Conservative Leadership: When Five become Four

5 July 2016

As the first round of voting concludes this evening, one of the five candidates will knocked out as Tory MPs vote for the future leader. As the new Prime Minister will be faced with some of the most important decisions in British political history, DeHavilland has provided an overview of the candidates’ positions on key Brexit negotiation.

Currently polling positions are:

  1. Home Secretary Theresa May – Voted for Remain – Supported by 111 MPs
  2. Energy Minister Andrea Leadsom – Vote for Leave – Supported by 39 MPs
  3. Justice Secretary Michael Gove – Voted for Leave – Supported by 28 MPs
  4. Work and Pensions Secretary Stephen Crabb – Voted for Remain – Supported by 23 MPs
  5. Liam Fox – Voted for Leave - Supported by 9 MPs

DeHavilland has been tracking declarations of support. Our live tracker document can be found here

Triggering Article 50

In her campaign address, Theresa May declared “Brexit means Brexit”, clarifying her position that there would be no Referendum u-turn or second referendum. But she failed to detail the exact timing of when she would initiate the process, preferring instead to outline a strategy that would be in place before Article 50 was invoked and the legal process of withdrawal started.

Offering insight into the preparations, she said she would establish a new Government department, headed by a Leave-supporting Cabinet-level minister.

By contrast, campaign rival Andrea Leadsom has suggested that she wishes to invoke Article 50 as soon as possible, but warned she would not be pressed to set a “specific time”.

“I intend to keep the negotiations as short as possible; neither we, nor our European friends, need prolonged uncertainty”, she argued, whilst pledging to have a “dedicated Cabinet colleague” leading negotiations, and to keep the “United Kingdom united”

Stephen Crabb has been similarly vague, suggesting that the UK needed a “period of months” before Article 50 was invoked to “allow the dust to settle”, but also outlining plans for a UK-wide Brexit advisory council, to secure the involvement of the UK, Welsh, Scottish and Northern Ireland administrations and the London mayor.

Meanwhile, Justice Secretary Michael Gove has echoed similar restraint to that of Ms May, and said that if elected, he would not trigger Article 50 until at least 2017.  

Offering a more decisive position, Liam Fox has urged for initial negotiations to begin this year, and said the UK should leave the EU on 1 January 2019.

Snap election

Making her position clear at the outset, Theresa May used her campaign launch to explicitly state she would not seek to hold a snap election or propose a "Brexit Budget".

Given the lack of appetite for another General Election, it is unsurprising that Michael Gove, Andrea Leadsom, Liam Fox and Stephen Crabb have also ruled out holding one before 2020.

Freedom of movement

“Any attempt to wriggle out of that, especially from leadership candidates who campaigned to leave the EU by focusing on immigration, will be unacceptable to the public”, Theresa May argued during the launch of her campaign.

She clarified that she would not accept free movement “as it has worked to date”.

However, she has recently courted controversy following suggestions that the future of EU nationals residing in the UK would be part of future negotiations.

In line with his platform of compassionate conservatism, Stephen Crabb quickly tweeted: “I would allow EU citizens already in UK to continue their lives here, and expect same for Brits in EU. People are not bargaining chips”.

On the specific issue of freedom of movement, Mr Crabb has stated his priority is continued access to the Single Market, but promise no more “open borders” – something he admits would be “very challenging” to achieve.

One of the last to formally launch her campaign for Tory leader, Andrea Leadsom also offered a guarantee to EU citizens currently living and working in the UK, and stressed that European nationals “will not be bargaining chips in our negotiations”.

The Guardian suggested that her statements were designed to counter claims made by Home Secretary Theresa May on ITV’s Peston on Sunday show, in which she said the rights of EU citizens would be part of the negotiation process and claimed that there could be a surge in the number of other Europeans moving to the UK, as people try to enter the country ahead of any new immigration controls.

However, she has made clear that she would prioritise immigration concerns that featured so prominently in the campaign she was part of, and stressed that freedom of movement would end.

“On free movement, we have to very quickly get in control of the numbers of people who are coming here, whether that means we have to have a transitional arrangement since the referendum, or indeed since negotiations start. But it is very clear that what we must prioritise as soon as possible, now there is clarity about the direction that we are going in, that we want to control the numbers of people coming here”, she argued.

In a clear jibe at the Home Secretary’s legacy on missed net migration targets, Michael Gove stated that he would end free movement, to introduce an “Australian-style points-based system for immigration, and bring numbers down”.

“With my leadership, it will be delivered”, he declared.

Both Michael Gove and Liam Fox have vowed to grant EU citizens already residing in the UK the right to remain, if elected.

However, taking a more hard-line stance, Liam Fox declared that free movement must end or it could be perceived as a "betrayal" of the Brexit vote.

Single Market Access

“As we conduct our negotiations it must be a priority to allow British companies to trade with the single market in goods and services but also to regain more control of the numbers of people who are coming here from Europe”, Theresa May said during her address.

Meanwhile, Liam Fox declared "If the price of the relationship with the Single Market is free movement of people, it's a price I'm not willing to pay. I believe the British people have made their view very clear. It is not for politicians to water it down or second guess it".

He has made clear that he places a higher prize on restricting immigration from Europe over Single Market access.

Meanwhile, Stephen Crabb has called for “as close an economic relation with the EU as we have now” as one of his main negotiating priorities.

Andrea Leadsom promised new trade deals with the fastest growing parts of the world, stating that the Referendum result amounted to "a huge opportunity for our great country".

At the height of the campaign, Michael Gove said a vote to leave the EU would translate into UK membership of the Single Market, and has since explained he would favour access as part of the European Free Trade Zone, "free from EU regulation which costs us billions of pounds a year".

Jasmine Mitchell
Jasmine Mitchell
Political Analyst

Jasmine Mitchell is a Political Analyst at DeHavilland, where she monitors the UK Parliament and devolved institutions. She first joined DeHavilland as a Research Assistant in January 2015. Jasmine holds a BA in Modern History and Politics from the University of Liverpool and a Masters in Conflict, Security and Development from King's College London.