'I wanted Brexit before it was cool' - Essex MP enters Tory leadership race
PUBLISHED: 16:34 29 May 2019 | UPDATED: 16:45 29 May 2019
Braintree MP James Cleverly has spelled out his vision for the country and Brexit as he became the 11th candidate to enter the Conservative leadership race.
Joining Health Secretary and West Suffolk MP Matt Hancock in launching a bid to be the next Prime Minister, Mr Cleverly revealed a no-deal Brexit is "not his preferred choice".
He tweeted: "A no-deal Brexit is deliverable but won't be easy or effortless, but no Brexit is worse.
"I came out for a Brexit in Jan 2016 (before it was cool) and always believed that leaving with a deal was the best option."
He also said he "completely disagrees" with Nicola Sturgeon over a Scottish independence referendum, adding: "I don't support second referendums."
The Brexit minister told the Today programme that no-deal "can be delivered, but not pursued".
"But it's also really important we understand that not delivering Brexit would be, in my mind, significantly more damaging, our political reputation with the country would be damaged," he added.
No-deal, he said, was "still one of the options" but urged "it is not my preferred destination".
He said: "Until we have delivered Brexit we will not have the legitimacy to talk about any of the other issues that we absolutely have to talk about."
Mr Cleverly announced his bid to join the Conservative leadership race in a letter to his constituents, published in the Braintree and Witham Times.
He wrote: "Both the country, and my party, are beset with division.
"We cannot bring the country back together unless the party of government is united, and the party cannot unite if it is led from its fringes.
"I believe the case for Brexit is still valid, and I have not wavered in that belief."
Elsewhere, leadership contender and international development secretary Rory Stewart said he was "signing up now" to the "clean campaign" pledge, adding: "This leadership contest without the voice of Boris Johnson is like the Today programme without John Humphrys...
"I think he is the favourite, he's the front runner, he's the real big beast here and he's the person that all of us have to stake out our positions against, he's the one to beat."