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Matt Hancock says 'lots of people' are urging him to stand as Conservative leader - despite poor grassroots approval

Health secretary says it's 'flattering' supporters are urging him to throw his hat in the ring

Lizzy Buchan
Political Correspondent
Monday 20 May 2019 10:54 BST
Matthew Hancock fails to rule out leadership bid

Matthew Hancock has refused to rule out a leadership bid, claiming "lots of people" have urged him to stand - despite poor approval ratings among Tory grassroots.

The health secretary said it was "flattering" that supporters had urged him to throw his hat in the ring but he held back from openly declaring his candidacy.

Senior Tories are openly jockeying for position as Theresa May is widely expected to announce her departure in the summer, triggering a fierce leadership contest.

Leading Brexiteer Boris Johnson is in the frame for the top job, while cabinet ministers Jeremy Hunt, Sajid Javid and Rory Stewart are among those said to be joining a crowded field.

Mr Hancock told BBC Radio 4's 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."

A recent YouGov poll of Tory members put Mr Hancock on only 1 per cent, while Mr Johnson soared ahead on 39 per cent.

Asked if the lacks of grassroots report had put him off, he said: "No, because the contest hasn't started yet.

"I have a strong view about the sort of leader that we need - we need a leader not just for now but also for the future, we need to be absolutely four-square in the centre-ground of British politics."

His comments came as the prime minister was preparing to bring the key Brexit legislation to the Commons at the beginning of June, in a last-ditch attempt to break the deadlock.

Mr Hancock insisted that the Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB) was "different" to Ms May's unpopular Brexit deal, which has been repeatedly rejected by MPs.

He said: "If you want as an MP to leave the EU and deliver on the result of the referendum, no matter what the details you want to see in terms of the future relationship, you need to vote for this legislation and then have the debate in the committee stages later on exactly what the details are.

"No doubt there will be votes on some of the really big issues like whether to have a people's vote or whether to have a customs union - both of which I am against - but parliament will have a chance to have its say."

If MPs reject the bill, then there will be "no vehicle for us to leave the EU", he said, in an attempt to put pressure on Tory Brexiteers.

As cross-party talks with Labour collapsed, Ms May was expected to bring the WAB before the Commons in the week of 3 June, where it faces almost certain defeat.

Government sources said the bill would include new measures on protecting workers' rights - one of Labour's key demands.

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However, the source made clear the package would not just be aimed at Labour MPs but would seek to secure the widest possible support across the Commons.

It is expected to include provisions on future trade arrangements with the EU, on environmental protections, and on Northern Ireland, including the use of technology to avoid the need for border controls with the Republic.

But it will not seek to re-open the Withdrawal Agreement - which includes the controversial Irish backstop.

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