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Tory leadership contenders up to 12 as former chief whip enters race

Mark Harper has acknowledged he is an underdog in the battle to become the next prime minister.

12 MPs are now in the running to be the next PM (PA)
12 MPs are now in the running to be the next PM (PA)

The crowded field in the race to replace Theresa May now has another runner as Mark Harper launched his bid to be the next prime minister.

A dozen Conservatives have now declared their intention to fight for the top job after Mrs May resigns as Tory leader on June 7.

Former chief whip Mark Harper has not served in Mrs May’s government and said that sets him apart from his rivals.

Meanwhile, all the candidates in the Tory race were warned of the dangers of a no-deal Brexit by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI).

The organisation’s director-general Carolyn Fairbairn used an open letter to say the next prime minister must seek an agreement with Brussels as the “vast majority of firms can never be prepared for no-deal”.

Forest of Dean MP Mr Harper said his rivals shared responsibility with Mrs May for the failure to deliver Brexit but he was offering “fresh thinking”.

“We’ve seen basically the same faces saying the same things that they’ve been saying for the last three years,” he told the Daily Telegraph.

“A number of them have tried to position themselves as fresh faces but I’m afraid they’ve sat around the Cabinet table sharing the responsibility with the Prime Minister.”

He added: “I am quite happy to acknowledge that in this contest I am the underdog.”

Mr Harper, who campaigned for Remain in 2016, suggested a further delay to Brexit beyond October 31 could be needed if the next prime minister wants to renegotiate the Brexit deal – something some of his rivals have already ruled out.

Esther McVey has said the UK needs to “actively embrace leaving the EU without a deal”, while Boris Johnson and Dominic Raab have both said they would work to renegotiate the terms on offer with Brussels but would make sure the UK leaves on October 31, with or without an agreement.

In her open letter to the participants in the race for Number 10, the CBI’s Ms Fairbairn said: “The next prime minister can only claim the Conservatives are the party of business if they secure a Brexit deal that protects the economy, jobs and living standards.

“Firms large and small are clear that leaving the EU with a deal is the best way forward.

“Short-term disruption and long-term damage to British competitiveness will be severe if we leave without one.

“The vast majority of firms can never be prepared for no-deal, particularly our SME (small and medium enterprise) members who cannot afford complex and costly contingency plans.

“We need compromise, consensus and honesty to resolve the Brexit impasse, quickly.”

PA

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