Sajid Javid has said the Conservative party risks choosing a new leader who would seek to exploit national divisions in the style of Donald Trump, comments which will be seen as a criticism of rivals such as Boris Johnson.
While Javid did not mention Johnson by name on Thursday, he separately condemned the former foreign secretary for referring to Muslim women as “letterboxes”, saying this was not the sort of language a “serious politician” should use.
Speaking at an event organised by the integration-focused thinktank British Future, the home secretary responded to a discussion about the US president’s state visit by noting the increased prevalence across some nations of politicians “deciding that one way to get votes is to appeal to division, to get people angry”.
Javid said: “I do think there’s a decision we face as Conservatives: what kind of party do we want to be? Do we want to be a party that appeals broadly, to the whole country, a one-nation party that tries to bring people together, or do we want to go down the route of division? For me it has to be the former.”
In a subsequent question-and-answer session, Javid confirmed that this warning referred to some fellow contenders to replace Theresa May.
He said: “Yes, my party’s at that crossroads. There are candidates that I believe, the way that they would try and win a future general election is by exploiting division. And that’s something I utterly reject.”
He did not mention any names, but the comments appeared to be directed at Johnson, the frontrunner, as well as the likes of former Brexit secretary Dominic Raab and ex-work and pensions secretary Esther McVey.
Asked later about Johnson’s comments that Muslim women in full-face niqab outfits looked like “letterboxes” or “bank robbers”, Javid said: “I think they’re wrong. I don’t think those are the right comments. I don’t think any serious politician should use language like that.”
In response to a question about Raab’s mooted plan to prevent MPs from blocking a no-deal Brexit by proroguing parliament, Javid called this “a complete nonsense”.
Javid said he would do “everything I can” to leave the EU on 31 October, and would opt for no deal over no Brexit.
He said: “Whatever I do, parliament is going to want to have its say on it, and parliament should have its say. The idea that anyone would think they can block parliament – our parliament is sovereign.
“I’m not into this proroguing parliament rubbish. It’s just a complete nonsense, and anti-democratic and anti-British.”