Top Tories lined up behind the Prime Minister today to say a leadership contest should not be triggered until a Brexit deal is passed through parliament.
Foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt, who is seen as a contender for the top job along with his predecessor, Boris Johnson, said talk of a leadership contest was a “sidetrack” from Brexit that should be resisted until Theresa May personally announces that she is standing down.
Speaking while on a visit to Japan to meet the country’s Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, Hunt said: “There will be a time for all those discussions about whether this shade of person or that shade of person is the right person to take over from the Prime Minister. But the time for that is when she has announced she’s going and there’s a formal leadership contest.”
Last month May announced she would stand down as Tory leader if MPs passed her Brexit deal, which has been defeated by heavy margins three times.
She told the 1922 backbench committee of Tory MPs that she was “prepared to leave this job earlier than I intended in order to do what is right for our country and our party”.
Sajid Javid, the home secretary and another leadership hopeful, also said he was “very comfortable” with May staying in her role until parliament had accepted a Brexit deal.
“I’m very comfortable with the Prime Minister and the work she is doing,” he said at a knife crime conference in London. “I think everyone recognised that it has been incredibly difficult in the last few months. The Prime Minister had been working incredibly hard to try and reach a deal, try and reach a compromise in parliament.
“When you have a parliament that is rejecting one proposal after another, it does mean that what the prime minister is doing now is just so vital to try and get agreement.”
This week MPs were discharged from the House of Commons for Easter recess, but talks between the Tories and Labour will continue as both parties desperately seek an end to the Brexit deadlock that has paralysed parliament for the past month.
Hunt told the BBC today that the talks with Labour, aimed at reaching a compromise which could entail a customs union, were proving to be constructive.
“Talks we are having with Labour are detailed and I think more constructive than people have thought,” he said. “They are more detailed and more constructive than people had been expecting on both sides. But we don’t know if they are going to work.”