Matt Hancock quits Tory leadership contest

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Media captionMatt Hancock withdraws from leadership race

Matt Hancock has quit the contest to become Conservative leader – and prime minister – a day after coming sixth in the first ballot of the party’s MPs.

The health secretary did not endorse any of his former rivals, but told the BBC he was “talking” to them all.

Mr Hancock, who had been the youngest contender, said he was “focused on the future” but the party needed a leader to succeed in “the here and now”.

Boris Johnson won the first Tory MPs’ ballot by a big margin, with 114 votes.

His nearest rival, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, got 43 votes.

The final two contenders remaining after further MPs’ ballots next week will go to a party-wide vote.

But cabinet minister David Lidington – who had backed Mr Hancock – told the BBC’s Political Thinking with Nick Robinson podcast: “The Conservative Party started having elections for its leaders in 1965. Only once in that time has the favourite won and that was when Michael Howard was unopposed.

“I think it’s still very open and no candidate can take things for granted – and shouldn’t.”

Three candidates – Mark Harper, Andrea Leadsom and Esther McVey – were knocked out in the first round, in which Mr Hancock, aged 40, received 20 votes.

His decision to withdraw from the race means six candidates remain.

Mr Hancock told BBC deputy political editor John Pienaar: “I’ve been incredibly encouraged and humbled by the amount of support that I’ve had in this campaign.

“I’ve tried to make the argument about the values that the Conservative Party needs to hold dear, of free enterprise and support for a free society and being open and optimistic and enthusiastic about the future.”

He added: “But the party clearly is looking for a candidate to deal with the here and now. I very much put myself forward as the candidate focused on the future.

“And so I’ve decided to withdraw from the race and instead see how best I can advance those values within the party and the big and difficult tasks we’ve got ahead.”

Mr Hancock said the remaining candidates all had “admirable qualities” and that all should take part in televised debates: “The nature of this contest isn’t just to be the leader of the Conservative Party. It’s to be the next prime minister, and so that scrutiny is important.”

He added: “We stand at a defining moment in our country’s history and we need to deliver Brexit and then we need to cast forward and bring the country together. That’s the goal.”

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Media caption‘What would Churchill say to those hiding away from the media?’

Further ballots are scheduled to take place next Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday to whittle down the contenders until only two are left. The process could be speeded up if anyone else drops out.

The final pair will be put to a vote of the 160,000 members of the Conservative Party from 22 June, with the winner expected to be announced about four weeks later.

On Thursday, Mr Johnson, the former foreign secretary and London mayor, said he was “delighted” to win the first ballot but warned his campaign still had “a long way to go”.

He picked up support from businessman Lord Sugar – who quit as a Labour peer in 2015 and sits as a crossbencher:

All of Mr Johnson’s remaining rivals have signed a joint letter committing to taking part in televised leadership debates on Channel 4 and the BBC on Sunday and Tuesday, in an effort to put pressure on Mr Johnson, who has not agreed to do so.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Mr Hunt said the frontrunner should be “a little bit braver” and participate in the debates.

“What would Churchill say if someone who wanted to be prime minister was hiding away from the media?” he asked.

International Development Secretary Rory Stewart, who received 19 votes in the first leadership ballot, told the Today programme: “It’s really important for the legitimacy of the prime minister that this [leadership race] doesn’t take place in a smoke-filled room but that the public is able to see the candidates.”

Sources close to Mr Johnson say they are still in discussions with broadcasters.

One of his allies, MP Priti Patel, told Today there would be “plenty of opportunities for questioning”.

“The focus now is on the parliamentary process,” she added.

The UK’s next prime minister

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Compare candidates’ policies

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– Has said he would consider a further delay to Brexit to achieve a better deal.
– Plans to negotiate a “fullstop” to the Irish border backstop plan. He wants a free trade agreement, similar to the deal between Canada and the EU.
– Would support a no-deal Brexit if he couldn’t get a better deal from Brussels.

– Would leave the EU with no deal, but it’s not his preferred option.
– Wants changes to the Irish backstop and proposes sending a new negotiating team to Brussels.
– Wants to make changes to the Withdrawal Agreement and thinks it’s possible to get them done by 31 October, but has not ruled out an extension.

– Would focus on making changes to the backstop. Would commission UK border force to work on solving the Northern Ireland border problem, paid for by the UK.
– Says he cannot envisage circumstances in which he would want to have another extension to the UK’s exit date and the country must be prepared for a no-deal Brexit.

– Wants to leave on 31 October, the deadline for Brexit set by the EU, with or without a deal. He admits a no-deal exit will cause “some disruption” but says the “way to get a good deal is to prepare for no deal”.
– Wants to remove the backstop from any deal and replace it with “alternative arrangements”.
– Says he would withhold the £39bn “divorce” payment the UK is due to give the EU as part of the negotiated deal. He says the money will be retained until there is “greater clarity about the way forward”.

– Wants to re-open the withdrawal agreement for renegotiation in order to “overhaul the backstop”.
– Says a new deal would include “the vast majority” of the deal Theresa May negotiated, but would replace the Irish backstop with “alternative arrangements” involving “advanced customs and trade measures” and checks away from the border.
– Willing to leave on WTO rules, claiming it is “far better than leaving with a fatally flawed deal”, and will not rule out proroguing Parliament (essentially shutting it down) ahead of the 31 October deadline to prevent it blocking a no-deal Brexit

– Believes a no-deal Brexit would be “catastrophic” for the UK and is “undeliverable” and “unnecessary”.
– He said it was unrealistic to believe the UK could get a new Brexit deal agreed by the EU and Parliament by the 31 October deadline.


– Says he wants to replace VAT after Brexit with a lower, simpler sales tax.
– Wants to create the “most pro-business” tax regime in the world and put business at the heart of the revival of Britain.
– Says he would not use the tax and benefits system to give the already wealthy another tax cut.
– Says he would scrap the High Speed rail 2 project.

– As an entrepreneur, he wants to turn Britain into the next Silicon Valley, a “hub of innovation”.
– Pledged to slash business taxes to the lowest in Europe to attract firms to Britain after Brexit and reduce corporation tax.

– Has promised to break from the austerity of the past nine years by slowing the pace of debt reduction.
– Says this would free up about £25bn a year for spending priorities, including education.
– Other money would be spent on local government and efforts to tackle crime, including an increase in the number of police officers by 20,000.

– Pledges to cut income tax for people earning more than £50,000 by raising the 40% tax threshold to £80,000.
– Says it will benefit three million people and would cost £9.6bn a year.
– Plans to pay for the cut partly from a pot set aside by the Treasury for a possible no-deal Brexit, and partly by increasing employee National Insurance payments.

– Wants to cut the basic rate of income tax from 20% to 15%. He suggests the basic rate falling by a penny a year.
– Would equal a tax cut for the majority of UK workers. HMRC says there are currently 26.3m basic rate tax payers, but IFS says it costs about £5bn for every 1p cut in the rate of income tax.
– Wants to raise the point that people start to pay national insurance to be the same as income tax, £12,501 a year.
– This is expected to cost £10bn a year.

– Criticises other candidates for offering “cheap electoral bribes” to win support.
– Says rather than being “straight” with people, his opponents have pledged “eye-watering” tax cuts worth £84bn.


– Says he wants to ensure the NHS is “fully-funded, properly funded” and that funding is protected under law.
– Says he will spend £1bn extra on schools if he becomes prime minister.

– Mental health support in every school and a crackdown on social media companies that fail to regulate their content.
– A cut in interest rate paid on tuition fees.
– Long term plan to provide more funding for the teaching profession in return for a guarantee that no one leaves the education system without a “rigorous qualification” sufficient to work up to at least the average salary.

– Has suggested slowing down the rate of debt reduction, to release money for education.
– Wants to see a “multi-year, multi-billion-pound boost” to spending on schools to “change the life chances of so many young people”.

– Promises to raise spending on secondary school pupils to £5,000 each.
– Called the funding gap between some schools in cities compared to those in rural areas a “disturbing reality”.
– Has previously said money spent on the EU could be put into the NHS.

– Wants review of spending in Whitehall, with a “special commission” to look at public sector procurement, especially in the NHS.
– Says he would “recycle roughly half” of the savings made by the spending review into frontline services, such as teachers and nurses.

– Pledges to invest more into education, especially for those in “mid-life”.
– Vows to put a long-term plan in place to tackle the issue of social care in the UK.
– Says people should not have to pay hospital car parking charges to visit a sick relative or wait four weeks for a GP appointment.

On Tuesday 18 June, BBC One will host a live election debate between the Conservative MPs still in the race.

If you would like to ask the candidates a question live on air, use the form below. It should be open to all of them, not a specific politician.

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