Owen Paterson: Theresa May must go now
North Shropshire MP Owen Paterson has said Theresa May must resign now – warning that any delay could put the existence of the Conservative Party at threat.
The former cabinet minister said it was time for the Prime Minister to accept defeat with her Brexit withdrawal bill, and make way for a leader who would honour the Conservatives' 2017 manifesto commitments.
He accused the Conservative leadership of having a 'smug, complacent' attitude, and warned that history was littered with once-dominant parties which had sunk without trace.
Mr Paterson's comments came as Boris Johnson announced he would be standing to succeed Mrs May when the leadership election was called.
The bookmakers have Mr Johnson as the 9-2 favourite, followed by Dominic Raab at 6-1, Michael Gove and Jeremy Hunt at 10-1. Home Secretary Sajid Javid, the MP for Bromsgrove once thought of as a front-runner, is now 20-1, behind Health Secretary Matt Hancock.
Mr Paterson said it was too soon to say who he would be backing, although he said Boris Johnson would be a strong candidate.
"The important thing now is we need to get on with it," he said.
"I don't see any chance of the Withdrawal Bill getting through, the public have cottoned on to the fact that the deal is extremely unpopular, and I don't think waiting for that will make any difference. We need to get on with the leadership contest.
"I think Boris Johnson is a strong candidate, he can reach out to people, he's obviously very capable."
Mr Paterson said whoever took on the role had a hard job ahead.
"The next Conservative leader faces an uphill struggle," he said.
"But his or her mission statement can, surely, be expressed very simply. We must do what we have been saying we would do for nearly three years. "We must scrap the withdrawal agreement, leave the EU by October 31 as European law requires, and seek to negotiate a new, wide-ranging trade agreement as offered by President Tusk.
"But we must be prepared, if necessary in the interim, to go to World Trade Organisation terms."
Glyn Davies, MP for Montgomeryshire, also thought it was premature to say who he would vote for, although he said Michael Gove and Jeremy Hunt were two that sprung to mind.
He said his choice would probably come down to what type of leader the party needed at the time the election was held.
"It will depend on what the Conservative Party needs when an election is called, whether we are going to need somebody who is dynamic to shake things up, or somebody who is calming to steady the ship," he said.
"I have a huge respect for Michael Gove, I think he is probably the most able candidate to be prime minister, he's a brilliant man.
"But I think Jeremy Hunt is also very good, he is a calming influence who could bring the party together."
He said there were a lot of misconceptions about Mr Johnson, although he said it was difficult to predict how the party would fare under his leadership.
"You don't see what you are going to get. You could have a man who could win back support, a man who connects with the public, he can certainly connect with the Conservative Party.
"One of the things that people get wrong about Boris Johnson is that they think he is right wing, but he isn't, he's a centrist. But I think to bring people together he would need to have somebody who was more obviously a centrist with him. I'm not anti-Boris."
Shrewsbury and Atcham MP Daniel Kawczynski said he had lots of questions he wanted to put to the candidates before coming to a decision.
"We are fortunate in that we have got some very credible candidates coming through," he said.
"I'm not yet decided completely who I'm going to vote for, and I want to engage with my local association before coming to a conclusion.
"The different candidates have different qualities. I think the one who impresses me intellectually is Michael Gove, but as a campaigner I'm impressed by Boris Johnson. As a diplomat, I'm impressed by Jeremy Hunt, it's a shame we can't do a Frankenstein and put all these traits together in one person."
Mr Kawczynski said he was one of a party of MPs who would be meeting Boris Johnson on Monday. He said he was also trying to secure a visit to Shrewsbury by Michael Gove.
Telford MP Lucy Allan said she would meet all the candidates before deciding who to support.
"We need a leader who will take us out of the EU and move the country forward with a strong domestic policy agenda,” she said.