Tory leadership race: Voting set to close as Johnson urges UK to rediscover 'can-do spirit'

22 July 2019, 02:16 | Updated: 22 July 2019, 06:36

Boris Johnson has insisted Britain can leave the European Union with a deal by 31 October if the country rediscovers its "sense of mission", with voting set to close later in the Conservative leadership contest.

The former foreign secretary, who is the frontrunner to succeed Theresa May as Tory leader and prime minister, said if it was possible to get to the moon and back 50 years ago, then the problem of frictionless trade on the Irish border could be solved.

It comes as the race for Number 10 between Mr Johnson and his rival Jeremy Hunt is set to conclude this week, with the following events:

  • Monday - the postal ballot among Conservative Party members will close at 5pm
  • Tuesday - the result of the Tory leadership contest will be announced late morning, with the new leader then expected to make a speech
  • Wednesday - Mrs May will take part in her final PMQs in the Commons before before heading to Buckingham Palace to offer her resignation to the Queen
  • The monarch will meet the new Tory leader and invite him to form a new government. The new PM then traditionally makes a statement in Downing Street before stepping into Number 10
  • Thursday - the new PM will likely spend their first full day in office finalising their government - with appointments to the Cabinet and ministerial team expected
  • That day, the Commons will rise for the summer recess, with MPs not due to return until 3 September
  • Friday - The Cabinet reshuffle could continue into Friday. The PM may also make their first official visit to one of the four countries in the UK, or head to Brussels in a bid to reopen Brexit negotiations

Ahead of the leadership ballot closing, Mr Johnson - who is widely expected to become prime minister on Wednesday - said the UK can leave the EU at the end of October if the country has the "will" and "drive" for Brexit.

He wrote in the Daily Telegraph: "If they could use hand-knitted computer code to make a frictionless re-entry to Earth's atmosphere in 1969, we can solve the problem of frictionless trade at the Northern Irish border.

"There is no task so simple that government cannot over-complicate if it doesn't want to do it. And there are few tasks so complex that humanity cannot solve if we have a real sense of mission to pull them off.

"It is time this country recovered some of its can-do spirit. We can come out of the EU on October 31, and yes, we certainly have the technology to do so. What we need now is the will and the drive."

Mr Johnson claimed there were "technological pessimists" who think such a solution is impossible but there is "abundant scope to find the solutions necessary".

Former Labour prime minister Tony Blair urged Mr Johnson if he becomes PM to "go back to the people with a referendum offering no-deal or Remain," adding that it was the "obvious and right course".

Writing in the Times, Mr Blair warned that "crashing out without public endorsement would be a gargantuan risk" and "no one knows with certainty the impact of no-deal".

"It could be merely very difficult or it could be catastrophic," he added.

His comments came after Chancellor Philip Hammond became the second Cabinet minister - after Justice Secretary David Gauke - to announce they will quit the government if Mr Johnson becomes prime minister.

Mr Hammond, who has been in Number 11 for three years, has been a vocal critic of a no-deal Brexit - something Mr Johnson has vowed to do if he cannot secure concessions from Brussels.

Asked on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show if he thought he would be sacked, Mr Hammond said: "No, I'm sure I'm not going to be sacked because I'm going to resign before we get to that point.

"Assuming that Boris Johnson becomes the next prime minister, I understand that his conditions for serving in his government would include accepting a no-deal exit on 31 October, and it's not something that I could ever sign up to."

Mr Hammond said he intended to resign to Mrs May before she goes to Buckingham Palace to tender her own resignation on Wednesday.

There is speculation in Westminster that a number of other Cabinet members could also quit in the event Mr Johnson wins the Tory leadership race.

Margot James, who resigned as digital minister on Thursday, told Sky News she thinks others will quit to show their opposition to Mr Johnson's commitment to leave the EU, deal or no deal, at the end of October.

Defence minister Tobias Ellwood, an opponent of no-deal, did not rule out resigning when questioned on Sky's Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme.

"I really get frustrated with this energy towards no-deal," he said.

"I know all my parliamentary colleagues on all sides of the House recognise the dangers of no-deal.

"The fact that we keep talking about it - it isn't a solution."

Mr Gauke told the Sunday Times he would also quit on Wednesday if Mr Johnson enters Number 10.

He said: "If the test of loyalty to stay in the Cabinet is a commitment to support no deal on October 31 - which, to be fair to him, Boris has consistently said - then that's not something I'm prepared to sign up to.

"I recognise that this spell in government is coming to an end. Given that I've been in the Cabinet since Theresa May came to power, I think the appropriate thing is for me to resign to her."

As well as the conclusion of the Tory leadership race this week, the new leader of the Liberal Democrats will be announced on Monday.

Jo Swinson and Sir Ed Davey are battling it out to succeed Sir Vince Cable, with the result of the ballot of the party's membership set to be announced at around 4pm.