Tory leadership hopeful Esther McVey calls for foreign aid cuts and condemns her party for 'failure to deliver Brexit'

Prominent Brexiteer argues UK should leave the EU on 31 October 'without a deal' if necessary

Lizzy Buchan
Political Correspondent
Monday 20 May 2019 14:56 BST
How do European Elections work?

Tory leadership hopeful Esther McVey has called for billions of pounds of foreign aid spending to be channelled into policing and schools, in a pitch to "blue collar" Conservative voters.

The former work and pensions secretary tore into her party's record, saying Conservative grassroots were "demoralised" due to Theresa May's "failure to deliver Brexit".

In a thinly-veiled pitch at the leadership, Ms McVey said the next prime minister must be a Brexiteer and the UK should leave the EU on 31 October "with or without a deal".

Senior Tories are openly setting out their stalls for a leadership contest in the summer, as Ms May will set out the timetable for her exit after a crunch vote on key Brexit legislation in June.

Boris Johnson and cabinet ministers Rory Stewart declared they will stand, while a string of other cabinet ministers are said to be considering a tilt at the leadership.

More than a dozen Tory MPs were in attendance at Ms McVey's "Blue Collar Conservatism" event, including minister Kit Malthouse, Philip Davies, Jack Brereton, Iain Duncan Smith, Philip Hollobone, John Lamont, Ben Bradley and Scott Mann.

Ms McVey told the event in Westminster: "It's not an easy time to be a Conservative activist.

"Our failure to deliver Brexit has left many feeling demoralised with no obvious light at the end of the tunnel and most of us know that ahead of us is still a bumpy ride."

She said the Tories had to do more to appeal to working class voters, who she claimed were abandoning Jeremy Corbyn's Labour party.

The government needs to pursue a "radical Conservative agenda" to win back the trust of disillusioned voters, and take the party "out of [its] comfort zone", she said.

Her proposals included cutting foreign aid spending back to 2010 levels, which she claimed would free up £7bn for schools and policing.

She said: "By doing this we would be doing more than making up the shortfall here and there.

"We would be providing transformative funds which communities will feel."

Taking funding back to Labour levels will satisfy voters who prioritise foreign aid, while putting cash into other areas, she argued.

The staunch Brexiteer also told the event that delivering on the referendum voter was "essential" and she believed the next prime minister had to be a Eurosceptic.

Support free-thinking journalism and attend Independent events

She said: "What is also key is the date of 31 October. We will be out. No more backsliding and if it means without a deal, we will be out."

Her comments came as health secretary Matthew Hancock refused to rule out a leadership bid.

He told the Today programme: "It's flattering that lots of people have asked me to put my name forward and proposed to support me if I do but that isn't the point, which is we still have to get this legislation to deliver Brexit through."

He said the leader should put the Tories "four-square in the centre ground", a view that will be echoed by big hitters at a meeting of the One Nation group of Tories in parliament on Monday night.

Home secretary Sajid Javid, another potential contender, said "there won't be a shortage of candidates" for the job but "whether I will be one of those, you'll just have to wait and see".

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in