Conservative leadership candidates face journalists’ questions on Monday, as Boris Johnson consolidates his position as the front-runner.

Key Developments:

  • Health Secretary Matt Hancock, a pro-EU modernizer who had criticized Johnson, said he is now backing the front-runner
  • Johnson skipped a televised debate on Sunday and won’t attend hustings with reporters in Westminster on Monday
  • Rory Stewart says second referendum would be “catastrophic”
  • Jeremy Hunt says “democratic risks of no Brexit is worse than the economic risk of no deal’’
  • Pound little changed

Raab: Parliament Would Support No-Deal Brexit (12:45 p.m.)

Dominic Raab said Parliament would be ready to support a no-deal Brexit because after the disastrous result for the two major parties at European Parliament elections last month, “everyone is having their minds focused on the damage to our democracy’’ from the ongoing deadlock.

Raab cited last week’s vote in Parliament, in which an opposition-led move to take control of the agenda to try to block a no-deal Brexit was narrowly defeated. He also insisted that suspending Parliament to get Brexit done—an idea for which he’s been criticized by rivals—wasn’t his preferred option.

Raab Criticizes Trump Over Attack on Khan (12:35 p.m.)

Leadership candidate Dominic Raab also weighed in on U.S. President Donald Trump’s latest attack on Mayor of London Sadiq Khan (see 12 p.m.). “I don’t think it’s helpful, friendly or constructive,” Raab told reporters in Westminster.

Raab said he’s “quietly confident” of having the support of 33 Tory MPs required to see him through Tuesday’s ballot. He was asked repeatedly about whether newspaper reports of his meetings with the EU as Brexit secretary ruled him out as a future negotiator with the bloc.

“Of course all the people in Brussels are briefing against me” because they didn’t like what he told them when he was in government, Raab told reporters.

Hunt: Johnson Made Mistakes in Foreign Office (12:30 p.m.)

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt was asked by reporters about Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the British-Iranian citizen whose jail sentence in Iran was extended after his predecessor, Boris Johnson, incorrectly said she’d been in the country training journalists.

“Everyone makes mistakes,’’ Hunt replied. “As foreign secretary you’re constantly making finely balanced judgments.’’

Hunt: No-Deal Brexit Better Than Not Leaving (12:10 p.m.)

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, wearing a Union Jack lapel pin, told the hustings that as a former businessman, he’s the right man to get the European Union to shift position. He said he wanted to avoid the “severe economic disruption’’ of leaving the bloc without a deal. He said, though, that a no-deal could mean “all sorts of things.’’

“We could have a hostile no-deal, where the EU is trying to make things as painful as they could, or you could have a more pragmatic situation,” he told reporters. He said that, if forced to choose, he’d choose no-deal over no Brexit. “The democratic risks of no Brexit is worse than the economic risk of no deal.’’

Asked if Britain’s standing in the world had been adversely affected by Brexit, Hunt said “the fact of Brexit, the fact that we voted to leave the EU has not.” But he added: “The way we have gone about Brexit, Brexit paralysis has.”

Javid Says Trump Should Stick to Domestic Politics (12 p.m.)

At the Tory leadership hustings, Home Secretary Sajid Javid urged U.S. President Donald Trump to stick to domestic politics rather than criticizing the U.K.’s record on violent crime.

“It’s unbecoming to the leader of such a great state,” Javid told reporters in London, answering a question on Trump’s latest attack on London Mayor Sadiq Khan. “He should be concerned about serious violence in his own country, which is 10 times higher than in the U.K.”

Johnson Is Favorite Among Tory Members (11:55 a.m.)

Boris Johnson is seen as a good leader by 77% of grassroots Conservative members, according to a poll by YouGov. The survey showed 68% thought that of Brexit hardliner Dominic Raab, with Sajid Javid, Jeremy Hunt and Michael Gove trailing behind. Rory Stewart—the outsider who has surprised many by still being in the race—was last of the six remaining candidates to replace Theresa May on 31%.

The Tory party’s 160,000 activists will pick the leader after members of Parliament narrow the field down to a final two.

Javid ‘Confident’ of Reaching Next Round (11:50 a.m.)

Home Secretary Sajid Javid said he is “extremely confident” he will get the backing of 33 Tory MPs in the ballot on Tuesday, sufficient to get through to the next round. Like Rory Stewart, he saw it as a competition for who will be up against Johnson when grassroots members get to vote. “Who should be the other person alongside Boris in the final two?” he said, warning against Tory infighting in the remainder of the contest.

Stewart Downplays Chances Against Johnson (11:40 a.m.)

Taking questions from reporters, Rory Stewart downplayed his chances of becoming Tory leader, joking he could not rely on his colleagues votes. Asked if he trusted them, he replied: “In the voting lobbies? Nah.”

“This is a two-horse race,” Stewart said. “There is literally only one question you have to answer: Who is going to beat Boris? Who has got the style? Who has got the approach?”

Stewart’s analysis of the breakdown of the Tory party was interesting. First, he said that with a new mandate from the party to push the existing Brexit deal through, he could add “maybe another dozen” to the 277 Tories who backed it in March. Several of those have since recanted, but even if they hadn’t, that implies he believes more than 20 Conservatives are irreconcilable.

On the other side of the debate, Stewart estimated 100 Tories would be ready to rebel to back a measure to block a no-deal Brexit. He said this wouldn’t require them to vote to bring down the government.

Stewart Says Referendum Would Be ‘Catastrophic’ (11:25 a.m.)

Leadership candidate Rory Stewart said a second referendum would be “catastrophic” and trigger 20 years of division in the U.K.

“Nobody on the Remain side has thought through how bad it would be,” Stewart told reporters at a hustings in Westminster.

Stewart said that if he became leader, he could persuade a dozen of his Conservative colleagues to back the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement as it stands, but admitted he would rely on opposition Labour votes—he cited Lisa Nandy—to get it through Parliament. If that wasn’t possible, he would invite the public to debate the matter over three weeks in a so-called citizens’ assembly.

“I would be heartbroken if I can’t persuade parliament to vote through the deal by the 31st October,” he said. He also said calling a general election “would be catastrophic, divisive, a really daft thing to do.”

Gove: Johnson Must Be Fully ‘Tested’ in Contest (Earlier)

Environment Secretary Michael Gove acknowledged Boris Johnson’s status as the favorite to succeed Theresa May, but argued it was important that the Tory leadership contest didn’t become a coronation. Gove said his own “grip of detail, a command of policy, an ability to make changes happen” over three Cabinet positions showed he was the best man to challenge Johnson.

“Boris is the front-runner. But we need to make sure that he is tested and that we have two candidates who go forward, if Boris is one of them, who we know are capable of being prime minister from day one,’’ Gove told BBC radio on Monday. “I would be ready to take control of the ship of state and steer it safely through the difficult waters ahead.”

But Gove then undermined his own argument by saying all the remaining candidates were capable of being prime minister. He also defended Johnson’s record on business, saying he was “emphatically pro-enterprise” when he was mayor of London.

Hancock Backs Johnson, Reversing Criticism (Earlier)

Health Secretary Matt Hancock, a moderate who pulled out of the leadership contest on Friday, on Monday endorsed the former foreign secretary as the candidate who could unify both party and country.

The pro-EU Hancock had begun his campaign with a swipe at Johnson’s famous “f*** business” remark to one EU diplomat, saying his attitude would be “f*** f*** business.” But after talking with Johnson, he wrote in a Times article endorsing the candidate that he had been reassured “emphatically that a Boris administration will be pro-business.”

“I’m backing Boris Johnson as the best candidate to unite the Conservative Party, so we can deliver Brexit and then unite the country behind an open, ambitious, forward-looking agenda,” Hancock wrote. “We need to come together sooner rather than later.”

Hancock’s endorsement followed that of the pro-Brexit former leadership candidate Esther McVey a day earlier—showing Johnson is gaining support from both wings of the party.