Michael Gove (pictured leaaving a cabinet meeting today) rained jabs on Tory front runner Boris Johnson as he struggled to back on track after the storm over his cocaine use
Michael Gove took a series of swipes at a seemingly ‘unstoppable’ Boris Johnson over his ‘insane’ tax cut plan and ‘submarine’ campaign today as Tory rivals were grilled by MPs.
The Environment Secretary rained jabs on the front runner as he struggled to back on track after the storm over his cocaine use.
Mr Gove, Jeremy Hunt, Dominic Raab, Mark Harper, Andrea Leadsom and Sajid Javid were all taking part in a ‘beauty parade’ staged by the Tory 1922 committee.
The contenders appear to be vying for second place in the first round of voting on Thursday, with Mr Johnson well ahead in terms of public pledges of support.
Boris Johnson has solidified his bid after racking up more support in the leadership battle – gaining a boost by a fresh round of endorsements, including from Iain Duncan Smith.
Mr Johnson also topped a poll at a hustings event with the right-wing 92 group of MPs last night, gaining more than double the votes as Brexiteer rival Dominic Raab.
Backbenchers claimed Mr Gove’s bombshell confession 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 Conservative members.
Allies of Mr Gove said he spoke during today’s event about appealing to women and young people, and set out his stall on education and security.
However, they insisted ‘nothing at all’ came up about his admission of cocaine use – which threw his pitch for the top job into chaos.
Boris Johnson (pictured leaving his London home today) has been boosted by a fresh round of endorsements after the Tory contest kicked off for real, including from Iain Duncan Smith
Ten MPs are on the ballot as Tory MPs prepare to vote on who will be their next leader
He was asked by the Chancellor Philip Hammond if he would rule out withdrawing from the battle, and apparently replied: ‘100 per cent I will do that – we can’t have another coronation.’
Supporter Nicky Morgan said he also raised the fact that Mr Johnson – who formally launches his campaign tomorrow – seemed determined to minimise his public exposure to avoid gaffes.
‘One of the things that Michael said is that when he was head of the Vote Leave campaign he did not shy away from fronting up to press scrutiny. We all know who’s not been seen very much by the press,’ Mrs Morgan said.
How will the Tory leader battle play out?
Three more Tory hopefuls – Andrea Leadsom, Mark Harper and Rory Stewart – are formally launching their leadership campaigns today.
They were among 10 hopefuls who had reached the threshold of eight endorsements from MPs when nominations closed last night.
One contender, Sam Gyimah, dropped out admitting he does not have the support.
Now the candidates have been finalised, MPs will start whittling them down in a series of votes.
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This will be another critical day, as the first ballot takes place.
Anyone with fewer than 16 votes will be automatically eliminated, and at least one will be ejected.
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Further rounds of voting will take place during June until there are just two candidates left by this point.
They will then go to a run-off ballot of the 160,000 Tory members.
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The winner is due to be declared this week.
They will take over from Mrs May as PM shortly afterwards – probably in time to take a session of PMQs before the Commons breaks up for its summer recess.
Earlier, Mr Gove was interviewed at the Time CEO summit in London, attacking Mr Johnson’s plan to give higher earners a £10billion tax cut by raising the 40p threshold to £80,000.
He said it is ‘insane’ to have policies skewed towards the wealthy, sniping that his rival is ‘mistaken’.
Mr Gove said: ‘You can come from my own background but if your priorities seem to be skewed towards the already fortunate in society that’s insane.’
Pressed on whether he was discussing Mr Johnson’s tax proposals, Mr Gove was received with laughter when he replied: ‘I wasn’t thinking of any one particular candidate, but I do think his tax proposals are mistaken.
‘I think that there are two tests that I would apply to any tax cut. Does it par economic growth and does it help the most disadvantaged in our society?
‘A tax cut that concentrates on helping the wealthiest pensioners most of all is not a tax cut which either improves productivity or generates a greater level of social equity.’
Asked if Mr Johnson has the focus, discipline and judgment, Mr Gove said: ‘Well, we will find out during this race.
‘Boris was a great mayor of London, it was enjoyable working with him as a foreign secretary and he now has the opportunity to set out his stall and to be judged, as all the candidates will be, on the basis of his ideas and policies.’
Mr Gove warned Tories that the party will lose a general election if they do not deliver the result of the EU referendum.
‘There’s no way a Conservative Party leader can win a general election if Brexit is not delivered,’ he said.
He ruled out doing any deal with Nigel Farage’s insurgent Brexit Party, before he was questioned further about his admission that he took cocaine in the 1990s.
Asked what led him to take the class A drug, he replied: ‘We are all sinners in a fallen world.’
He remained resilient at a suggestion he had been damaged by the fallout and, asked whether he would stand aside in his bid for Number 10, bluntly answered: ‘No.’
Jeremy Hunt (pictured in Downing Street today) has been grilled by Tory MPs at a hustings