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Alex Kane: The best bet on Brexit backstop - my form guide to No10 hopefuls

Conservative leadership race (PA)
Conservative leadership race (PA)
Boris Johnson launched his campaign on Wednesday morning (Stefan Rousseau/PA)
Alex Kane

By Alex Kane

From Michael Gove to Rory Stewart, what have they got to say about the backstop.

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Michael Gove

He claims to oppose the backstop in principle but has voted for the withdrawal agreement three times, including the backstop as it presently stands. He now says he favours a renegotiation of the agreement and wants the backstop to be surrounded by an unambiguous "exit mechanism". Has also said that a rebooted Executive/Assembly would help to resolve matters and indicated that he would even lead the talks process. Described Karen Bradley as a "brilliant" Secretary of State.

Success Rating: 6/10

Matt Hancock

A slightly woollier version of Gove's position. He wants a time limit on the backstop, although doesn't indicate how long/short the limit would be. He has also suggested that a new political negotiations body of some sort - involving Northern Ireland's parties - could be established to create North/South consensus on a way forward.

Success Rating: 4/10

Mark Harper

A former chief whip with a reasonably good nose for what the parliamentary party might gather around, he supported the Malthouse Compromise. This emerged in January and involves the backstop being redrafted as a "free trade agreement-lite" with a commitment on all sides there should be no hard border on the island of Ireland. Would want to breathe new life into it. The DUP supports the compromise.

Success Rating: 4/10

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Jeremy Hunt

Along with Johnson and Gove, considered one of the three most likely to win (although Gove may have been fatally damaged by the cocaine revelations). He is of the view that the European Union's negotiating team has accepted that the backstop, or something very similar to the backstop, will not get through Parliament. But he hasn't set out an alternative to the backstop. Hard to know if he hasn't actually got an alternative at this point, or if he is just keeping his powder dry until he gets to the final two.

Success Rating: 8/10

Sajid Javid

"I will focus on the one Brexit deal that has already got through Parliament - that was the withdrawal agreement - with a change to the backstop. What I would do is make a grand gesture to Ireland that we would cover all their costs - the upfront costs, the running costs - of a new digitised border. I think it could be done in a couple of years." There is no evidence that he has even had below-the-radar discussions with either Ireland or the EU about his proposals.

Success Rating: 6/10

Boris Johnson

Nobody knows what Johnson will do. He excoriated the withdrawal agreement and the backstop at the DUP's conference last November and then voted for it a few weeks later. Has yet to explain how he will replace the backstop, let alone discuss avoiding the potential damage to UK/Irish and North/South relationships if he fails to renegotiate the present agreement and the UK exits without a deal.

Success Rating: 9/10

Andrea Leadsom

Her parliamentary reputation has grown over the last two years, particularly while she was Leader of the House. More flexible than she is often given credit for, she speaks of a "managed exit" as opposed to a full-scale renegotiation; and believes the backstop problem could be resolved with a "sensible" trade deal and "technological oversight" re the border.

Success Rating: 4/10

Esther McVey

Probably the most hardline Brexiteer candidate and the one most likely to prioritise a no-deal over a renegotiation. That's because she doesn't think the EU will reopen full-scale negotiations. The DUP wouldn't admit it, but it'd rather she didn't win. The party talks tough on a no-deal outcome, but is well aware of the huge damage a no-deal could do to political/institutional dynamics in Northern Ireland. Luckily for it, she has no chance.

Success Rating: 2/10

Dominic Raab

The former Cabinet minister with "responsibility for exiting the EU" lasted only four months in the job: and didn't distinguish himself by his admission that he hadn't quite understood the full extent of how much UK trade relies on the Dover-Calais route. He also supported the Malthouse Compromise.

Success Rating: 4/10

Rory Stewart

The only genuine wildcard in the leadership race. His brutal, quirky honesty allows him to say things like "stop pretending the EU will be willing to renegotiate the current backstop arrangement". Would probably try and push the withdrawal agreement through after a new round of talks with the other parties. Would not be comfortable with a renewed parliamentary arrangement with the DUP.

Success Rating: 1/10

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