UK Politics

Brexit: Theresa May refuses unconditional support for next PM

Theresa May Image copyright EPA

Theresa May has refused to promise unconditional support for her successor's Brexit plan.

Asked if she would back whichever Brexit outcome the next prime minister achieves, including a no-deal Brexit, she said that amounted to agreeing to "whatever happens in future".

Jeremy Hunt or Boris Johnson will be announced as the winner of the Tory Party leadership race on 23 July.

Both men have said they would try to renegotiate a deal with the EU.

Speaking to journalists on her official flight to the G20 summit in Osaka, Mrs May said: "It is important that we deliver a Brexit that is good for the British people.

"It will be up to my successor to take this forward. To find the majority in Parliament that I was not able to find and to deliver the decision of the British people in 2016."

Mr Johnson has said the UK must leave on 31 October "deal or no deal", but that the chances of a no-deal Brexit happening are a "million to one".

However, in an interview with Conservative Home, Mr Johnson said every member of his cabinet would have to be "reconciled" with the policy of leaving on 31 October - with or without a deal.

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionBoris Johnson: 31 October must not be a 'papier-mache' deadline

Speaking to the BBC he said not leaving on 31 October would mean "a very, very serious further loss of confidence in politics". "Let's not turn this into some papier-mache deadline," he added.

Foreign Secretary Mr Hunt said if the UK got to October without the prospect of a deal, "we will leave without a deal".

But he also called the Brexit date a "fake deadline" that could trigger a general election if Parliament rejects a no-deal Brexit.

A no-deal exit would see the UK leave the customs union and single market overnight and start trading with the EU on World Trade Organization rules.

The EU has repeatedly said it will not renegotiate the withdrawal agreement, despite this featuring in the plans of both candidates.

Will Theresa May be a backseat driver?

By John Pienaar, BBC deputy political editor

Theresa May arrived in Osaka something of a leader in limbo - an outgoing prime minister beset by incoming crises at home and abroad.

So far she's been conspicuously trying to stay above the fray of the Tory leadership contest.

She's told no-one who she voted for in narrowing the field down to two; she's taken no sides.

On the RAF Voyager flight into Osaka, she gave journalists a hint that she has more to contribute before this saga ends, assuming, of course, it ever does.

The prime minister refused to pledge her support for whatever outcome may take shape under the next leader.

Read more from John Pienaar

The leadership rivals have been unveiling pledges including on education and on immigration as their campaign continues.

Mr Johnson has promised to deliver an Australian-style points-based immigration system if he becomes prime minister, while Mr Hunt said he would cancel the tuition fee debts of young entrepreneurs who start businesses and employ people.

Both candidates are meeting the public in the Isle of Wight, ahead of hustings for party members in Bournemouth later.

On Monday, Defence Minister Tobias Ellwood said "a dozen or so" Conservative MPs could support a vote of no confidence to stop a no-deal Brexit.

But Mrs May said she believed it would be wrong for Conservatives to vote against the government on a confidence motion, saying that defeat on such a vote could lead to a general election.

Compare the candidates' policies

Select a topic...

...and a candidate

Brexit

Jeremy Hunt
Foreign Secretary

- Wants to leave with a deal, but says he would back a no-deal Brexit with "a heavy heart" if necessary. - Will create a new negotiating team to produce an "alternative exit deal" to Theresa May’s plan, and engage with EU leaders over August. - Will present a provisional no-deal Brexit budget in early September and decide by the end of the month if there is a "realistic chance" of a new deal. - If not, will abandon talks and focus on no deal preparations. - Pledges to cover the cost of tariffs imposed on the exports of the farming and fishing industries in the case of a no-deal Brexit.

Boris Johnson
Backbencher

- Vows to leave the EU by the 31 October deadline "come what may", but claims the chance of a no-deal Brexit is a "million to one". - Wants to negotiate a new deal, which will include replacing the Irish backstop with alternative arrangements. - Will not hand over the £39bn divorce settlement with the EU until the UK gets a new deal. - If a new deal is not agreed, will ask the EU for a "standstill period" to negotiate a free trade deal. - Argues a provision under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, known as GATT 24, could be used for the UK to avoid tariffs for the next 10 years, but admits it would need EU sign off. - Promises to support the rural community in a no-deal Brexit scenario with "price support" and "efficiency payments".

Immigration

Jeremy Hunt
Foreign Secretary

- Calls for flexibility on immigration, saying skilled workers should be prioritised. - Wants to review policy of stopping migrants with less than £30,000 coming to the UK to work. - Pledges to scrap the target to reduce net migration to below 100,000.

Boris Johnson
Backbencher

- Wants a new Australian-style points-based system, considering factors such as whether an immigrant has a firm job offer and their ability to speak English. - Will get Migration Advisory Committee to examine the plan. - Wants to block the ability for immigrants to claim benefits immediately after the arrive in the UK. - Opposes the net migration target of under 100,000 a year.

Tax

Jeremy Hunt
Foreign Secretary

- As an entrepreneur, he wants to turn Britain into "the next Silicon Valley... a hub of innovation". - Wants to cut corporation tax to 12.5%. - Wants to raise the point at which workers start paying National Insurance to at least £12,000 a year. - Pledges to scrap business rates for 90% of high street shops. - Will increase the tax-free annual investment allowance from £1m to £5m.

Boris Johnson
Backbencher

- Pledges to raise the tax threshold for the higher rate to £80,000 (rather than the current £50,000). - Wants to raise the point at which workers start paying income tax. - Will review “unhealthy food taxes” such as sugar tax on soft drinks.

Spending

Jeremy Hunt
Foreign Secretary

- Wants to increase defence spending by £15bn over the next five years. - Promises to keep free TV licenses for the over-75s. - Wants to build 1.5 million homes and create a “right to own” scheme for young people. - Backs both HS2 and a third runway at Heathrow.

Boris Johnson
Backbencher

- Pledges more money for public sector workers and wants to increase the National Living Wage. - Will “find the money” to recruit an extra 20,000 police officers by 2022. - Promises to maintain spending 0.7% of GDP on Foreign Aid. - Wants to review the HS2 train project. - Pledges full fibre broadband in every home by 2025.

Health and social care

Jeremy Hunt
Foreign Secretary

- Promises more funding for social care. - Wants to introduce an opt out insurance system to fund future care, similar to the way pensions work. - Wants to target manufacturers of unhealthy foods to make them cut the sugar content. - Mental health support to be offered in every school and a crackdown on social media companies that fail to regulate their content.

Boris Johnson
Backbencher

- Rules out a pay-for-access NHS, saying it would remain "free to everybody at the point of use" under his leadership. - Has previously said money spent on the EU could be put into the NHS. - Plans to give public sector workers a "fair" pay rise, according to supporter Health Secretary Matt Hancock. - Says more should be spent on social care, according to a cross-party "national consensus".

Education

Jeremy Hunt
Foreign Secretary

- Pledges to write off tuition fees for young entrepreneurs who start a new business and employ more than 10 people for five years. - Wants to reduce interest rates on student debt repayments. - Long-term plan to provide more funding for the teaching profession. - Wants to abolish illiteracy.

Boris Johnson
Backbencher

- Wants to raise per-pupil spending in primary and secondary schools, with a minimum of £5,000 for each student in the latter. - Wants to look at lowering the interest rate on student debts.

The prime minister told reporters: "I believe there should be a Conservative government in the UK because a Conservative government would be better for the people of the UK."

'Grossly irresponsible'

In an attempt to block a no-deal Brexit, Conservative Dominic Grieve and Labour's Dame Margaret Beckett have tabled an amendment that would stop funding going to certain government departments if the UK leaves without a deal - unless it has been specifically approved by MPs.

If a vote in the Commons on Tuesday is successful, it would have the potential to cut off cash to four Whitehall departments - education, housing; communities and local government; international development; and work and pensions.

Under parliamentary procedure, MPs have to approve government spending, known as estimates, twice a year.

A spokesman for the prime minister said it would be "grossly irresponsible" to seek to stop a no-deal Brexit by blocking government spending.

More on this story