Hunt: Tory leadership contest must wait until Brexit deal agreed

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Foreign secretary says passing of EU withdrawal bill must remain government???s priority

Jeremy Hunt leaves 10 Downing Street
Jeremy Hunt said further Brexit paralysis would damage the UK???s interational reputation. Photograph: Tolga Akmen/AFP/Getty Images

Jeremy Hunt has insisted the contest to succeed Theresa May as Conservative party leader must wait until after the Brexit withdrawal agreement has been voted through by parliament.

Hunt, a Brexit convert and Tory leadership hopeful, said passing the EU withdrawal bill remained a priority for the government, as reports suggested leading cabinet members were happy for May to stay in office until the autumn if she failed to get her deal through parliament.

Tory leadership hopefuls fear any contest before May???s deal is approved by MPs would allow Brexiters, such as Boris Johnson and Dominic Raab, to gain support by pledging to reopen the agreement with Brussels, according to reports on Monday.

Tory leadership candidates graphic

The prime minister is facing renewed calls from Tory Brexit supporters to step down as talks with Labour over the EU withdrawal bill continue during the Easter recess.

Hunt said: ???There will be a time for all those discussions about whether this shade of person or that shade of person is the right person to take over from the prime minister. But the time for that is when she has announced she???s going and there???s a formal leadership contest.???

The home secretary, Sajid Javid, also cautiously endorsed May to stay on until a Brexit deal had passed through parliament.

???I???m very comfortable with the prime minister and the work she is doing,??? he said during a question and answer session at a speech in London. ???I think everyone recognised that it has been incredibly difficult in the last few months. The prime minister had been working incredibly hard to try and reach a deal, try and reach a compromise in parliament.

???When you have a parliament that is rejecting one proposal after another, it does mean that what the prime minister is doing now is just so vital to try and get agreement.???