David Cameron must be feeling rather demob-happy, as he used his final meeting with EU leaders yesterday before standing down as Prime Minister to tell them they must change the bloc’s fundamental free movement rules if they are to keep close economic ties with Britain after Brexit and to avoid any other nations following them out the exit door. He admitted at a press conference later that night that talking about Brexit had been a “sad night” for him as he “didn’t’ want to be in this position”, but his successor will be no doubt grateful to him for laying the groundwork. Boris Johnson, currently considered the frontrunner in this race, has stressed that he wants Britain to have continued access to the single market and a controlled immigration system, with a source close to him saying: “He would end free movement, what we need is to take back control.”
Back in Westminster, Conservatives are jockeying for position as nominations for the leadership of the Conservative party open from 6pm today. Boris Johnson’s private polling suggests he is the only candidate who can win enough support from ordinary votes to ensure the Conservatives win the next election, we report, with the former Mayor believing he is best-placed to build a strong party machine thanks to the support of crucial donors. He has been given by a boost by Environment Secretary Liz Truss, who has used an article in today’s Telegraph to become the first Cabinet minister to declare for a candidate, saying that Johnson and Michael Gove, the Justice Secretary, can “bring the country together“. Johnson also stands to be helped by Sir Lynton Crosby, the election mastermind who helped him twice become Mayor, once he declares his candidacy. However, a poll of Tory activists by Conservative Home found that he’ll be in fierce competition with Theresa May, who is narrowly ahead of him in their poll of who should be the next leader (29 per cent to 28).
The Home Secretary has meanwhile been accused by Johnson’s supporters of using the Government machine to strong arm Conservative MPs into voting for her to become Prime Minister. One Conservative MP said he had been collared by his whip earlier this week while he was voting to ask if he was voting for Mrs May, who will position herself as a leader for “difficult times” when she sets out her case to replace David Cameron on Thursday.
As May and Johnson supporters fight, other Tories are offering their own views on what the Conservatives need to do in the future. Stephen Crabb has set out his case for becoming the next Prime Minister in today’s paper, offering a path of “optimism and pragmatism” towards “better days”. Crabb, who was brought up in a council house, boasts the support of Sajid Javid, son of a bus driver, so can fly the flag for blue-collar Conservatism. Meanwhile Nicky Morgan, who is “actively considering” whether to throw her hat in, has tld james Kirkup that the Tories need to do more to make the “positive case” for immigration and must not be “pushed aroud” by Nigel Farage.
The Tories will have to be confident that David Cameron’s successor can win the next election, as Jeremy Corbyn’s increasingly perilous position means they could face a different Labour leader in 2020. In the meantime, Corbyn is expected to continue his battle for control of the Labour Party after losing a vote of no confidence in his leadership (172 votes to 40 among his MPs). “It’s not the Tories who will be destroyed, but the Labour Party itself if Jeremy refuses to stand aside,” warns Chris Bryant, the former Shadow leader of the Commons in today’s paper. “If he does so, history will look kindly on him. If not, he will be remembered as the man who broke the back of the party.” Angela Eagle is emeriging as a likely challenger to Corbyn, with Tom Watson considered another contender, although the devotion Corbyn still inspires from his activists should help him survive any leadership contest that arises.
For now, he has a session of PMQs to face (which you can follow on our liveblog), and David Cameron has quite a few resignation letters he can merrily quote if he needs material. The Prime Minister may of course be tempted to spare his blushes, knowing his party wants Corbyn to remain in place for as long as possible.