It’s the first of the Tory leadership television debates tonight, as the candidates vying to be the next prime minister (minus Boris, who chose not take part) spar over Brexit and their suitability to lead the country in the next stage of the negotiations.
And while it might seem like not that long ago that the candidates were talking about a ‘clean’ campaign pledge, it didn’t take long for blue on blue warfare to break out on live television.
One of the first to go on the attack was Home Secretary Sajid Javid. Asked by host Krishnan Guru-Murthy if he would consider suspending parliament through prorogation to allow a no-deal Brexit, Javid gave an impassioned speech in defence of British parliamentary democracy. And, in a not-so-subtle dig at Dominic Raab (the only candidate arguing for prorogation this evening) he added that:
‘you don’t deliver on democracy by trashing democracy. We are not selecting a dictator of our country, we are selecting a prime minister.’
Raab, meanwhile, was not pulling his punches either, and said that Michael Gove would ‘buckle’ in any negotiation with the EU, because of his refusal to suspend parliament, saying:
‘You would buckle, because you have shown you would take another extension, you would take no-deal off the table…’
Gove in response said that ‘I will defend our democracy’ – implying of course that it needed defending from the likes of Raab.
The sparring match between the pair led International Development Secretary Rory Stewart to complain that:
‘The fundamental issue here is that there is a competition of machismo.’
Before launching into an extended metaphor about squeezing rubbish into a wheelie bin:
Rory Stewart likens the "competition of machismo" around a no-deal Brexit to trying to stuff too much rubbish in your bin.
— Channel 4 (@Channel4) June 16, 2019
Stewart’s own idea of a ‘citizens’ assembly’, which would gather ordinary members of the public together to break the Brexit impasse – if he failed to get May’s Withdrawal Agreement through parliament – also came under fire. Dominic Raab accused Stewart of channeling the politics of Venezuelan socialist dictator, Nicolas Maduro, saying:
‘You’re the one that wants to create a Citizens’ Assembly, a la Nicolas Maduro. That’s not championing democracy.’
Adding that his attempt to pass May’s deal again, meant that:
‘You [Stewart] just want to keep banging your head on the wall.’
And of course despite not attending the debate, Boris Johnson was also on the receiving end of criticism from the candidates. Notably, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who launched a scathing attack on his former Cabinet colleague:
‘I just want to say something before I answer Nick’s question, which is: we have been talking about Brexit for 25 minutes now, and where is Boris? If his team won’t allow him out to debate with five, pretty friendly colleagues, how is he going to fare with 27 European countries? He should be here to answer that very question.’
So much for keeping things civil…