Boris Johnson has embraced the prospect of a no-deal Brexit

The former foreign secretary’s words are a challenge to Conservative moderates.

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Boris Johnson has set out his stall on Brexit and it’s bad news for moderate Tories.

Speaking at a conference in Switzerland shortly after May's resignation, he said that “a new leader will have the opportunity to do things differently and have the momentum of a new administration. We will leave the EU on October 31, deal or no deal. The way to get a good deal is to prepare for a no deal.”

His words suggest that should he succeed May, he’ll go back to the European Union and try to renegotiate the deal, but that if he fails to get a satisfactory outcome, he won’t seek another extension and instead press ahead with a no deal Brexit.

It’s a challenge to the group of 60 or so moderate One Nation Conservatives – led by Amber Rudd and Damian Green – who’ve taken it upon themselves to prevent no deal.

Many of them are resigned to the prospect of Johnson becoming prime minister. Particularly in the event of a run-off between the two frontliners, Johnson and Dominic Raab, they’re expected to back Johnson as he’s seen as likelier to compromise than Raab, who is a hardliner. In Johnson they see potential for liberalism and modernisation, dating back to his days as mayor of London. 

For his part, Johnson has opened his arms to the One Nation group, tweeting that he shared all their principles and beliefs: “One Nation values have never been more important.” Prominent moderates were hopeful of trading their support for senior cabinet jobs and a Brexit compromise.

But now, Johnson’s made it clear that he has no qualms about pursuing a no-deal Brexit – a position that will no doubt make him yet more popular with the party membership. It's effectively a challenge to One Nation Tories: “stop me if you can”.

Eleni Courea writes about politics and is the winner of the Anthony Howard Award 2018.