ConservativeHome has sent a detailed questionnaire to all the Conservative leadership candidates.
We are also asking public questions of the leading contenders each morning – which are deliberately crafted to be as testing as possible.
The questionnaire answers from all candidates will be published this week.
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1. According to David Jeffrey’s calculation, you are a candidate of one wing of the Conservative Brexit debate: 83 per cent of your MP backers voted Leave. How could you possibly hold the Party together as its leader?
I’m proud to have attracted supporters from all parts of the parliamentary party for my agenda to build a fairer Britain – a fairer economy, cutting taxes and ending rip offs and a fairer society, with greater opportunities so every child can make the best of their potential.
But we won’t get on to talk about all the things that unite us, until we have delivered Brexit. And I am the only the candidate in this contest with a clear plan, the negotiating experience and the focus to deliver Brexit by the end of October.
2. Your Brexit plan seems to be to improve the Withdrawal Agreement, and to pursue No Deal if you can’t. But what’s to stop pro-Remain Tory MPs blocking No Deal and bringing your Government down?
I’m committed to delivering Brexit, and to make sure it happens by the end of October. I will not countenance another extension. Leaving on WTO terms is not the preferred outcome, but it is far better than leaving with a flawed deal. I’m confident, as the recent Institute for Government report made clear, that a resolute and focused Prime Minister with a disciplined Cabinet could steer the course to leaving on WTO terms at the end of October. If the EU stubbornly refuses to budge in the negotiations, that is their choice, but we must end this paralysis so our country can move forward. The alternative, of yet more protracted and prolonged uncertainty, would be far worse for business and trust in our democracy.
3. Shouldn’t you recognise what other candidates less identified with Brexit, such as Jeremy Hunt, have already grasped – that the Withdrawal Agreement and May’s Deal are dead?
As I said, I’m the only candidate who has set out a clear plan for leaving by the end of October – and has the conviction, resolve and negotiating experience to deliver it. There is still, just about, scope for a reasonable compromise with the EU to achieve a deal. I believe we should keep the arm of friendship extended. So I would engage with our EU partners, by reverting with a best final offer to overhaul the backstop. I would also make clear that the end destination for our future relationship must be a ‘best in class’ Free Trade Agreement, not a Customs Union or any other hybrid arrangement requiring close regulatory alignment.
This is constructive and reasonable, a final attempt to bridge the gap with our EU partners, in a way that allows us to take back control of our laws, our borders and forge an independent global free trade policy, tailored to UK needs and interests.
At the same time, we must retain the option of leaving on World Trade Organisation terms. It’s necessary to give the UK some finality to this agonising process, but above all to strengthen our negotiating leverage to give ourselves the best shot of reaching an acceptable deal.
Anyone who advocates ruling out a WTO departure or musing about an extension would, I’m afraid, just weaken our negotiating position in Brussels. That is the unmistakable lesson from the last 3 years.
4. Trust in the Conservative Party is at an all-time low, and voters don’t know you. Won’t they write you off, however unfairly, as “just another Tory”, and stick with the Brexit Party in any autumn election – or not vote at all?
That’s why we need to Leave as soon as possible. At the European Elections, voters sent us a very clear message: unless we get on and actually leave the EU there will be a day of reckoning at the next general election. And, until we have kept our promises on Brexit, we can’t move on to talk about the optimistic vision we have for a fairer economy, for a fairer society – the stuff that unites our Party, brings the Conservative family back together and wins us the next Election.
5. Leave aside for a moment the desirability or otherwise of proroguing Parliament in order to deliver Brexit – an option you won’t rule out. On what basis do you believe that the Queen would go along with it?
I have simply said I won’t rule out any options in making sure we leave by the end of October. It is naïve to do so, because now is the time for us to send the clearest signal to the EU about our resolve to leave by the end of October.
6. You’re committed to cutting income tax by 5p – a penny a year. Where are the detailed calculations that show balancing spending reductions, thus making the plan credible?
I want to cut taxes for workers on low and middle incomes – to give them a pay rise, which many haven’t had for years. If I was elected Prime Minister, at my first budget, I would raise the National Insurance employee’s threshold in line with the personal allowance, and take a penny of the basic rate of income tax.
That would save the average worker £640 per year, and cost around £15 billion. Thanks to the hard work of this Chancellor and his predecessor, the OBR confirmed in March that we have £26.6 billion of fiscal headroom next year. I also listened to the Chancellor explain to the House of Commons, at the recent Treasury Questions, that we could use this to cut income tax – in fact, I believe he called it the ‘luxury of choice’ after the difficult decisions we’ve made since 2010.
My aim for the future, subject to the public finances, would be to take a penny of the basic rate at intervals until it is down at 15 per cent – and I’d set out the savings needed through the normal budget process.
Of course, as in any healthy business, the government needs to continue to look to make savings. I would use the Comprehensive Spending Review to slim down Whitehall, cut bureaucracy and appoint a special commission to review public procurement – which in my view still involves far too much waste and inefficiency.
7. You’ve put out more policy than any other candidate: 22 pledges by one count. Isn’t Rachel Wolf right to suggest that any runner in this position is making rushed commitments that he won’t be able to deliver?
No, I don’t think so. This contest is a change contest, and the next election will be a change election. So, we’ve got to make it about the future of our country, and the vision we have to get out of this rut and moving forward. And for any vision to be credible, it needs to be backed up with some policy direction. Isn’t that what a leadership contest, at such a momentous cross-roads in our history, should be all about?
I want to unite the aspirational working and middle classes behind an optimistic vision of a fairer economy that cuts taxes for workers, and a fairer society that expands opportunity for our young people. I’ve set out my vision and policies in some detail, so MPs and our members know what it means for voters in their constituencies. Of course, we won’t be able to do any of these things, if we don’t deliver Brexit by the end of October.