Belfast Telegraph

NI Tories left with ‘tough decision’ after meeting leadership candidates

Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt travelled to Northern Ireland on Tuesday for leadership hustings before local members.

Jeremy Hunt and Boris Johnson (Yui Moka/PA)
Jeremy Hunt and Boris Johnson (Yui Moka/PA)

Conservatives in Northern Ireland have been left with a “very tough decision” after meeting the pair vying to be the party’s next leader.

Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt travelled to the Culloden Hotel in the region to set out their stall to local party members in the region.

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Conservative party leadership contender Jeremy Hunt during a Tory leadership hustings in Belfast (PA)

Gary Hynds, deputy chairman of the Conservative Party in Northern Ireland, told PA he thinks members have been left with a lot to think about.

“It’s going to be a very tough decision, they were both very impressive, and their commitment to the party in Northern Ireland was very welcome as well. I thought the members will be very happy with that and people will be going home thinking a lot tonight and the days ahead in terms of who they will support,” he said.

“I think it is going to be closer than people maybe think.

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Conservative party leadership contender Boris Johnson during a Tory leadership hustings in Belfast (Peter Morrison/PA)

“Boris has been the front runner from the start, but Jeremy is performing very well and certainly closing the gap and it is going to be very interesting to see who wins.”

Some were already clear in their mind about who they would vote for, including Frank Shivers of the North Down branch, who said it is “time for a “maverick”.

“I was going in there voting for Boris and I have been voting for Boris for a while, but I thought that Jeremy came across very credible, a safe pair of hands,” he said.

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Party member Angela Dickinson at the Conservative party leadership hustings at the Culloden Hotel near Belfast (Niall Carson/PA)

“But unfortunately in the times we are at, we have had a safe pair of hands with Theresa May who I thought was an excellent Prime Minister treated very badly by the EU, Westminster and parts of her own party.

“So we need a maverick, we need someone with a bit of charisma, a bit of character and someone who is going to deliver for the people of the United Kingdom.”

Angela Dickinson, from Larne, was also backing Mr Johnson.

“I thought they were both good, Jeremy is very polished and I do like a lot about what he said. But from the point of view of actually taking us over the line and getting us out of the EU simply because we have got other things to do, I thought Boris did better,” she said.

“I have known Boris for some time, I watched him as London mayor when I was in London and he was impressive there. He did things that other people basically couldn’t have done.

“The best thing about Boris is his optimism, he always thinks we can achieve things and I feel that together we can do that.”

However, Mark Hamilton, from North Down, was left less impressed by Mr Johnson.

“I went in veering towards Boris, I thought I’d be convinced because he is well known for being a good speaker, but I went in and he was just another pretty normal speaker,” he said.

“I though a lot of what he said had a lot of fluff in it, Jeremy Hunt set out a lot more clear plans in terms of the economy after Brexit – and I think he represents more the country I want to be in after Brexit.”

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Party member Margaret McVeigh at the Conservative party leadersip hustings at the Culloden Hotel near Belfast (Niall Carson/PA)

Margaret McVeigh, from Belfast, said she was planning to vote for Mr Hunt.

“I came with ideas about who I was going to vote for but I was prepared to change my mind if my mind could be changed by the two people speaking,” she said.

“I think today I haven’t changed my mind, I am still going to vote for Jeremy. He was the better of the two speakers today, I think he answered the questions head on, he detailed about what he was planning to do in his four points and generally responded to questions, I thought, very very well.

“I thought Boris, it was not his best effort, I lived in London for 16 years and he was a very entertaining speaker, in fact I campaigned for him when he was going for mayor of London.

“But today he was just a bit too much bluster and blag for my liking.”

Irwin Armstrong, former chair of the Conservatives in Northern Ireland, said there were striking differences in the presentations.

“We had the organised Jeremy Hunt and a much more off-the-cuff and unprepared Boris – which is probably what we would expect,” he said.

Tony Conn, from North Down, said Mr Johnson’s “different negotiating style” could deliver a Brexit breakthrough.

“I like both candidates’ Brexit plan, both laid it out really clearly but, for me, I’ve always been a Boris fan,” he said.

“I was a Boris fan going into this and I believe personally he’s going to be the one who can deliver Brexit on the 31st of October for the United Kingdom – compared to Jeremy Hunt, I think it will be Boris who will push it over the line.”

Angus Cree, from Bangor, said he came into the event undecided.

“And I have left undecided,” he said.

“I don’t think either of them have a clear strategy on how they are going to get Brexit through because the EU won’t renegotiate and parliament say they won’t allow a no-deal. And I am worried that the Conservative Party has a pretty bleak future in a general election because they won’t be able to keep voters away from the Brexit Party.”

Rowan Wise, chairman of the Queen’s University Conservative and Unionist Society, asked Mr Johnson about his relationship with the DUP during the event.

Afterwards, he said: “I have always been a staunch supporter of the moderate wing of the Conservative Party, the One Nation Conservative brand, I think it is very important for Conservatives here in Northern Ireland to set their stall out as very different from the Democratic Unionist Party, especially on social issues such as abortion and gay marriage which I believe should be legislated for immediately at the national level.

“I believe Jeremy Hunt, while he didn’t say as much, is a much more moderate candidate and does understand the concerns of people here in Northern Ireland.”

PA

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