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Rivals in race to succeed Theresa May set out their Brexit solutions


CANDIDATES vying to succeed Theresa May as British prime minister set out their various plans to negotiate Brexit over the past weekend, with a focus on persuading the Irish government and the European Union (EU) to shift their positions.

With 13 of them now in the race, each of them is looking to solicit support from Conservative members of parliament.

That is providing many of them with an incentive to avoid talking about the compromises those MPs are likely to face in the coming months. Instead, they are talking about the compromises they would like other people to make.

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Home Secretary Sajid Javid, Health Secretary Matt Hancock and former leader of the House of Commons Andrea Leadsom have been talking up the idea of technological solutions to the thorny Irish border issue.

They differ on what they say they'd do if these solutions do not persuade the EU to shift its position before the Oct 31 deadline by which Britain is to leave.

The EU has said that it won't reopen negotiations on the Withdrawal Agreement that it reached with Mrs May, and that it isn't going to change its position on the Irish border.

But Mr Javid was speaking for many of the candidates on Sunday when he told the BBC that he believed the bloc would in fact shift.

Former pensions secretary Esther McVey, meanwhile, repeated her call for a no-deal Brexit on Oct 31, and welcomed US President Donald Trump's endorsement of the idea as the leader begins a state visit to the UK on Monday. Mr Trump "is right about the need for us to be serious about walking away from the EU without a deal", she said in a statement. "I've ruled out a further extension and said that we should walk away with a clean Brexit."

For Ms Leadsom, too, the plan is to leave whatever happens, although she insisted on Sunday that a "managed exit" was a better description than "no-deal Brexit".

In theory, a prime minister might be able to deliver a no-deal Brexit without parliament's consent, but as Ms Leadsom's plan involves legislation there would be opportunities for MPs to try to force her to change course. She told the BBC that she didn't believe they would do so. "We have to leave the EU at the end of October," she said. "The Withdrawal Agreement Bill is dead - the EU won't reopen the Withdrawal Agreement and the UK parliament won't vote for it."

But earlier, Justice Secretary David Gauke warned that he would not be able to support a no-deal Brexit.

Environment Secretary Michael Gove has yet to set out a plan, but his team did not dispute a Sunday Telegraph report that he would be ready to delay Brexit until late 2020 in order to resolve the differences between the EU and the UK parliament.

For Mr Hancock, the solution is for parliament to leave Oct 31 with the existing deal, having tried to change it, and then seek to resolve remaining issues during an implementation period that could last a long time. He said he wants to avoid going into the Irish backstop.

Mr Javid, challenged on the BBC about what he would do, replied that he couldn't imagine seeking a further extension - but he did not rule out doing so if forced by parliament.

"That's not something I would do, but we are a parliamentary democracy and what we've seen in the last few months is parliament has taken on some extraordinary powers to initiate its own legislation," he said. "So if it's statute, if it's the law, I would not break the law if I was prime minister."

Another of the candidates, Rory Stewart, vented his frustration with his rivals in a string of Twitter messages. "Stop pretending you are going to get alternative arrangements agreed by Brussels 'over the next few months'," he wrote. "Stop. You won't. Admit it."

The surprise of the weekend was former universities minister Sam Gyimah's announcement that he, too, will run for the top job. His pitch is distinct from all the other candidates, and is likely to struggle to win support from colleagues: he said the country needs a second Brexit referendum. "There's a wide range of candidates out there, but a very narrow range of views on Brexit being discussed," he told Sky News.

"While there's a broad sweep of opinion in the country on how we move forward at this critical time, that is not being reflected in the contest at the moment." BLOOMBERG