Borders MSP breaks ranks by backing Boris Johnson

Conservative party leadership contender Boris Johnson.  (Photo by Dominic Lipinski, WPA Pool/Getty Images)
Conservative party leadership contender Boris Johnson. (Photo by Dominic Lipinski, WPA Pool/Getty Images)

South Scotland list MSP Michelle Ballantyne has broken ranks with the region’s other Tory representatives at Holyrood and Westminster by backing Boris Johnson to be her party’s next leader.

Both Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk MP John Lamont and Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire MSP Rachael Hamilton want to see UK Government foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt replace Theresa May as prime minister, but Mrs Ballantyne has come out in favour of his rival.

That’s because the former Selkirkshire councillor, one of two Tory list MSPs for the south of Scotland but the only one based here, reckons the former London mayor offers the better prospects for keeping the UK together and overseeing Britain’s exit from the European Union.

“Having carefully followed the leadership contest to date and considered the challenges that our country, and union, currently face, I am now strongly of the view that Boris Johnson should be next leader of the Conservative and Unionist Party,” she said.

“As such, he would be the prime minister and would be able to form an effective government to solve the very real issue of delivering the democratic decision to leave the EU.

“The best safeguard to our union is for the uncertainty arising from Brexit to be dealt with.

“Boris has an excellent track record on delivering his promises and ideas.

“I have no doubt that he will rise to the challenge to ensure we make a success of Brexit and help the country move forward.”

Her backing for Mr Johnson puts her in a minority among her fellow Tories at Holyrood as party leader Ruth Davidson and 17 other MSPs have now declared their support for South West Surrey MP Mr Hunt.

“Any Conservative leadership candidate must put the union first. Jeremy has done so and will get my vote,” said Ms Davidson, MSP for Edinburgh Central.

All 18, plus three Scottish MPs including Mr Lamont, have signed a letter of support for Mr Hunt after he promised to prioritise the union over Brexit in every eventuality.

Mr Hunt “understands Scotland’s interests and will do whatever it takes to keep Scotland in the union”, they say.

Although fellow Borders MP and UK Government Scottish secretary David Mundell didn’t sign the letter, it is understood that he will vote for Mr Hunt too after previously stating that he would not support Mr Johnson at any point in the leadership contest.

Mr Lamont was initially the only one of the 13-strong Scottish Tory group at Westminster to back Mr Hunt’s leadership bid, but Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock MP Bill Grant and East Renfrewshire MP Paul Masterton also signed the open letter.

If Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale MP Mr Mundell ends up backing Mr Hunt as expected, that would put him and Mr Johnson on level pegging this side of the border with backing from four Scottish MPs apiece.

Votes cast by the Conservative Party’s 160,000 members will be counted on Monday, July 22, and the winner will be announced afterwards.

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