Tory leadership: Leadsom warns Brexit by October 31 must be ‘hard red line’

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Andrea Leadsom has added fuel to her Tory leadership campaign bid by waving a ‘Boll***s to Bercow’ sign while on the campaign trail today.

Leadsom insisted that Commons Speaker John Bercow would not be able to block Brexit on October 31 .

Bercow had warned Tory hardliners last month that ‘the idea that parliament is going to be evacuated from the centre stage of debate on Brexit is unimaginable.’ 

The former Cabinet minister today warning that leaving the EU by October must be a ‘hard red line’, as well as declaring Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement dead.

She insisted the best option now was a ‘managed’ departure to ease the impact of leaving without a comprehensive deal. 

But she also risked a major backlash by refusing to rule out holding another Scottish independence referendum, saying ‘never say never’. Labour seized on the comments to claim that the Tories ‘can’t be trusted’ to protect the Union.  

The intervention comes as candidates struggle to make their mark in the race to succeed Theresa May as PM. 

There are 10 contenders in the leadership race, but several are thought to have only just crept over the threshold of eight nominations needed to stand. 

Boris Johnson increasingly looks ‘unstoppable’ after he racked up more public endorsements from MPs – and Michael Gove was hit with a storm over his cocaine use.

The former foreign secretary has been boosted by a fresh round of endorsements after the contest kicked off for real, including from Iain Duncan Smith. 

He also topped a poll at a hustings event with the right-wing 92 group of MPs last night, receiving more than twice as many votes as Brexiteer rival Dominic Raab.

Backbenchers said Mr Gove’s bombshell admission that he took cocaine two decades ago had ‘f***ed’ him and ‘handed the whole show to Boris’, as he would now probably face a far less potent threat from Jeremy Hunt in the run-off ballot of Tory members.

At her launch, Mrs Leadsom presented herself as the ‘optimistic yet realistic Brexiteer’ who can heal the divisions in the country.

She joined Mr Johnson, Dominic Raab and Esther McVey in calling for the UK to leave by the next deadline of Halloween – in contrast to Mr Hunt, Mr Gove and others who are refusing to rule out an extension.  

‘Leaving the EU on the 31st of October is, for me, a hard red line,’ Mrs Leadsom said. 

‘The next prime minister must have a clear plan to a managed exit by the end of October.’

She also set out a wider agenda, saying moving to a carbon-neutral economy is not only right for the planet and for future generations, but also offers the chance to develop new clean technologies which could rival the UK financial services sector in size and stature.

She outlined her ambitions for a major expansion in housebuilding, to help young people get a foot on the housing ladder while providing new opportunities for those looking to downsize.

‘Our party has thrived in the past when it has governed as a champion of the people, providing freedom of choice and opportunity, a strong economy and global leadership,’ she said.

At a lunch with journalists later, Mrs Leadsom said she would not rule out allowing another referendum on Scottish independence.

She said she would ‘never say never’ to the prospect of another public vote, but stressed that it would not be in the interests of either Scotland or the UK.

She said it would be ‘disrespectful’ to the Scottish Parliament for her to rule out a referendum completely if she becomes prime minister, but she would fight against it.

The Tory leadership hopeful told a Westminster lunch: ‘The reason I say ‘never say never’ is because I do not think that there should be another independence referendum in Scotland, I do not think it’s in their interest, but on the other hand I am a big believer in devolution.

‘So, what I just want to say is I am not going to stand here and utterly rule it out because I think that that is disrespectful.

‘But I would very strongly fight against a second referendum, which I don’t think is in the interest of Scotland and it’s definitely not in the interests of the UK.

‘What I think we have to be doing is promote the strength of the UK working together far stronger, far more than we have done, and I have a number of policy areas that I would use to try and make that happen.’

Labour MP Ian Murray said: ‘This shows that the Tories can’t be trusted to protect Scotland’s place in the Union.

‘The majority of people in Scotland don’t want a divisive second independence referendum and have rejected both the nationalism of the SNP and the Tories.’

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