Where the candidates to become the UK’s next prime minister stand on a hard or soft Brexit

Now what?
Now what?
Image: BIBA 2019 CONFERENCE/Handout via REUTERS
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Britain has been in turmoil ever since it voted narrowly to leave the EU three years ago. It is mired in an existential debate about its position in Europe, with broad disagreement about the best way to extract itself from the EU. Divisions within the ruling Conservative party led prime minister Theresa May to announce that she would leave her post on June 7.

May’s inability to get Parliament to agree on a deal to leave the EU by the original deadline of March 29, 2019 meant her days were numbered. The Conservatives will now elect a new leader to take over as prime minister. The key issue the candidates will run on—first to fellow MPs, who whittle down the candidates to two, and then to party members, who vote by mail on the remaining two—is what they propose will happen on the new Brexit deadline of Oct. 31, 2019. Namely, if the deadline approaches and Parliament, again, hasn’t agreed on a deal to smooth its transition out of the EU, will the prime minister push to leave the bloc anyway, in a so-called “no deal Brexit”?

By every serious account, a no-deal Brexit would be the most damaging form of divorce for the UK economy. Still, it has become a popular position among the staunchest pro-Brexit constituencies, including—it seems—the Conservative party members charged with selecting the UK’s next prime minister.

Where do the eight candidates (so far) stand on the prospect for a no deal Brexit?

In favor of a no-deal Brexit

Boris Johnson: The former mayor of London, former foreign secretary, and one of leaders of the Leave campaign during the referendum, is the bookies’ favorite to win the leadership contest. He is very comfortable with a no-deal Brexit. That said, he changes his mind like the weather. Witty and charismatic, he is also prone to lies and exaggerations; his consistent disregard for detail has led many to say he is his own worst enemy.

Michael Gove: The former secretary of education, justice, and now environment led the Leave campaign with Johnson, but then double-crossed him in the contest to succeed David Cameron, declaring his own candidacy for the job (deja vu). He has pitched himself as serious and experienced, by contrast to frenemy Johnson. In favor of no-deal Brexit, if necessary.

Dominic Raab: The former Brexit secretary spent one of the first full days of his candidacy defending his claim that feminists are “obnoxious bigots.” In favor of no-deal Brexit, if necessary.

Andrea Leadsom: The former House of Commons leader dropped out of the 2016 leadership race after suggesting she was better suited to be prime minister than May because she was a mother (May doesn’t have kids, which give you “a very real stake” in Britain’s future, Leadsom suggested). She is prepared to leave without a deal.

Esther McVey: The Former works and pensions secretary is ready—eager, even—to leave the EU with no deal, positioning herself as one of the most hardline candidates when it comes to Brexit.

Against a no-deal Brexit 

Rory Stewart: The international development secretary called pursuing a no-deal Brexit “damaging and dishonest.” He has ruled out working with Johnson if he loses the contest to him, due to his views on Brexit. “Boris has many, many qualities but I talked to him a few days ago and I thought he had said to me that he was not going for a no-deal exit,” Stewart said.

Matt Hancock: The health secretary is frequently dubbed “ambitious.” Campaigned to remain in the EU during the referendum but now viewed as ally by Brexiteer ministers. Said we have to be “brutally honest” about the trade-offs required to get a deal through Parliament, noting that parliament voted in March to change the constitution to stop a no-deal Brexit.

🤷‍♂️ on a no-deal Brexit

Jeremy Hunt: The foreign secretary campaigned to remain in the EU, but has since changed his mind. Position on no-deal Brexit is a bit murky. First, he said if the UK were to leave without a negotiated deal, “it would be a mistake we would regret for generations.” Later, he tweeted: “Important not to misrepresent my words. Britain would survive and prosper without a deal… but it would be a big mistake for Europe because of inevitable impact on long-term partnership with UK. We will only sign up to deal that respects referendum result.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article misspelt the name of former Brexit secretary Dominic Raab.