Boris Johnson is “yesterday’s news”, his Tory leadership rival Sajid Javid said, as he positioned himself as a “new kind of leader” with a credible plan to deliver Brexit.
In a deeply personal speech, the Home Secretary said he was the right man to lead the country because of his “background, ideas and positive vision” for the future of Britain.
He said he wanted to bring energy and ambition to the Conservatives, and sought to position himself as a “next generation” candidate with a background and life experience that connects with “90% of the country”.
He criticised the “old insiders with the same old school ties” – understood to be a reference to Old Etonians Mr Johnson and Rory Stewart, and Charterhouse alumnus Jeremy Hunt.
He said: “I’m a change candidate. Boris Johnson is yesterday’s news.
“He’s been around in politics for a while, he’s achieved a lot, he’s still got a big role to play, but I think if we are trying to connect with the next generation and move forward as a country then I think it’s time for the next generation with a bold new agenda.
“What I can do in terms of the policies, I think being able to articulate the policies, it’s not just about articulating that core message – I think the messenger makes a real difference as well.”
On Brexit, Mr Javid said he had the experience outside government to help him deliver the UK’s withdrawal from the EU and said he wanted to change the controversial Irish backstop.
“When I look at my own experience of doing deals – big international deals in the 19, 20-year career I had before I came into politics, I started at the bottom of the finance industry and finished towards the top – and that was because I built a reputation of doing many multi, multibillion-dollar deals…
“Whilst I think no one has got perfect experience to deliver Brexit because no one has done anything like it before, I think with that experience that I’ve got outside government and the experience I’ve got in government… I think I’m in a very good position to get a good Brexit deal for the United Kingdom.”
The leadership hopeful said delivering Brexit alone was not enough to secure a majority at the next general election, and set out his plan to recruit an additional 20,000 police officers and invest in education.
And he said: “I believe now more than ever that, at this moment as we face the challenges that are unlike any that we have faced before, this calls for a new kind of leadership and a new kind of leader.
“A leader is not just for Christmas, or just for Brexit.
“We can’t risk going with someone who feels like the short-term, comfort zone choice.”
The Cabinet minister was asked about the Conservative Party’s handling of Islamophobia, and said he would be “very happy” for an external organisation to “take a look” to give some “external reassurance because I think we’ve got nothing to hide”.
On the prosecution of British veterans, he said: “It is something that if I were prime minister, I would have to change the current situation.“We cannot continue the situation where someone from our Armed Forces has given their best for this country, worked incredibly hard and done everything that they thought was the right thing to do and then many years on – sometimes 20, 30 or even longer, years on – they are then punished through the courts…
“I don’t like that, I wouldn’t tolerate it and I would make it a priority for the government and I would sit down probably with my attorney general and make it their number one priority in their inbox.”
Mr Javid, whose leadership campaign launch atop Millbank Tower in Westminster started more than an hour late because of a Commons vote, joked that Labour had tried to “kybosh” it because they fear his campaign “the most”.
He was introduced to the stage by Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson, who said: “This is a phrase I have not used very often, but he’s the man for me.”
Mr Javid, whose wife Laura watched on from the front row, also outlined a number of occasions when he felt like an “outsider”.
He said: “When I was at secondary school, the other kids told me about their summer holidays.
“I only ever went to Rochdale on holiday, so I pretended to go on holiday and they couldn’t tell whether this was a tan or not.
“I was told kids like me should know their limits, and kids like me should stay in their lane.
“So when I got racially abused in school by the toughest guy in school, well, rightly or wrongly, I punched him.”