Jeremy Hunt and Michael Gove fight it out in race to challenge Boris Johnson... but Rory Stewart in running ahead of key ballot

JOE MURPHY
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Jeremy Hunt and Michael Gove fight it out in race to challenge Boris Johnson... but Rory Stewart in running ahead of key ballot

Michael Gove and Jeremy Hunt went head-to-head today in an increasingly heated battle for the chance to take on Boris Johnson for the Tory crown.The two heavyweights locked horns in exclusive interviews with the Evening Standard.Mr Gove said his rival treats Brexit like an “unexploded bomb”, while Mr Hunt suggested the Environment Secretary lacks the “experience and trust” needed to do a fresh deal with the EU.Frontrunner Mr Johnson won a triple boost with major endorsements from two of Matt Hancock’s former lieutenants, Damian Green and Tracey Crouch, and from defeated rival Andrea Leadsom.Insurgent candidate Rory Stewart kept the nation guessing about whether or not he was a real-life James Bond, saying he was not but adding it would be against the Official Secrets Act for a spy to admit his profession.In other key developments today: * The Standard can reveal that Mr Johnson has finally dropped his long-standing plan for a Thames Estuary airport that would have replaced Heathrow’s controversial third runway. The former London mayor gave the assurance to Kent MPs whose constituents are opposed to any extra noise. He has also told MPs he cannot halt Heathrow expansion. * Mr Gove unveiled in the Standard a major policy to tackle knife crime and mend “broken lives” of young people that would put a duty on schools to “take responsibility” for the future education of teenagers who are expelled. He also revealed plans to get every Premier League football club to help their local schools inspire troubled teens. * Foreign Secretary Mr Hunt revealed to this newspaper plans for a £30 million programme to cut rough sleeping in London by slashing red tape for organisations offering beds for the night. He also launched plans for faster broadband to every home and to make London a “pollution-free” city with electric cars. * Treasury sources played down a claim that Chancellor Philip Hammond is prepared to resign over Theresa May’s plans to splurge billions of pounds on projects to create a legacy for herself. The Press Association, citing senior government sources, said Mrs May’s announcement of up to £27 billion for education over three years and action on mental health, the environment and modern slavery, were seen as “frivolous vanity projects or an attempt to bind the hands of the next person”.Backing from former de facto deputy PM Mr Green, as predicted in the Standard yesterday, and Mrs Leadsom will further astonish MPs observing Mr Johnson’s ability to get diehard Europhiles and Brexiteers on board. Mr Green told the Standard: “He will achieve a successful Brexit, and maintain the values of moderate Conservatism that are the best for the party and the country.”He added: “This country needs unifying and healing, and the Conservative Party needs to show how it is comfortable with modern Britain. With his record as mayor of London, Boris has shown the way to do this.”Mrs Leadsom, who was knocked out in the first round of voting, told the Standard: “Boris has a track record of achieving great things of the UK.” Her decision is a blow to former Brexit secretary Dominic Raab.Ms Crouch, who was the sole Brexiteer on Mr Hancock’s team, told the Standard: “Along with his strong plan for delivering Brexit by 31st October, I believe Boris is the candidate most able to take on Jeremy Corbyn and Nigel Farage.” The MP for Chatham and Aylesford added she backed Mr Johnson only after being satisfied that he had dropped his airport plan.

Michael Gove and Jeremy Hunt went head-to-head today in an increasingly heated battle for the chance to take on Boris Johnson for the Tory crown.

The two heavyweights locked horns in exclusive interviews with the Evening Standard.

Mr Gove said his rival treats Brexit like an “unexploded bomb”, while Mr Hunt suggested the Environment Secretary lacks the “experience and trust” needed to do a fresh deal with the EU.

Frontrunner Mr Johnson won a triple boost with major endorsements from two of Matt Hancock’s former lieutenants, Damian Green and Tracey Crouch, and from defeated rival Andrea Leadsom.

Insurgent candidate Rory Stewart kept the nation guessing about whether or not he was a real-life James Bond, saying he was not but adding it would be against the Official Secrets Act for a spy to admit his profession.

In other key developments today:

  • The Standard can reveal that Mr Johnson has finally dropped his long-standing plan for a Thames Estuary airport that would have replaced Heathrow’s controversial third runway. The former London mayor gave the assurance to Kent MPs whose constituents are opposed to any extra noise. He has also told MPs he cannot halt Heathrow expansion.
  • Mr Gove unveiled in the Standard a major policy to tackle knife crime and mend “broken lives” of young people that would put a duty on schools to “take responsibility” for the future education of teenagers who are expelled. He also revealed plans to get every Premier League football club to help their local schools inspire troubled teens.
  • Foreign Secretary Mr Hunt revealed to this newspaper plans for a £30 million programme to cut rough sleeping in London by slashing red tape for organisations offering beds for the night. He also launched plans for faster broadband to every home and to make London a “pollution-free” city with electric cars.
  • Treasury sources played down a claim that Chancellor Philip Hammond is prepared to resign over Theresa May’s plans to splurge billions of pounds on projects to create a legacy for herself. The Press Association, citing senior government sources, said Mrs May’s announcement of up to £27 billion for education over three years and action on mental health, the environment and modern slavery, were seen as “frivolous vanity projects or an attempt to bind the hands of the next person”.

Backing from former de facto deputy PM Mr Green, as predicted in the Standard yesterday, and Mrs Leadsom will further astonish MPs observing Mr Johnson’s ability to get diehard Europhiles and Brexiteers on board. Mr Green told the Standard: “He will achieve a successful Brexit, and maintain the values of moderate Conservatism that are the best for the party and the country.”

He added: “This country needs unifying and healing, and the Conservative Party needs to show how it is comfortable with modern Britain. With his record as mayor of London, Boris has shown the way to do this.”

Mrs Leadsom, who was knocked out in the first round of voting, told the Standard: “Boris has a track record of achieving great things of the UK.”

Her decision is a blow to former Brexit secretary Dominic Raab.

Ms Crouch, who was the sole Brexiteer on Mr Hancock’s team, told the Standard: “Along with his strong plan for delivering Brexit by 31st October, I believe Boris is the candidate most able to take on Jeremy Corbyn and Nigel Farage.”

The MP for Chatham and Aylesford added she backed Mr Johnson only after being satisfied that he had dropped his airport plan.