hint that she has more to contribute before this saga ends, assuming, of course, it ever does.

The prime minister refused to pledge her support for whatever outcome may take shape under the next leader.

Read more from John Pienaar

The leadership rivals have been unveiling pledges including on education and on immigration as their campaign continues.

Mr Johnson has promised to deliver an Australian-style points-based immigration system if he becomes prime minister, while Mr Hunt said he would cancel the tuition fee debts of young entrepreneurs who start businesses and employ people.

Both candidates are meeting the public in the Isle of Wight, ahead of hustings for party members in Bournemouth later.

On Monday, Defence Minister Tobias Ellwood said “a dozen or so” Conservative MPs could support a vote of no confidence to stop a no-deal Brexit.

But Mrs May said she believed it would be wrong for Conservatives to vote against the government on a confidence motion, saying that defeat on such a vote could lead to a general election.

Compare the candidates’ policies

Select a topic and a candidate to find out more


– Would leave the EU with no deal, but it’s not his preferred option. – Wants changes to the Irish backstop and proposes sending a new negotiating team to Brussels. – Wants to make changes to the withdrawal agreement and thinks it’s possible to get them done by 31 October, but has not ruled out an extension.

– Has pledged to get the UK out of the EU on 31 October, the deadline for Brexit set by the EU, but thinks the chances of a no-deal Brexit happening are a “million to one”. – Would like to leave on the basis of a new withdrawal agreement negotiated with the EU, with the backstop removed and replaced with “alternative arrangements”. – If this is not possible, he would ask the EU to agree to a “standstill period” during which the UK could negotiate a free trade deal with the bloc. – Failing this, the UK must be prepared to leave on World Trade Organization (WTO) terms if required, and the country would “get ready for that outcome”. – Says he would demonstrate “creative ambiguity” over when the UK will pay the £39bn “divorce” payment it is due to give the EU as part of the negotiated deal. He has also said the money should be retained until there is “greater clarity about the way forward”.


– Calls for flexibility on immigration, saying skilled workers should be prioritised. – Wants to review policies of stopping migrants with less than £30,000 coming to the UK to work. – Would scrap the Conservative target of reducing net annual immigration to below 100,000 a year, he told the Daily Mail.

– Promises to deliver an Australian-style points-based immigration system, considering factors including whether an immigrant has a firm job offer before arrival and their ability to speak English. – Opposes the net migration target of under 100,000 per year. – Says he is “open to talent, open to immigration” but it “should be controlled”. – Would block the ability to claim benefits immediately when someone arrives in the UK.


– As an entrepreneur, he wants to turn Britain into “the next Silicon Valley… a hub of innovation”. – Pledges to slash business taxes to the lowest in Europe to attract firms to Britain after Brexit and reduce corporation tax to 12.5%. – Wants to increase the threshold at which workers pay National Insurance to at least £12,000 a year.

– Pledges to cut income tax for people earning more than £50,000 by raising the 40% tax threshold to £80,000. – Plans to pay for the reported £9.6bn annual cost of the cut in part from a pot set aside by the Treasury for a possible no-deal Brexit, and in part by increasing employee National Insurance payments. – However he says his tax proposals will begin by “lifting thresholds for those on lowest pay”.


– Wants to boost defence spending by £15bn over the next five years. – Promises to build 1.5m new homes for young people over the next 10 years.

– Pledges to “find the money” to recruit an extra 20,000 police officers over an as-yet unspecified period. – Promises to speed up the delivery of “full fibre” internet connection, with the super-fast service available to all by 2025, eight years earlier than currently planned. – Focus on Northern Powerhouse. – Wants to review the HS2 train project.


– Says there should be an automatic system for people to save for their social care costs in old age “in the same way they save for their pension”. – Says people should be able to opt out of the scheme, and the government would cap costs for those who “save responsibly” during their lives. – Mental health support to be offered in every school and a crackdown on social media companies that fail to regulate their content.

– Has previously said money spent on the EU could be put into the NHS. – Says more should be spent on social care, according to a cross-party “national consensus”. – Says the NHS would be “free to everybody at the point of use” under his premiership and has ruled out a pay-for-access NHS, even as a result of a post-Brexit trade deal with the US.


– Says anyone who creates a new business which employs more than 10 people for five years would have their university tuition fee debts written off. – He also plans a cut in interest rate paid on student loans. – Long-term plan to provide more funding for the teaching profession in return for a guarantee that no one leaves the education system without a “rigorous qualification” sufficient to work up to at least the average salary. – Wants to transform the education system to abolish illiteracy.

– Promises to raise spending on secondary school pupils to £5,000 each. – Called the funding gap between some schools in cities compared with those in rural areas a “disturbing reality”.

The prime minister told reporters: “I believe there should be a Conservative government in the UK because a Conservative government would be better for the people of the UK.”

‘Grossly irresponsible’

In an attempt to block a no-deal Brexit, Conservative Dominic Grieve and Labour’s Dame Margaret Beckett have tabled an amendment that would stop funding going to certain government departments if the UK leaves without a deal – unless it has been specifically approved by MPs.

If a vote in the Commons on Tuesday is successful, it would have the potential to cut off cash to four Whitehall departments – education, housing; communities and local government; international development; and work and pensions.

Under parliamentary procedure, MPs have to approve government spending, known as estimates, twice a year.

A spokesman for the prime minister said it would be “grossly irresponsible” to seek to stop a no-deal Brexit by blocking government spending.



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