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Jeremy Hunt 'comes out swinging' for Johnson in TV debate

Boris Johnson, host Julie Etchingham and Jeremy Hunt ahead of their head to head debate on ITV last night
Boris Johnson, host Julie Etchingham and Jeremy Hunt ahead of their head to head debate on ITV last night

By David Hughes

Boris Johnson promised to give the UK its mojo back, while Jeremy Hunt insisted he could win over non-Tories as the two contenders to be the next Prime Minister clashed on TV.

In a head-to-head, the two rivals for the Tory leadership set out their plans for Brexit and the future of the country.

Opening the ITV debate, campaign frontrunner Boris Johnson said he was the right person to "unleash on this project", to deliver Brexit and "unite this country". But with an eye on the next general election, Foreign Secretary Mr Hunt said he would be able to reach beyond Tory voters and secure the support of the wider country.

The next Prime Minister will be chosen by Tory members, with the result announced on July 23.

Mr Johnson said: "This country faces a momentous choice - we can either continue with the same old, failed, can-kicking approach, destroying trust in politics, sapping business confidence.

"Or else we can change, get back our mojo, restore this country's reputation around the world and put ourselves on the path to long-term success."

He vowed to get Brexit done by October 31, pledged more money for schools and police, and promised full fibre broadband for all.

Mr Johnson said he would be able to take on the "semi-Marxist, wealth and job-destroying lunacy of Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party".

Mr Hunt promised to "deliver Brexit but so much more" if he won the keys to Number 10.

Highlighting his experience as an entrepreneur, the former Health Secretary and current Foreign Secretary said: "In poll after poll I am the public's preferred choice for Prime Minister because I appeal not just to those who already vote Conservative but those we need to win.

"And to those watching at home, I will be your Prime Minister, whoever you vote for, as I bring together our amazing United Kingdom."

Speaking after the debate in the ITV media centre, Rob Wilson, former Tory MP for Reading East and a parliamentary private secretary for Mr Hunt, said: "Hunt came out swinging and he landed some really powerful blows.

"I don't think there was a knockout but it came close on a couple of times because clearly Boris wasn't across the detail and relied too often on laughter and bluster which exactly confirmed what Jeremy Hunt has been saying through the campaign."

He added that it was "too early" to say Mr Hunt was not going to triumph.

Mr Wilson said: "There is a still of lot of votes that need to go in and we will see what people think of tonight's debate. I mean, Boris from the start has been in the lead. That lead has closed gradually and we will just have to see what effect tonight has on the rest of the campaign."

Meanwhile, Labour is set to press the next Tory leader to hold a second referendum before taking Britain out of the EU - with a commitment that the party would campaign for Remain.

The decision by the shadow cabinet was broadly welcomed by pro-Remain MPs, who have been pressing the party to fully embrace a second referendum.

However, the meeting left open what position the party would take if the new Prime Minister were to call a snap general election.

The move follows weeks of wrangling within the party over its position on Brexit, backing a second referendum only in certain specific circumstances.

It comes after the leadership broadly secured the backing of the main trade union bosses, including Unite general secretary Len McCluskey, who had been holding out against a second referendum.

Announcing the move in a letter to party members, Jeremy Corbyn said: "Whoever becomes the new Prime Minister should have the confidence to put their deal, or no-deal, back to the people in a public vote.

"In those circumstances, I want to make it clear that Labour would campaign for Remain against either no-deal or a Tory deal that does not protect the economy and jobs."

Deputy leader Tom Watson, who has been at the forefront of demands for the party to back a second referendum, welcomed the decision.

"Our members have been telling us for some time now they want us to be a Remain party, they want us to put the new deal to the people," he told the BBC.

"We are now going to campaign for that. I am very proud the shadow cabinet have listened to their concerns."

However, the chairman of the Commons Brexit Committee, Hilary Benn, warned the party would have to make clear what it would do in the event of a general election.

Belfast Telegraph


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