Tory leadership: Gove fights to stay in race after cocaine confession

‘This is personal… I believe in Brexit’: Michael Gove fights to get his Tory leadership campaign back on track after cocaine confession saying he is the ‘serious’ option as PM

  • The Conservative Party leadership battle has formally kicked off today with nominations opening at 10am 
  • Four of the biggest players in the contest have been staging their official launches in Westminster today
  • Environment Secretary Michael Gove said he was the ‘serious’ option after admitting to cocaine use 
  • Rivals Jeremy Hunt, Dominic Raab and Matt Hancock took aim at Boris Johnson as the battle heated up
  • Mr Johnson is also facing a major backlash for his pledge of tax cuts for higher earners on up to £80,000
  • Some of the 11 candidates have been struggling to get support from eight MPs needed to get on the ballot
  • Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd and Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt endorsed Jeremy Hunt 

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Michael Gove is battling to get his Tory leadership bid back on track today amid a storm over his admission that he took cocaine.

Mr Gove used his campaign launch this afternoon to insist he is the ‘serious’ candidate to take over from Theresa May – in a swipe at Boris Johnson.

Stressing his record as a reforming education and environment secretary, he said the next PM faced a challenge ‘bigger than perhaps has been faced before’. 

And he complained that ‘some people involved in this negotiation have not believed in Brexit’.

He added: ‘For me this is personal… it is all about democracy.’  

But Mr Gove is facing accusations of ‘hypocrisy’ and calls to stand aside after the dramatic revelations over the weekend that he used cocaine two decades ago. 

The drugs row has sparked speculation about whether Mr Gove – previously one of the favourites for the top job behind Mr Johnson – can stay in the race.  

Nominations in the contest officially open this morning and will close at 5pm, with each candidate needing pledges of support from at least eight colleagues. 

But some of the 11 candidates seem to be struggling to reach the threshold as the ‘big beasts’ turn up the heat. 

Michael Gove used his campaign launch this afternoon to insist he is the ‘serious’ candidate to take over from Theresa May

Amber Rudd jibed that Boris Johnson (pictured in London today) being 'sunny and optimistic' could not make up for having no realistic 'plan' for Brexit

Amber Rudd jibed that Boris Johnson (pictured in London today) being ‘sunny and optimistic’ could not make up for having no realistic ‘plan’ for Brexit

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt launches his Tory leadership campaign in Westminster today

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt launches his Tory leadership campaign in Westminster today








In a day where the Tory psychodrama is getting into full swing:

  • Leadership contenders such as Mr Johnson are facing more pressure to reveal any history of drugs use in the wake of Mr Gove’s admission; 
  • Mr Johnson came under fire after announcing he wants to raise the 40p income tax threshold to £80,000 at a cost of almost £10 billion; 
  • Four of the big-hitting candidates have been staging their formal campaign launches; 
  • In a dig at Mr Johnson’s divisive status, Jeremy Hunt said the Tories must ‘broaden our appeal’ to Remainers and women. But he also risked inflaming party tensions by refusing to give a firm timeline for when Brexit will be complete; 
  • Ms Rudd said the UK was in ‘serious times’ and needed to be led by a ‘respected statesman who Brussels will listen to’; 
  • Health Secretary Matt Hancock said he was making an ’emotional’ appeal and dismissed claims that only a Brexiteer can lead the party;
  • Dominic Raab said he was the ‘Brexiteer you can rely on’ in a thinly-veiled attack on Mr Johnson and Mr Gove; 
  • Prominent Brexiteer Penny Mordaunt said she was supporting Mr Hunt as the right candidate to deal with ‘challenging times’, because he had the ‘experience the values and a plan’; 
  • Sajid Javid has launched a searing assault on Mrs May’s legacy at the Home Office, saying he would scrap the ‘crude’ target for bringing net immigration below 100,000 a year; 

At his launch event, Mr Gove said the Tories needed someone who has been ‘tested in the heat of battle’.

‘I have led from the front undaunted by criticism and resolute in the need to solve complex issues because that is what our country needs,’ he said.

In a message to Tory MPs, he added: ‘We need a leader who is ready to lead from day one.

‘A leader ready to be prime minister from day one. A leader ready to face the scrutiny of the studio lights.’

Mr Gove said he can both deliver Brexit and ‘stop Jeremy Corbyn ever getting the keys to Downing Street’.

But he faced calls to pull out of the contest for No10 by former Tory chairwoman Baroness Warsi.

Lady Warsi said it was ‘completely inappropriate’ for him to remain in the contest to be the next prime minister.

She told Channel 4 News: ‘This case isn’t just about drug taking, it is about trust, it is about hypocrisy of the highest order and it cannot be that we have somebody who is now mired in this issue of trust and hypocrisy feel that it is still appropriate for him to stand as leader of the Conservative Party and a prime minister of this country.

How will the Tory leader battle play out? 

TODAY 

After Theresa May formally tendered her resignation as Tory leader on Friday, nominations are opening at 10am for her replacement.

Anyone hoping to stand in the contest needs support from at least eight fellow MPs by the time nominations close at 5pm.

Eleven hopefuls have declared they want to be in the vote – but half of them could fail to meet the threshold, which was raised by Conservative chiefs amid concerns the field was getting too large.

Once the candidates have been finalised, MPs will start whittling them down in a series of votes.

THURSDAY, JUNE 13 

This will be another critical day, as the first ballot takes place.

Anyone with fewer than 16 votes will be automatically eliminated, and at least one will be ejected. 

THURSDAY, JUNE 19 

Further rounds of voting will take place during June until there are just two candidates left by this point.

They will then go to a run-off ballot of the 160,000 Tory members.

WEEK OF JULY 22 

The winner is due to be declared this week.

They will take over from Mrs May as PM shortly afterwards – probably in time to take a session of PMQs before the Commons breaks up for its summer recess. 

Jeremy Hunt set the stage for a titanic battle with Boris Johnson for the keys to Downing Street – as Cabinet heavyweights lined up behind him.

The Foreign Secretary is looking like the ‘Stop Boris’ candidate after winning endorsements from both Amber Rudd and Penny Mordaunt.

The backing – at a slick campaign launch in Westminster – comes as the contest stepped up a gear, with Tory rivals from all factions taking aim at front runner Mr Johnson. 

Ms Rudd jibed that being ‘sunny and optimistic’ could not make up for having no ‘plan’ for leaving the EU, while Ms Mordaunt said she wanted someone in charge with ‘experience’. 

Dominic Raab also took a thinly-veiled swipe, warning that ‘bluff and bluster’ could not deliver Brexit. 

Meanwhile, the former foreign secretary’s call for £10billion of tax cuts for higher earners was dismissed as ‘unrealistic’ and only designed to benefit the rich.  

Former foreign secretary Mr Johnson is the bookmakers’ favourite to replace Theresa May and the main focus at Westminster is on who will challenge him when MPs have whittled the field down to the final two next week. 

Tory members will then have the final say, with the new PM expected to take over at the end of next month.

Some of the candidates are struggling to round up the eight nominations needed to get into the MPs’ ballot. Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom, former universities minister Sam Gyimah, ex-chief whip Mark Harper, Aid Secretary Rory Stewart and former Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey could all find themselves binned early on. 

Mr Hunt and Mr Gove, the MPs seen as Mr Johnson’s most likely competitors, both launch their campaigns today.

At his event, Mr Hunt said the Tories must now ‘broaden our appeal to Remainers, to women, to minorities, to young people and to the centre ground’. ‘A serious moment calls for a serious leader,’ he said.

Mr Hunt stressed he was prepared to leave the EU without a deal, but signalled he could extend Brexit beyond October 31 if an agreement was in sight. 

He said: ‘Without a deal, any Prime Minister who promised to leave by a certain date would have to call a general election to change the parliamentary arithmetic. ‘And that is an election we would lose badly. 

‘If we fight an election before delivering Brexit we will be annihilated. 

‘Squeezed by the Brexit Party on the right and the Lib Dems on the left. We will simply allow Labour through the middle. ‘And, if that happened nationally it would be the end of Brexit.’ 

Appearing on stage before Mr Hunt at his launch, Ms Mordaunt said that the next Tory leader faced ‘one hell of a shift’ and would have to deliver Brexit ‘swiftly, orderly and well’.

She added: ‘They have to restore faith in Cabinet, in Government, in Parliament and our politics.

‘And they have to grip the challenges of our times

In contrast, critics of Mr Johnson have highlighted his lack of media appearances since Mrs May announced her decision to quit.

And he faced a barrage of criticism from rivals on all wings of the party today. 

Launching his own campaign, former Brexit Secretary Mr Raab said he was the only candidate who could be trusted to take the ‘bold’ action needed to break the deadlock.

Mr Raab said he was ‘the conviction Brexiteer with a plan’, adding: ‘We’re up against it and we won’t deliver Brexit with bluff and bluster.’  

Ms Rudd, an influential voice on the Remain-supporting wing of the party and leader of the centrist One Nation group, shunned both Mr Gove and Mr Johnson to come out in support of Mr Hunt.

She said: ‘These are serious times and we need a respected statesman who Brussels will listen to, not more bluster.’

Lucia Hunt chatted happily to Ms Rudd (pictured right) during the slickly-stage launch in Westminister today

Lucia Hunt chatted happily to Ms Rudd (pictured right) during the slickly-stage launch in Westminister today

In a clear jibe at Boris Johnson, former Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab (pictured) said he was the only candidate who could be trusted to take the 'bold' action needed to break the deadlock

In a clear jibe at Boris Johnson, former Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab (pictured) said he was the only candidate who could be trusted to take the ‘bold’ action needed to break the deadlock








Health Secretary Matt Hancock said he was making an 'emotional' pitch for leader at his launch

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said he was making an ’emotional’ pitch for leader at his launch

The Tory hopefuls are vying to take over from Theresa May - who was today delivering a speech to open London Tech Week

The Tory hopefuls are vying to take over from Theresa May – who was today delivering a speech to open London Tech Week








Ms Rudd said there were ‘many good things about Boris’ and he had a ‘sunny optimism’, but added: ‘To me it’s not enough to say we are going to leave by OCtober 31 without saying how you are going to do it,’ she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.    

Mrs Leadsom also took aim at Mr Johnson’s plans for tax cuts, saying they were not feasible in the current Parliament. 

She told the BBC: ‘I think, in reality, in this Parliament, it will be impossible, to actually get whole-scale tax changes through.’ 

The influential IFS think-tank said the main beneficiaries from the proposal would be wealthy pensioners, who do not pay national insurance. 

‘The net cost (to the government purse) would be in the order of £10bn a year. That’s obviously a lot of money,’ IFS director Paul Johnson said.

‘It helps the 10 per cent of highest earners. 

‘And it is worth saying that the group who would benefit the most would be the high-income pensioners who don’t pay national insurance at all. 

‘So there’s a particular group who do particularly well – that’s those over the age of state pension age with more than £80,000 a year.’ 

Boris Johnson pledges £10billion tax cut for higher earners 

Boris Johnson faced a bruising backlash today after unveiling plans to raise the 40p income tax threshold to £80,000 at a cost of almost £10billion.

The higher rate of income tax currently applies on earnings over £50,000 in England and the move could benefit more than three million people.

Mr Johnson claims that someone earning around £60,000-a-year would see their personal tax bill fall by an estimated £1,000.

The former foreign secretary believes the cost of the policy could be met through some of the cash set aside for No Deal Brexit planning and increasing national insurance payments made by workers.

In his regular Daily Telegraph column, published this morning, he said: ‘We should be cutting corporation tax and other business taxes.

‘We should be raising thresholds of income tax – so that we help the huge numbers that have been captured in the higher rate by fiscal drag.’

But former Commons leader Andrea Leadsom took aim at Mr Johnson’s plans, saying they were not feasible in the current Parliament. 

She told the BBC: ‘I think, in reality, in this Parliament, it will be impossible, to actually get whole-scale tax changes through.’ 

The influential IFS think-tank said the main beneficiaries from the proposal would be wealthy pensioners, who do not pay national insurance. 

‘The net cost (to the government purse) would be in the order of £10bn a year. That’s obviously a lot of money,’ IFS director Paul Johnson said.

‘It helps the 10 per cent of highest earners. 

‘And it is worth saying that the group who would benefit the most would be the high-income pensioners who don’t pay national insurance at all. 

‘So there’s a particular group who do particularly well – that’s those over the age of state pension age with more than £80,000 a year.’ 

Foreign Secretary Mr Hunt used his launch event to stress his credentials as a statesman who can handle the complexities of Brexit.

‘We are facing a constitutional crisis. Our new prime minister will preside over a hung Parliament,’ Mr Hunt will say.

‘This extremely serious moment calls for an experienced, serious leader. We need the art of tough negotiation, not the art of empty rhetoric.’

The first stage of the leadership contest takes place today with candidates required to gather support from eight fellow Tory MPs by 5pm to enter the race.

Ms McVey today insisted that she had put her nomination papers in – making clear she had secured the numbers needed. 

But Lorraine Kelly appeared to snub her former GMTV colleague and Tory leadership hopeful on air.

During a live link to ITV’s Lorraine from Good Morning Britain, where McVey appeared as a guest, Susanna Reid said: ‘Do you remember Esther McVey from her GMTV days?’

Scottish presenter Kelly glossed over the question, shook her head and said curtly: ‘Yeah, yes I do. OK, coming up after half past eight…’

Piers Morgan then quizzed Kelly saying: ‘So you got on with Esther then Lorraine?’ to which Kelly replied: ‘I don’t remember love, I don’t remember at all, it was an awful long time ago.’

Morgan went on to joke that if ‘looks could kill she’d be six feet under’ and added that he’d ‘love to hear the back story’.

As well as Mr Gove and Mr Hunt, Health Secretary Matt Hancock and former Brexit secretary Dominic Raab are holding events to launch their campaigns.

Mr Hancock said he was offering the ‘fresh start’ the country needs and set out his vision to make the next decade ‘the soaring ’20s’ for the post-Brexit UK.

Mr Raab will unveil a package of proposals to develop clean energy and protect the environment – including redirecting £500 million a year from the aid budget to create an international wildlife fund to save endangered species and habitats.

‘We’ve got to look to the future,’ he will say. ‘We’ve got to leave the environment in a better state than we found it.’

Meanwhile Mr Johnson used his Daily Telegraph column to signal a plan to slash the higher rate of income tax for people earning more than £50,000.

‘We should be raising thresholds of income tax – so that we help the huge numbers that have been captured in the higher rate by fiscal drag,’ he said.

Home Secretary Sajid Javid picked up further support for his campaign, with ministers Caroline Nokes and Victoria Atkins backing him.

What are the Tory leadership contenders offering as they try to win the keys to Downing Street?  

The contenders for the Tory crown are vying to win over support from fellow MPs as the race heats up.

But they must also persuade the party membership that they have a platform to deliver Brexit and reshape the country.

They need to balance those pledges with a programme for government that could succeed in a general election campaign. 

Here is a run through of what the main players are putting forward.  

Boris Johnson 

Former foreign secretary

Odds: 1/2 favourite 

  • Raise the 40p income tax threshold to £80,000 from £50,000 at a cost of almost £10 billion. He believes it will save someone earning £60,000 around £1,000 a year.
  • Extra schools funding worth £5,000 per student to ‘level up’ Britain’s education system and correct the ‘yawning funding gap’ between pupils in and the rest of the country.
  • Refuse to pay £38billion ‘divorce bill’ to EU unless better exit terms are offered and scrap the backstop. 

 

Michael Gove

Environment Secretary

Odds: 20/1 

  • Creation of a ‘smart pro-business economic plan’, including scrapping VAT and bring in a lower sale tax to stimulate business following Brexit, cutting taxes and business rates and review competition law.
  • He has not ruled out seeking a further delay to Brexit – possibly for months beyond October 31 – if a deal is in reach, and warned pursuing a no-deal scenario could lead to a general election in which Jeremy Corbyn could enter Number 10. 

 

Jeremy Hunt 

Foreign Secretary

Odds: 5/1 

  • Would keep a no-deal Brexit on the table, but warned it could be ‘political suicide’ for the Conservatives as Parliament would force a general election.
  • Called for a big increase in defence spending after Britain leaves the EU to counter rising global threats and has suggested slashing corporation tax to Irish levels of 12.5 per cent to attract investment.
  • Wants to cut interest rate on student loans, build 1.5million homes in the next decade and introduce mental health teams for schools in a swathe of policies designed to broaden appeal among younger voters.

 

Dominic Raab

Former Brexit secretary

Odds: 33/1 

  • Wants the EU to ditch the Irish border backstop and is prepared to walk away on October 31 without a deal. He is prepared to suspend Parliament to stop MPs blocking this plan.  
  • Wants to toughen up community sentences and has promised a shake-up of maternity care.
  • Unveiled a  raft of green plans including a National Energy Research Centre and using £500million from aid budget to fund a International Wildlife Fund.  

 

Sajid Javid

Home Secretary

Odds: 20/1 

  • The Home Secretary hopes to renegotiate the Withdrawal Agreement to remove the Irish backstop but does not want a delay beyond October 31.
  • Has set out a plan to tackle the Irish border issue by spending hundreds of millions on a technological solution, saying the UK has a moral duty to pay for measures at the border in an effort to secure a breakthrough.
  • Mr Javid has put forward a number of policy proposals, including cutting the top rate of income tax and establishing a £100 billion fund to invest in the UK’s infrastructure.   

 

Matt Hancock

Health Secretary

Odds: 100/1

  • Insists a no-deal Brexit is not a credible option and Parliament would never allow it. He would create an Anglo-Irish border council to stop the return of a hard Northern Irish border and create a time-limited backstop.
  • He wants to introduce pro-business measures including scrapping business rates for small retailers and increasing tax on internet firms to ‘level the playing field’.
  • At the same time he plans to increase the national minimum wage to to £10.21 by 2022.

Esther McVey

Former work and pensions secretary

Odds: 100/1 

  • The hardline Brexiteer will only fill her cabinet with fellow dedicated Leavers, meaning anyone who voted Remain in 2016 would be out.
  • Has called for the Tories to ’embrace’ a no-deal Brexit in order to make sure the UK leaves on October 31.
  • Wants to use a large chunk of foreign aid budget to invest in police and schools. 
  • She has caused controversy with comments championing the right of parents to take their children out of lessons on same-sex relationships. 

 

Andrea Leadsom

Former Commons leader

Odds: 15/2 

  • She has set out a plan to scrap the Withdrawal Agreement and instead ‘massively ramp up’ preparations for a ‘managed’ exit without a full deal.
  • Has also promised to tackle climate change at home and abroad and establish a cross-party commission to find a solution to funding social care, and has warned that bold tax-cutting pledges could easily be blocked by Parliament.
  • Made a pledge to hold monthly phone-ins with the public if she becomes Prime Minister. 

 

 Rory Stewart

International Development Secretary

Odds: 25/1 

  • A Remainer who now accepts the referendum vote, the International development Secretary has ruled out a no-deal Brexit and would establish a citizens’ assembly to thrash out a new Brexit compromise.
  • Mr Stewart has also pledged to protect the Conservatives’ ‘reputation for economic competence’, hitting out at the ‘unfunded spending commitments’ made by rivals.
  • Wants to invest in education and infrastructure but without either offering huge spending sprees or heavy tax cuts. 

 

Sam Gyimah

Former science minister

Odds: 200/1 

  • The only contender open to a second referendum after resigning as science minister to vote against Theresa may;s Brexit deal.
  • His five-point plan would give MPs a ‘final chance’ to get a Brexit deal through Parliament while also preparing for a referendum if that failed.
  • The public would be offered a binding choice between a no-deal Brexit, a revised deal or remaining in the EU.

 

Mark Harper 

Former chief whip and immigration minister

Odds: 100/1 

  • The former Conservative chief whip and Remain supporter has called for a ‘short, focused’ extension to allow for the deal to be renegotiated.
  • He said the only ‘credible’ plan was to postpone Brexit, fight for an agreement with Brussels but leave – deal or no deal – by May 2020 at the latest. 
  • But he is prepared to leave with no deal if that is not possible.
  • is against a second referendum, saying it was ‘undemocratic. 

  

 

 

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