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Boris Johnson lays down gauntlet to Hunt in challenge to deliver Brexit

Conservative Party leadership candidate Boris Johnson has a drink in the Munch and Wiggles cafe in Oxshott, Surrey
Conservative Party leadership candidate Boris Johnson has a drink in the Munch and Wiggles cafe in Oxshott, Surrey
Jeremy Hunt receives a gift from a Chelsea Pensioner at the Royal Hospital

By Gavin Cordon, David Hughes and Jennifer McKiernan

Boris Johnson has challenged Tory leadership rival Jeremy Hunt to commit to taking Britain out of the EU by the end of October.

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After days avoiding journalists' questions, the former Foreign Secretary sought to get his campaign back on track, declaring he would deliver Brexit by the Halloween deadline "do or die".

Meanwhile, Mr Hunt has said he will pursue a "technology-led solution" to the Irish border in Brexit negotiations if he becomes Prime Minister.

Yesterday, Mr Johnson continued to avoid questions about his personal life as he returned to the campaign trail following a late-night row with partner Carrie Symonds that saw police called to their home last week.

Mr Hunt hit back at his rival, dismissing October 31 as a "fake deadline" which would more likely result in a general election which could hand the keys of No 10 to Jeremy Corbyn.

The Foreign Secretary suggested Mr Johnson would be unable to win the trust of other EU leaders to successfully negotiate a new Brexit deal with Brussels.

In a letter to his rival, Mr Johnson said the "central question" in the leadership contest was the issue of whether the next Prime Minister would commit to leaving the EU by October 31.

"If we fail to deliver once again, the consequences for our party and our country will be devastating," he said.

"We must not kick the can down the road again. The British people have had enough of being left in limbo."

Mr Hunt warned that insisting upon the October 31 departure date was a mistake.

"I think that October 31 come hell or high water is a fake deadline, because it's more likely to trip us into a general election before we've delivered Brexit, and that would hand the keys to Jeremy Corbyn and then we'd have no Brexit at all," he said.

While he said getting a new deal by the end of October was "doable", it required a Prime Minister who the other EU leaders trusted.

"It's about the personality of our PM. If you choose someone where there's no trust, there's going to be no negotiation, no deal," he said.

Mr Hunt also said that he would pursue a Brexit deal that doesn't involve the Irish border backstop in an attempt to find a solution before October 31.

The controversial backstop plan aims to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland after Brexit, but opponents have claimed it could keep the UK aligned with the EU indefinitely and create a trade border in the Irish Sea.

Mr Hunt said that he never believed a deal involving the backstop was "the right approach" despite serving in Mrs May's Cabinet.

"What I'm talking about is a deal that doesn't involve the backstop as it's constituted, so it would be different," he said.

Mr Johnson used a series of interviews to set out his plans for Brexit, insisting that the shock of the European election results would force both the Tories and Labour to acknowledge that the current impasse could not continue.

He will find out whether he has achieved his ambition of becoming Tory leader when the results of the contest are announced on July 23.

Theresa May is expected to hand over the reins of power the following day after taking Prime Minister's Questions for a final time.

Mr Johnson said the UK would be leaving the EU on October 31 "do or die, come what may".

He said some "positive energy" would help deliver Brexit, hitting out at the "pathetic" efforts of Mrs May's administration - a government in which he served as Foreign Secretary for two years until July 2018.

"I've never seen such morosity and gloom from a government," he said.

"For three years we've been sitting around wrapped in defeatism telling the British public that they can't do this or that. It is pathetic, it's absolutely pathetic."

But he could not escape continued questions about his private life after the events in the early hours of last Friday morning when police were called to his home by neighbours.

On LBC Radio, he was repeatedly challenged about whether his campaign was behind the release of a picture of him with Ms Symonds in an attempt to show their relationship was strong.

Asked where the photograph had come from, Mr Johnson said: "The longer we spend on things extraneous to what I want to do... the bigger the waste of time."

In testy exchanges, he said there are "all sorts of pictures of me out on the internet which pop up from time to time".

When host Nick Ferrari suggested his hairstyle indicated it was an old picture, he said: "This conversation is now descending into a farce."

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