Tories clash over Brexit ‘hysteria’ as leadership battle enters next phase

Boris Johnson

Leading Conservatives from opposite sides of the Brexit debate have criticised the national sense of despair in the wake of the leave vote but have clashed over whether fears stoked by the remain campaign are to blame.

Brexit explained: Cameron successor

A day before the first round of votes in the Tory leadership contest – with the home secretary, Theresa May, the favourite – recriminations about the campaign and the reaction to the vote continue to split the party.

Boris Johnson, the leading leave campaigner and favourite to become the next prime minister until he ruled himself out last week, attacked the government for not having a plan in the event of a leave vote, and complained of “hysteria” among a section of the population not seen since the death of Princess Diana.

Writing in his column for the Daily Telegraph, Johnson described Saturday’s protest against the leave vote as “the last psychological tremors of project fear” used by the remain campaigners. Johnson said these fears were “wildly overdone” and that it was wrong of the government not to explain to the electorate how Brexit would work.

He said: “The reality is that the stock market has not plunged, as some said it would – far from it. The FTSE is higher than when the vote took place … There has been no emergency budget, and nor will there be.”

Later on Monday, May secured the backing of another cabinet member, Liz Truss, as she surged ahead of her opponents among Conservative MPs. The support of the environment secretary will be seen as a coup for the home secretary.

Truss had said she would back Johnson’s bid, despite being on the opposite side of the EU referendum debate. Sources pointed out that the Tory MP had worked closely with Michael Gove when she was a minister at the department for education, suggesting that his involvement with Johnson was part of the incentive for her. But Truss has not shifted support to Gove following his decision to break ranks with Johnson and launch his own bid, raising questions about whether she was unimpressed by the way he handled the situation.

In other developments on Monday, the chancellor, George Osborne, the remain campaigner most associated with project fear, urged everyone to “stop moping around” but said he was right to warn that a leave vote could prompt a recession. In an interview with the Financial Times, Osborne said: “What’s done is done. The British public has spoken. We should accept their verdict instead of moping around or trying to unpick it.”

He added: “We have now got to be part of a supreme national effort to make it work for the British people. I don’t resile from the warnings I made about the impact – including a recession.”

Last week, Osborne said any decision about a possible emergency budget, which he had threatened in the referendum campaign, would have to be made by the new prime minister. But the chancellor, who has yet to endorse any candidate in the Tory leadership race, proposed cutting corporation tax to below 15% to encourage businesses to invest in post-Brexit Britain.

He said: “I don’t think we should feel sorry for ourselves as a country. We’ve got to pick ourselves up and make the best of it and make the most of it. I don’t sit here feeling sorry for myself, feeling somehow that it is all going to unravel. Quite the reverse.”

On Tuesday, the Conservatives begin the process of whittling down the number of candidates for leader of the party. Andrea Leadsom, one of the five candidates, launches her official campaign on Monday amid accusations that she is the Ukip choice for Tory leader.

Meanwhile, Johnson’s former campaign manager, Ben Wallace, has accused Michael Gove of being untrustworthy because he has “an emotional need to gossip, particularly when drink is taken, as it all too often seemed to be”. Writing in the Telegraph, Wallace said things started to go wrong as soon as Gove joined the former London mayor’s Tory leadership campaign and accused him of being behind stories that leaked to the media.

The foreign secretary, Phillip Hammond, said on Monday it would be “absurd” to guarantee that European nationals can continue living in Britain after it pulls out of the EU without getting a similar commitment for UK citizens settled abroad.

Hammond said the UK must accept “head on” the referendum result and what it said about ending the free movement of EU nationals in order to control immigration.

May, whom Hammond backs, has said she wants to “guarantee the position” for EU citizens currently living in the UK and British citizens living in EU countries – but that it would be a factor in Brexit negotiations.

Hammond told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I hope we will be able to get to a position where we are able to say to those EU nationals who live in the UK, and to those Brits who live in EU countries, everything’s fine, you can stay as you were. But you can’t assume that, we’ve got to negotiate that with our former European Union partners.”

He added: “When you go into a negotiation, all the parts are moving, all the parts are on the table, and it would be absurd to make a unilateral commitment about EU nationals living in the UK without at the very least getting a similar commitment from the European Union about British nationals living in the EU.”

Hammond accused Gove of making promises about free movement he could not keep. In another article for the Telegraph, Hammond deliberately used the “stubborn best” phrase from last week’s leaked email from Gove’s wife, Sarah Vine, to criticise the justice secretary’s approach to free movement. He said: “Simply doing our stubborn best by demanding access to the market whilst offering nothing in return may sound brave but would be foolhardy.”

Asked on the Today programme about the article, Hammond admitted it was a “not very heavily coded” warning about Gove.

He added: “Business confidence is already shaken by this decision [to leave the EU], and investment flows will be reduced in consequence. What we can’t do is spend a long period of time demanding things from the European Union that we know are not realistic.”

He added: “To get the best out of a negotiation with our European Union former partners and to do it quickly we need a pragmatic approach; we need to be realistic; we need to accept that the terms of trade must change, because the British people have voted decisively against the freedom of movement that we have seen in the past.”

That would mean negotiating bilaterally with Europe’s “key countries”, rather than the EU as a whole through the European commission to secure a deal which allows Britons to work and live abroad and vice versa.

Candidates vying to replace Cameron as Tory leader and prime minister have been urged to guarantee that the 3 million EU nationals already living here are not deported when Britain quits the bloc.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Matthew Weaver, for theguardian.com on Monday 4th July 2016 09.31 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010