Divisions exposed in Britain's main parties

Top Tories lay down Brexit lines, while a former Labour spin doctor is dumped after voting for the Liberal Democrats.

    Jeremy Hunt has warned a 'no-deal' Brexit would lead the Conservative party to 'annihilation' [Hannah Mckay/Reuters]
    Jeremy Hunt has warned a 'no-deal' Brexit would lead the Conservative party to 'annihilation' [Hannah Mckay/Reuters]

    The frontrunners in the race to be Britain's next prime minister competed on Tuesday to establish their narratives over Brexit - the issue which has defined British politics for the past three years.

    Prime Minister Theresa May last week announced plans to resign on June 7, triggering a leadership contest in the ruling Conservative Party.

    Boris Johnson and Dominic Raab, the principal "hard-Brexiters" among the contenders to succeed May, have argued that the UK must leave the European Union on October 31, even without a withdrawal deal.

    Another leading candidate, Defence Secretary Jeremy Hunt, said leaving the EU without a deal would see the Conservative Party "annihilated" at the next general election.

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    The British parliament has twice voted against "no-deal", but it remains the default legal position without a further extension to Article 50, which would have to be agreed by EU leaders.

    Parliament has also three times voted against the Withdrawal Agreement reached between Theresa May's administration and the EU.

    Conservative leadership hopefuls may have few options, though, given the EU's consistent reluctance to reopen the agreement.

    "There will be no renegotiation," European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said as he arrived at an EU summit in Brussels on Tuesday.

    What's next?

    The choice remains between the current deal, widely opposed across parliament; a "no-deal" Brexit, also opposed by Parliament; and not leaving the EU at all.

    The final scenario is an option which horrifies the Conservative MP Michael Gove, also vying for the top job.

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    "We must leave the EU before we have an election," Gove said on Twitter on Tuesday, saying the opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn could end up as prime minister with support from Scottish nationalists.

    "Otherwise we will be punished at the ballot box, Corbyn will be in Number 10 propped up by the SNP, and Brexit may well be reversed altogether."

    The "no-deal" option, preferred by former Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey - who wrote in The Telegraph on Sunday that she wants "a clean break" and trade on WTO terms which add huge costs to most British exports, was dealt another blow on Tuesday, as House of Commons Speaker John Bercow insisted parliament would be given a vote to block any "no-deal" scenario.

    "The idea the House won't have its say is for the birds," he said in a speech in Washington, DC.

    A general election appears likely, sooner or later, with Chancellor Philip Hammond on Monday threatening to collapse any Conservative government pursuing a "no-deal" Brexit through a vote of no-confidence. Such is the state of the Conservative Party, hardline Brexiters could also threaten to bring down any administration pushing a softer Brexit than they would like.

    Divisions of Labour

    As Conservatives firmed up the dividing lines between them on Tuesday, the opposition Labour Party also demonstrated its capacity for division, expelling former top spin doctor Alastair Campbell.

    Campbell, former Prime Minister Tony Blair's communications chief in the build-up to the Iraq war, was given the boot after admitting to voting for the Liberal Democrats in the recent European Parliament elections because of their support for a second Brexit referendum.

    It was also announced on Tuesday that Labour is being investigated over claims of anti-Semitism by Britain's Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).

    "We are pleased that the Labour party has committed to cooperate fully with this investigation," said a statement from the commission.

    In what seems to be coincidental timing, the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) on Tuesday wrote to the EHRC to formally request an investigation into alleged Islamophobia within the Conservative Party.

    The MCB allege around 150 representatives and members of the party - including members of parliament such as Boris Johnson and Michael Gove - had engaged in Islamophobia, creating an atmosphere of hostility and denying there is an issue within the party.

    The Conservative Party has yet to formally respond to the letter.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies