Tories count votes as leadership race heats up

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(June 18): Candidates vying to become Britain’s next prime minister are waiting to learn their fate, after Conservative MPs voted in the second in a series of ballots to elect a new party leader. Boris Johnson is the clear favourite to win, and has picked up the support of prominent Brexiteer Andrea Leadsom.

Key Developments:

Results due at 6 p.m. after MPs voted between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m.
Candidate in last place in secret ballot —as well as anyone who fails to hit the threshold of 33 votes — will be knocked out.
Johnson to make first appearance in TV debate at 8 p.m. on BBC.
Ex-ambassador Ivan Rogers says no-deal is now likely and the EU won’t budge.

Johnson Meets Business Leaders (4:30 p.m.)
Front-runner Boris Johnson held a meeting with about 40 business executives in London’s Somerset House on Tuesday, according to people present at the meeting who didn’t wish to be identified, because it was confidential.

Also in attendance was Chief Secretary to the Treasury Liz Truss, according to one person present. That could be read as an indication she’s in line for a top Cabinet job in a Johnson administration.

The discussion lasted around 45 minutes, the people said. Brunswick, one of London’s leading financial public relations agencies, organized the meeting, which aimed to get views from across sectors of British business.

Johnson, the face of the Leave campaign, famously said "f*** business" when discussing companies’ opposition to Brexit with a European diplomat. He glossed over the remark quickly during the meeting, according to the people.

Ireland Holds Firm (4:20 p.m.)
Ireland and the EU won’t soften their stance on the Brexit withdrawal agreement for a new U.K. leader, Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney warned.

“Regardless of what’s being said and what’s being claimed, the facts don’t change,” he said in parliament in Dublin.

May Quiet on Choice of Successor (4:20 p.m.)
Theresa May just voted for her successor, but still won’t be drawn on who she’s backing to be prime minister. “As I said last week, none of your business,” she told reporters in the corridor outside the committee room where the ballot is taking place.

Six Candidates Cast Their Votes (3:50 p.m.)
All six candidates have now cast their votes, with Michael Gove the last to do so. Like Boris Johnson, who rushed down the committee corridor flanked by aides, and made no comment to waiting reporters earlier, Gove gave little away. Asked if he thought he’d gained support, he replied simply: “Yes.”

Much of the focus in the second round is on Rory Stewart, and if he’s done enough to get through the second round. David Lidington, Theresa May’s de facto deputy, told reporters Stewart’s campaign had illustrated the way forward for the Tories.

“We’ve got to win back voters on both flanks that we’ve lost,” Lidington said. “And we have to show there are no no-go areas anywhere on the country and anywhere in society.”

But Johnson-backer James Cleverly said that while Stewart was running a good campaign, he was targeting voters “in the wrong order.” He should be trying to win over Tory MPs, and then grassroots members, before the country, he said.

Stewart himself told reporters he thinks he has between 31 and 35 votes. He needs 33 — and not to come last — to stay in the race.

Stewart Says It’s Close as Voting Begins (3:12 p.m.)
Conservative MPs have started voting in the second round of the parliamentary party ballots. Candidates were among the earliest to vote, including Boris Johnson, Sajid Javid, Dominic Raab and Rory Stewart. “I’m not that confident, I’m within one or two votes,” said Stewart, the outsider in the race.

Crosby: Tories Can Beat Corbyn with New Leader (1:50 p.m.)
Lynton Crosby, the Conservative election strategist and friend of Johnson, said the next Tory leader must offer a sense of hope and voters will respond to an upbeat message. “With a change in leadership, that creates the opportunity for us to be heard again,” Crosby told the Policy Exchange think-tank in London.

The party needs someone with the “character” and “authenticity” to succeed as a communicator, Crosby said, drawing links to President Trump and his ability to connect with voters.

In a rare public appearance, Crosby said Britain “seems to have had a crisis of confidence and self-belief in recent times. You cannot underestimate the impact of changing those dynamics” on the way voters will respond. He said Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn won’t benefit from escaping scrutiny next time there is a general election, in the way he did in 2017. “This time, that dynamic significantly changes. The threat is real. He could win.”

Crosby helped Johnson win two mayoral elections and the pair frequently speak. He also helped former Prime Minister David Cameron win a surprise majority in 2015, and worked on Theresa May’s failed campaign in 2017.

Crosby wouldn’t say which candidate he favors, though he appeared to be describing Johnson.

May Has Confidence in Chancellor Hammond (12:20 p.m.)
Theresa May’s spokesman James Slack told reporters on Tuesday the prime minister has confidence in Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond, after the Press Association (see 9 a.m.) reported he could resign over her plans to spend billions of pounds on projects that could tie her successor’s hands. The government’s spending plans didn’t come up in Tuesday’s meeting, Slack said.

Hammond “was in Cabinet and offered views on a wide range of issues,” Slack said.

A person familiar with Hammond’s thinking said earlier that while he may have expressed frustration in a private conversation with a colleague, he has not expressed plans to resign.

Slack said topics discussed in Cabinet included the restoration of power-sharing in Northern Ireland, the government’s policy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the ongoing Ebola outbreak in central Africa.

Barclay: Important to Safeguard Citizens’ Rights (11:45 a.m.)
Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay and Luxembourg’s Prime Minister Xavier Bettel held a joint press conference, and both were asked about the protection of citizens’ rights after Brexit. That follows the U.K.’s request (see 10:30 a.m.) to have rights safeguarded regardless of the outcome of divorce talks.

“We will continue to do all that we can to provide as much certainty as possible to all citizens across the continent,” Barclay told reporters, while Bettel said Luxembourg is one of the few countries in the bloc to have already legislated on the issue.

Bettel also warned that a no-deal Brexit could not be excluded as time ticks down to the Oct 31 deadline, and that such an outcome would be bad for both sides. He reiterated that the Brexit deal negotiated with Theresa May could not be changed. Asked about the prospect of former Mayor of London Boris Johnson becoming British premier, Bettel — a former mayor of Luxembourg city — joked that former heads of capitals are “pragmatic.”

Barclay said the best Brexit outcome would be for the U.K. to leave with a deal, though he adding that a new prime minister would provide “an opportunity” to look again at the relationship with the EU.

U.K. Asks Barnier to Sort Citizens’ Rights (10:30 a.m.)
Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay has repeated a request to the European Union to come to an agreement to safeguard the rights of EU and U.K. citizens whatever the outcome of Brexit talks.

Citizens’ rights are included in the withdrawal agreement, which has been rejected by Parliament and which Conservative leadership candidates are promising to renegotiate.

The bloc’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, rejected the request for a separate agreement on citizens’ rights in March.

Hammond Has Not Spoken of Plans to Quit (9 a.m.)
Chancellor of the Exchequer Phillip Hammond has not spoken of plans to quit his job, according to a person familiar with the matter. The Press Association reported Hammond could resign over outgoing Prime Minister Theresa May’s plans to spend billions of pounds on projects that could tie her successor’s hands.

The person familiar with Hammond’s thinking said that while he may have expressed frustration in a private conversation with a colleague, he has not expressed plans to resign.

Meanwhile any tensions over education spending have dissipated, as planned meetings between government departments have been delayed. The matter is unlikely to come up at Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting, the person said.

Leadsom: Johnson Is Proven Winner (8:45 a.m.)
Pro-Brexit former Cabinet minister Andrea Leadsom said she would be backing Boris Johnson in Tuesday’s ballot of Tory members of Parliament. Leadsom told LBC radio that front-runner Johnson is the “best-placed to get us out of the EU at the end of October” and “is an election winner.”

Stewart, Javid Pitch Their Credentials (Earlier)
Tory leadership candidate Rory Stewart, who has enjoyed a surge of support, said under the law he could not give a straight answer on whether he had been employed by British intelligence agencies. “I definitely would say I served my country,” he told BBC radio on Tuesday. “And if somebody asked me whether I was a spy I would say no.”

Later Sajid Javid, who’s strategy is to differentiate himself from his rivals who were all educated privately, again emphasized his differences. When culture secretary, he joked on BBC radio, he was “Less Homer’s Iliad, more Homer Simpson.”

Gove Urges MPs to Back Brexiteers (Earlier)
Michael Gove, who came third in the first round of voting last Thursday, urged his colleagues to select a Brexiteer to go up against Boris Johnson in the national vote by rank-and-file members next month.

The plea, in an article for the Times newspaper, is a barely veiled attack on International Development Secretary Rory Stewart, an underdog whose insurgent campaign has spooked his rivals. While Johnson has pledged to leave the EU on Oct 31 with or without a deal, Stewart is committed to getting Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement over the line.

“It would be a mistake to put two candidates to the final round who will polarize our party,” Gove wrote in the piece, which was published on Tuesday. The two on the short list must “believe in Brexit,” he said.