Boris Johnson has said it would be “absolutely folly” to rule out suspending Parliament to force through a no-deal Brexit against the will of MPs.
The former foreign secretary said in a Tory leadership hustings on Thursday that the controversial measure should remain as “an essential tool of our negotiation”.
The MP has previously declined to rule it out, but the comments are his strongest signal yet that “proroguing” Parliament should remain an option.
Meanwhile, his rival, Jeremy Hunt, conceded the winner of the contest could spend the shortest time as prime minister in history, and promised to resign if he failed to deliver Brexit.
Mr Johnson told party members in Bournemouth that he wanted to be the prime minister of a “representative democracy, a great representative democracy in which we believe in our elected representatives to take the right decision”.
“I would rather than confiding in this archaic device to get this thing done at my own behest, I would rather confide in the maturity of common sense of parliamentarians, all of whom are now staring down the barrel of public distrust,” he said.
But he was challenged to categorically rule out taking the drastic measure.
“I’m not attracted to the idea of a no-deal exit from the EU but, you know, I think it would be absolutely folly to rule it out. I think it’s an essential tool of our negotiation,” he replied.
“I don’t envisage the circumstances in which it will be necessary to prorogue Parliament, nor am I attracted to that expedient.”
Since-eliminated contenders for the Tory crown – including Sajid Javid, Rory Stewart and Michael Gove – have previously roundly criticised the notion, which could drag the Queen into a constitutional crisis.
Mr Johnson’s comments came after he pledged to take the UK out of the EU by the Halloween deadline “do or die”, regardless of whether he could negotiate a new deal with Brussels.
He also stuck by his comments that the chances of a no-deal exit were “a million-to-one against”.
Mr Hunt told the hustings that he would introduce a “no-deal Bill” in the first Queen’s Speech in the new parliamentary session to ensure the country is “fully” prepared for such an outcome.
And, asked by moderator Hannah Vaughan Jones if he was “concerned by threats it could be the shortest tenure in history”, he replied: “Well, if we get this wrong, it will be.
“And we have got the biggest constitutional crisis in living memory and that is because MPs like me made a promise to the people that we would deliver the outcome of the referendum whatever it was and we failed.”
Mr Hunt was then asked if he would resign if he failed to deliver the referendum’s result.
“Of course, no PM is going to last any time at all if they don’t deliver Brexit and deliver it very quickly,” he said.
Mr Johnson criticised his rival’s pledge to cancel student debts for certain entrepreneurs, saying: “I think people, a lot of people, would automatically be defining themselves as entrepreneurs.”
He also claimed a “good Brexit” would cement the Union with Scotland, as the SNP would “effectively have their guns spiked”.
“Once we make a great success of Brexit they will have to argue to the people of Scotland that they want to rejoin the EU, join the euro, join the Schengen area, submit Scotland to every type of EU regulation and lose control, which they will have just gained, of Scottish fishing.
“Is that really a great manifesto for the SNP? Absolutely not,” Mr Johnson told the audience.
The hustings came after the two leadership candidates spent the day campaigning separately on the South Coast, with visits to the Isle of Wight, Portsmouth and Bournemouth.