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Johnson Builds Huge Lead in U.K. Leadership Race: Brexit Update

Alex Morales, Tim Ross and Robert Hutton
Johnson Builds Huge Lead in U.K. Leadership Race: Brexit Update

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Boris Johnson surged even further ahead of his rivals in the contest to become the U.K.’s next prime minister on Wednesday.

Key Developments:

Results in third ballot in Tory leadership election: Boris Johnson won the votes of 143 Members of Parliament; Jeremy Hunt won 54 votes; Michael Gove 51; Sajid Javid 38; Rory Stewart 27 Some Johnson backers were lending votes to Sajid Javid, according to a person familiar with the matter, in a bid to eliminate StewartFinal two rounds of voting among Tory MPs take place on Thursday, before the two leading contenders go head-to-head in a ballot of 160,000 grassroots party members

Hunt: Hard to Change Brexit Deal by Oct. 31 (8:15 p.m.)

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said it’ll be “very challenging” to get the required changes to the Brexit deal by Oct. 31, the current date the U.K. is due to leave the European Union.

In an LBC radio interview, he reiterated his message that if elected prime minister, he’d be prepared to extend that deadline if a deal is in sight, and that his main focus would be to replace the existing Northern Ireland backstop, a fallback provision to keep the border with Ireland open that would keep the U.K. in a customs union with the EU.

Hunt, currently in poll position to join Johnson in the final two candidates to succeed Theresa May, said he expects the EU to take alternative proposals “very seriously.” He also said his planned tactic of including members of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party in his negotiating team, alongside Scottish and Welsh Tories and Brexit purists in the party, would give his approach "credibility" in the EU.

That would mean “no proposal we make would be a proposal that couldn’t get through the British Parliament,” Hunt said. He said his renegotiation efforts would focus on the backstop because “if we want to get deal, we need to pare down to the minimum the requests we are making.”

Stewart Out as Johnson Builds Huge Lead (6:15 p.m.)

Boris Johnson powered into what looked like an unassailable lead in the contest to succeed Theresa May, winning 143 votes in the ballot of Tory MPs. Rory Stewart, the underdog who outperformed expectations with a vigorous and unconventional campaign, was knocked out after coming last.

Speaking to Sky News, Stewart said he was surprised but wished his competitors well, saying the election to choose a new prime minister is crucial for the country.

The Conservative party must elect someone with the "dignity," sense of "purpose," and "courage" to lead Britain at a difficult time, he said. "There is a sense in all these races that once people believe you haven’t got the numbers it becomes a self fulfilling prophesy," he said.

Corbyn: Referendum Must Offer ‘Real Choices’ (4:35 p.m.)

Opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn told his shadow cabinet on Wednesday that any Brexit deal should be put to a public vote, with options for both sides of the argument.

“A ballot paper would need to contain real choices for both Leave and Remain voters,” Corbyn said. “This will of course depend on Parliament.”

Corbyn said last month that any deal would have to be put to a public vote after his party and the Tories were battered by results in the European Parliament elections.

Some Johnson Backers Lend Votes to Javid (4:30 p.m.)

The front-runner, Boris Johnson, is so far ahead of his rivals that some of his supporters are trying to vote tactically to help knock out his competitors. Top of their list of targets is Rory Stewart, a person familiar with the matter said.

Even though Johnson doesn’t want his backers to vote for anyone else, some of them are voting for Sajid Javid anyway, the person said. Their hope is that Javid will make it through Wednesday’s ballot, and that Stewart will come last and be eliminated from the race.

Stewart Hints at Voting ‘Dark Arts’ (4:05 p.m.)

Rory Stewart said he may have gained two votes from MPs who previously supported Dominic Raab, who was eliminated yesterday, and said he’s confident of retaining all but one of those who voted for him yesterday. It’s likely to be on a knife edge whether he gets through, he said.

Stewart also suggested Boris Johnson might lend votes to other candidates to affect the race, though he said he has “absolutely no idea” if that’s the case.

“There are dark arts in politics and they’re done with proxy votes,” he said. “We will be able to tell very quickly from the numbers if something like that has happened.”

Javid, Hunt Among Early Voters in Round 3 (3:40 p.m.)

The third round of voting in the Tory Party leadership contest is under way and will run until 5 p.m., with results expected at about 6 p.m. Two of the contenders, Home Secretary Sajid Javid and Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt were among the early voters, as were May’s de facto deputy, David Lidington, who is supporting Rory Stewart, and Boris Johnson’s brother, Jo.

Former Chancellor of the Exchequer Ken Clarke has also voted. One of Stewart’s earliest backers, he has caused the candidate some stress in previous ballots by showing up in the closing minutes of voting. Not this time.

EU to Hold Firm, Say Little on Brexit (2 p.m.)

French President Emmanuel Macron doesn’t plan to spend much time on Brexit at the EU summit this week in Brussels, and will add little to his mantra of “no more talks," his officials said on Wednesday.

EU Council President Donald Tusk will tell leaders again that the EU position is non-negotiable. But he’ll also reiterate there’s still room to talk about redrafting the non-binding declaration on future ties.

Labour Discussing Brexit Referendum Position (1:10 p.m.)

While the focus is on the Conservative contest, front-bench spokespeople from the main opposition Labour Party will meet this afternoon to discuss whether they should back a second Brexit referendum.

Leader Jeremy Corbyn’s office pointed journalists towards comments he made at the end of May about being ready to support a referendum on any deal that could get through parliament, but added it wasn’t the same as promising voters a referendum if Labour win power. They said the party isn’t planning to make any announcement today.

SNP Leader Denounces Johnson as ‘Racist’ (12:25 p.m.)

Scottish National Party leader Ian Blackford launched an attack on Boris Johnson during Prime Minister’s Questions. “This is a man who is not fit for office,” he told the House of Commons. “Not only is the member racist, he is stoking division in communities and has a record of dishonesty.”

After Speaker John Bercow told him to withdraw the remarks, Blackford refused. He said Johnson “has called Muslim women ‘letterboxes,’ described African people as having ‘watermelon smiles.’ If that’s not racist, I don’t know what is.”

“Does the prime minister honestly believe this man is fit for the office of prime minister?” Blackford asked Theresa May. May didn’t answer the question directly, but said “I believe any Conservative prime minister in the future will be better for Scotland than the Scottish National Party."

Ratcliffe Attacks Johnson Over Iran Comments (11:50 a.m.)

Boris Johnson has again come under fire over remarks he made as foreign secretary about Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian dual national imprisoned in Iran on spy charges. Johnson said incorrectly that she was in the country training reporters, a comment seized on by Iranian state television as an “unintended admission” of her guilt.

But during Tuesday’s televised BBC debate, Johnson said his remarks didn’t “make any difference,” a defense criticized by Richard Ratcliffe, Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband, on Wednesday.

Ratcliffe told BBC Radio Johnson’s remarks were used by the Iranian regime to justify a second court case against his wife, who was in Iran visiting relatives when she was arrested, and to “discredit her ever since.”

Raab Backs Johnson: Evening Standard (11:35 a.m.)

Dominic Raab told the Evening Standard newspaper he’s backing Boris Johnson in the Tory leadership race, calling him the “only candidate” who will take the U.K. out of the European Union by Oct. 31.

“Boris will make sure we leave the EU on time and move on to uniting the country behind a positive program where everyone can benefit from the U.K.’s success,” Raab told the newspaper.

Stewart Expects to Lead Tie-Up With Gove (11:30 a.m.)

Rory Stewart said he would expect to lead the team if talks with rival Michael Gove (see 10:40 a.m.) result in an agreement.

A spokesman for Stewart said: “He’s in this to win, whether on his own or with other people coming behind him.”

Beware Fiscal Risks of a Johnson Win: Hanson (11:15 a.m.)

Front-runner Boris Johnson’s pitch for the Tory leadership includes tax cuts, spending increases and an insistence that a no-deal Brexit remain an option. Bloomberg Economist Dan Hanson analyzed the fiscal implications:

Johnson’s policy package would come close to wiping out all the money the government has to spend before it breaks its fiscal mandate, which is to run a structural deficit of 2% of GDP in 2020-21A no-deal Brexit would blow a significant hole in the public finances. The impact could amount to 30 billion pounds by 2023-24

Stewart Confirms Talks With Gove on Deal (10:40 a.m.)

Tory leadership candidate Rory Stewart told the BBC he’s in talks with Michael Gove on a potential deal -- though he didn’t give details of how it would work.

“We’re talking about combining forces because it’s clear that Boris is going into the last round,” Stewart said. “The question is: Who is best placed to sit on a stage with Boris Johnson, and who is best placed to ask the testing questions that need to be asked, and who has the vision of Britain that’s going to excite people, get young people involved again in politics and show us that we can build a much better country?”

Stewart said he and Gove would have to come to a “common position” on the issue of Brexit and whether a new deal could be reached with the European Union. Stewart has repeatedly said he doesn’t think that will be possible.

“We’d have to agree to compromise, and if neither of us were prepared to budge on our analysis of the situation, then of course we couldn’t combine as a team,” Stewart said.

Hunt: Not Clear What Johnson Thinks on Deadline (9 a.m.)

Tory leadership candidate Jeremy Hunt, who is running a distant second to Boris Johnson in the contest to become prime minister, is trying to take advantage of the front-runner’s apparent inconsistency over the Oct. 31 Brexit deadline. In Tuesday’s televised BBC debate, Johnson declined to guarantee he would take Britain out of the bloc on time.

“Boris has made a big play of saying we will definitely leave -- deal or no deal -- on 31st October. Yesterday, frankly he suggested he wouldn’t be so absolute in that,” Hunt told BBC Radio on Wednesday. “I’m not entirely sure what he believes, having listened to him last night.”

Hunt, who has himself changed his views on Brexit, said he was sticking with his position that if a deal was in sight, he would be prepared to delay Brexit past Oct. 31 to get a deal done, pointing out the shortage of parliamentary business days between now and the deadline.

“If it’s a matter of a few days or weeks, of course we’re not going to suddenly rip us out of the European Union and give up on the whole thing, because you have to think about the interests of business,” he said.

Javid Not Planning to Withdraw (8:30 a.m.)

Home Secretary Sajid Javid, who scraped through the ballot Tuesday with 33 supporters -- the minimum needed to get through to Wednesday’s round -- said he would not withdraw from the leadership contest. “I’m in it to win it,’’ Javid told ITV’s Good Morning Britain program.

Javid repeated his assertion that the best way to deliver Brexit is to do a deal with the European Union, arguing his experience in business qualified him to negotiate with the bloc.

“The biggest mistake we made on this is about three years ago, we walked into the negotiating room, we put our hands on the table and we let them handcuff us to the table,’’ he said. “Now we need someone to unlock those handcuffs, and I can do that.’’

Stewart: Raab’s Supporters Now Backing Me (7.25 a.m.)

International Development Secretary Rory Stewart, who doubled the number of Conservative members of Parliament supporting his leadership bid in a ballot Tuesday, said some of eliminated candidate Dominic Raab’s backers are now behind him.

“I had a couple this morning” of Raab supporters pledging support, Stewart told BBC radio Wednesday. While pro-Brexit Raab had been determined to take Britain out of the European Union by Oct. 31, Stewart’s approach is more consensual. Seeking a deal through Parliament is “the only door out of the room,” he said.

Stewart also indicated he’d be prepared to strike a deal with rival Michael Gove, without giving details. “I talk to Michael all the time,” he said. “It would make a lot of sense for us, at this stage, to combine.”

Stewart attracted comment for removing his tie half-way through Tuesday evening’s debate. He conceded the format of the BBC show had not worked very well for him. Later, he joked to the broadcaster that he felt the discussion was moving into an alternative universe and that removing his tie might help restore a sense of reality.

Coming Up:

Prime Minister’s Questions at 12 p.m.Voting among Conservative MPs from 3-5 p.m.; results at 6 p.m.

Earlier:

Boris Johnson Extends Lead in Race to Become U.K. Prime MinisterBrexit Bulletin: Early Election?

--With assistance from Jessica Shankleman, Helene Fouquet and Kitty Donaldson.

To contact the reporters on this story: Alex Morales in London at amorales2@bloomberg.net;Tim Ross in London at tross54@bloomberg.net;Robert Hutton in London at rhutton1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Emma Ross-Thomas at erossthomas@bloomberg.net, Stuart Biggs, Thomas Penny

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