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May calls for consensus on Brexit deal as 10th MP joins Tory race

Theresa May larks around with Luxembourg’s Prime Minister Xavier Bettel at EU Commission Headquarters in Brussels
Theresa May larks around with Luxembourg’s Prime Minister Xavier Bettel at EU Commission Headquarters in Brussels

By David Hughes

Theresa May has urged her successor to seek a consensus over Brexit as Brussels stressed there could be "no renegotiation" of the Withdrawal Agreement.

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt warned the Tories face "destruction" if a new leader calls a general election before delivering Brexit.

Mr Hunt, one of 10 MPs vying to be the next prime minister, said a failure to solve Brexit could ruin the Conservatives and warned the "biggest risk" to delivering on the referendum was a general election.

His comments came as Housing Minister Kit Malthouse became the latest person to enter the race to succeed Theresa May, saying there was a "hunger for someone new".

Mrs May, attending a summit in Brussels, said the European election results in which the Tories took just 9% of the vote were "deeply disappointing".

"I think what it shows is the importance of actually delivering on Brexit. I think the best way to do that is with a deal," she said.

"But it will be for my successor and for Parliament to find a way forward and get a consensus."

The comments are aimed at Brexiteers in the race to replace her who have said they are prepared to back a no-deal departure from the EU, something which could lead to a clash with Parliament.

Mr Hunt warned rivals that calling a general election - potentially to win a mandate for a no-deal Brexit - could be a disaster for the Tories.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "We must not go back to the electorate asking for their mandate until we've delivered what we promised we would do last time, which is to deliver Brexit, it would be absolutely catastrophic for us as a party."

Mr Hunt, who campaigned for Remain in the 2016 referendum but has adopted an increasingly Eurosceptic tone, said he had "always believed we should keep no deal on the table" as it is the "best way of getting a good deal".

He said it was important to "find a different way to get a deal", adding "we have to have a go at this" as he proposed forming a new wider negotiating team to change the Withdrawal Agreement.

Leadership rival Dominic Raab also said he was focused on "getting a fairer deal from the EU as we leave".

But outgoing European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker stressed "there will be no renegotiation".

The agreement between the EU and Mrs May to delay Brexit until October 31 included a commitment not to seek a renegotiation of the deal.

Meanwhile, Mr Malthouse, who brought together Tory Leavers, the DUP and Remainers behind a compromise Brexit plan earlier this year, said he had a "good number" of MPs backing his bid.

"We've got to find a way to unite the Conservative Party to deliver a Brexit plan so we can move onto a really compelling, attractive domestic agenda that might command victory at a general election," he said.

"One of the reasons that I'm running is that I'm the only person who has actually done that."

Other candidates for the top job also started to offer a flavour of their policies should they win a ballot of Conservative Party members later this year.

Michael Gove is prepared to offer free UK citizenship to three million nationals who resided in the UK at the time of the June 2016 referendum.

Matt Hancock wrote in the Daily Mail about "driving up the living wage and cutting taxes".

In response to Mr Hunt's warning that a no-deal Brexit election would be "political suicide", leadership rival Esther McVey responded: "Political suicide actually lies in not having a clean break from the EU and not leaving on October 31."

Others vying for the top job include Cabinet colleagues Sajid Javid, Andrea Leadsom and Rory Stewart, and current bookies' favourite Boris Johnson.

Meanwhile, Downing Street indicated the Withdrawal Agreement Bill may never be published.

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