TORY leadership hopefuls seeking to seize the Number 10 keys are engaged in a “desperate battle to be seen as more militant than one another”, SNP MP Mhairi Black has said.

Eleven candidates have so far thrown their hat in the ring in the hope of becoming Prime Minister following the resignation of Boris Johnson.

But there is a growing concern among SNP politicians about an apparent swerve to the right across the entire cohort of hopefuls, with even those regarded as “moderates” pledging to continue controversial policies brought about by Brexiteer Johnson.

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The majority of candidates have committed themselves to the plan to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda while no one has pledged to scrap the contentious post-Brexit Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, which seeks to override parts of the protocol for trade rules in the country and has been branded “illegal” by the EU.

Candidate Tom Tugendhat, who has led fierce scrutiny of Johnson’s foreign policy and is regarded as a "moderate", has made it clear he would push through the Bill, suggesting even so-called milder Tory MPs are being tempted to verge right to appeal to a wider swathe of members.

Jeremy Hunt – who has historically supported the re-introduction of fox hunting - has also suggested this is the case by saying passionate Brexiteer and GB News presenter Esther McVey would be his deputy if he became Prime Minister.

And Attorney General Suella Braverman has said she would take Britain out of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) – the long-standing international convention designed to shield human rights across the continent - in a bid to push through the Rwanda plan.

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There are now reports suggesting Johnson loyalist Jacob Rees-Mogg is considering entering the contest as the “continuity Boris” candidate.

Black, who only a few weeks ago made a memorable speech in the House of Commons about the UK “sleepwalking” towards fascism, insisted the stance of the runners and riders shows the Tories have veered to the far right and said independence was the only way to protect Scots’ human rights.

“Boris Johnson kicked out some of the more moderate MPs that used to be in the Tory party, as it veered drastically to the far right under his watch,” said Black.

The National:

“His potential successors are now in a desperate battle to be seen as more militant than one another to gain the keys to 10 Downing Street.

“The plan to remove the UK from the European Convention of Human Rights will place every individual in the UK under threat. The UK was one of the founding signatories of this legislation.

“Watering down the ECHR will impact on everyone’s rights within the UK.

“The vast majority of the candidates hoping to replace Boris Johnston have supported him throughout his premiership – they backed him as he cut Universal Credit for those in most need, and they backed him through every scandal he’s had including the parties he held during lockdown.

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“The farcical situation when right-wing Tory MPs get to vote to reduce the leadership contenders to the final two, then leave it to out-of-touch Tory members to select the next leader shows how democracy is failing in Westminster.

“The only way to protect our human rights, is to campaign even harder for Scotland’s independence”.

Alongside Braverman, Tugendhat and Hunt, others vying for the Tory top spot include trade minister Penny Mordaunt, ex-chancellor Rishi Sunak, current Chancellor Nadhim Zahawi, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, former minister Kemi Badenoch, former health secretary Sajid Javid, Foreign Office minister Rehman Chishti and Transport Secretary Grant Shapps.

The National: Jeremy Hunt will run for the Tory leadership again after falling short in 2019Jeremy Hunt will run for the Tory leadership again after falling short in 2019

Scottish health secretary Humza Yousaf said the pledges of many of the candidates represent a “race to the bottom” while Edinburgh East MP Tommy Sheppard insisted the contenders had stooped to “out-righting each other”.

Yousaf said: “When I read about issues like fox hunting coming back in, the removal of the UK from the ECHR, weaponising the issue of trans identity, all of these issues tell me that although the Tory leadership race might have just started, the race to the bottom if well underway.”

Mordaunt has been accused of “throwing trans people under the bus” after she sought to address her stance on trans rights in a Twitter thread following criticism from right-wingers who said she wouldn’t do well in the race because of her views.

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While serving as equalities minister in 2018, Mordaunt said “trans women are women and trans men are men” but has since said “biological women” and those who have changed their gender to become legally female are not the same.

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Braverman has also announced she would “fight a war on wokeness” if given the keys to Number 10 and an “ally” of Sunak told the Mail on Sunday the MP for Richmond would reverse “recent trends to erase women via the use of clumsy, gender-neutral language”.  

Sheppard added: “It’s a horrible reflection on the Tory party that to gain the confidence of this membership, this cohort have to parade themselves as being to the right of Genghis Khan and they are fighting with each other to see who can out right each other.

“It’s depressing but predictable.

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“The Tory party is capable of producing far worse people than Boris Johnson. Some candidates are on the hard right of politics and may be more at home in a party led by Nigel Farage.

“Boris Johnson was put there by the Conservative Party and so we should not be surprised if we get someone who is going to follow exactly the same policy profile as Boris Johnson and possibly in future advance it further to the right.”

Kirsten Oswald, the SNP’s Westminster Deputy leader, said: "The fact is that whoever replaces Boris Johnson, Scotland will still be saddled with a Tory government we didn't vote for imposing an extreme Brexit, austerity cuts and damaging and callous policies against Scotland's will.

"The problems run much deeper than one individual. It's beyond any doubt that the Westminster system is broken and the only way to escape it is to become an independent country.”