Live coverage: Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt in TV debate
Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt went head-to-head in a live television debate.
The two contenders to succeed Theresa May as Prime Minister appeared on a live ITV debate, which could help to decide the outcome of the Conservative Party leadership contest.
Mr Johnson hoped to use the occasion to seal his position as the clear frontrunner, with polls giving him an overwhelming lead among party members.
For Mr Hunt, the Foreign Secretary, it potentially offered a final chance to turn around a contest in which he has been the underdog throughout.
There has been frustration in the Hunt camp at the reluctance of his rival to engage in direct debate.
Here’s the latest:
But not all the reaction was positive.
Tonight's #ITVDebate was utterly depressing. The more fanciful the rhetoric, the bigger the applause. Our discourse has completely collapsed, letting charlatans escape any real scrutiny as they peddle their nonsense.— David Lammy (@DavidLammy) July 9, 2019
Supporters of both candidates have been claiming victory after the debate.
Conservative members and the public saw that the man with the plan is @Jeremy_Hunt.— Amber Rudd MP (@AmberRuddHR) July 9, 2019
Jeremy won the #ITVDebate by once again clearly explaining why he is the leader most likely to get deal with the European Union. pic.twitter.com/7OxYG4r8CY
Mr Johnson, in his closing statement, said: “There is only one way to get this country off the hamster wheel of doom and that is to get Brexit done by October 31st, to bring us all together with fantastic infrastructure, better education and by fighting crime.
“And to end the defeatism that seems to have engulfed us all with a new can-do spirit of modern conservatism.
“I have the energy and the credentials for the job. This is an amazing country: now is the time to show that we believe in Britain.”
In his closing statement, Mr Hunt said: “For me this is not about becoming prime minister, it’s what you want to change when you get there.
“I want young people to support our party because state schools are as good as private ones; families to support us because we helped them buy a house; and older people to be sure the social care system is there for them.
“Boris promised money for the NHS – I delivered it. I will deliver Brexit as well. I only make promises I can keep and our country deserves no less.”
Asked what quality they most admired in their opponent as a future prime minister, Mr Johnson said: “I greatly admire his (Mr Hunt’s) ability to change his mind and campaign for Brexit now and I think that’s a very important attribute.”
Mr Hunt said: “I really admire Boris’s ability to answer the question. I think he has this great ability – you ask him a question, he puts a smile on your face, and you forget what the question was.
“It’s a brilliant quality for a politician, maybe not a prime minister though.”
Mr Johnson repeatedly challenged Jeremy Hunt to say if he had “no interest in alleviating the burden on the pressed middle” and “does he think people on middle incomes should be paying the higher rate of tax”.
As the pair argued on stage, Mr Hunt fired back: “Because Boris never answers the question we have got absolutely no idea what a Boris premiership would be about.”
He added: “My priority for tax cuts would be people on low incomes.”
Mr Johnson said he would increase National Insurance thresholds for those on low incomes but also defended his plans to cut taxes for people earning more than £50,000 as “part of a package”.
He said public servants were being “dragged into the higher rates of taxation and that seems to me to be a legitimate subject for Conservatives to focus on and to want to fix as well”.
Jeremy Hunt told him: “I have spent my life trying to persuade people that we are not the party of the rich.
“If your very first tax cuts are for higher rate earners that’s the wrong message.”
I have spent my life trying to show people that we are not the party of the rich. If you announce the very first tax cuts as tax cuts for for higher earners that is the wrong signal for our party. #ITVDebate #HastobeHunt pic.twitter.com/el47B5INK3— Jeremy Hunt (@Jeremy_Hunt) July 9, 2019
Mr Johnson responded: “I’m not actually prime minister at the moment. My programme is for a wide-ranging package, starting with people on low, modest incomes.”
The two rivals for the Tory leadership clashed over tax policy, with Jeremy Hunt defending his measures to cut costs for businesses and attacking Boris Johnson for pledging to cut taxes for the wealthy.
Mr Hunt acknowledged his own plans were “not the most popular tax cuts” but “I want to boost the growth rate of our economy”.
He said Donald Trump had cut business taxes and America was now growing at twice the rate of the UK.
“If we grew at 3%, 3.5% we would have an extra £20 billion to spend on tax cuts for people on low incomes … or our precious public services,” Mr Hunt said.
Mr Johnson said: “My agenda would be to focus on those who are hardest pressed.”
Mr Hunt was challenged about the junior doctors’ strike while he was health secretary.
He said he had been acting to tackle a problem of excess deaths at weekends.
“I would not be a prime minister who courted popularity, I would be a prime minister who did the right thing,” he said.
Mr Hunt added: “Boris campaigned for £350 million a week extra for the NHS.
“I actually delivered it, I’ll deliver Brexit as well.”
On the UK-US diplomatic spat, Mr Johnson said: “I think it is absolutely vital that the advice that civil servants give to ministers should not be leaked by ministers and should not be commented on by ministers if civil servants are going to feel free to give that advice with the impartiality that they want.”
But he refused to say whether he would keep Sir Kim Darroch in post as UK ambassador to the US, saying: “It is vital that our civil service is not politicised by ministers leaking what they say. Whoever leaked that deserves to be eviscerated.”
Weak dodge by Boris on Sir Kim.. either back him or don't back him. Spineless fence-sitting not a good look in a leader.— Piers Morgan (@piersmorgan) July 9, 2019
Mr Hunt said: “Who chooses our ambassadors is a matter for the United Kingdom Government and the United Kingdom prime minister and I have made it clear if I am our next prime minister the ambassador in Washington stays because it is our decision.”
He added that he would “certainly keep him (Sir Kim) until he is due to retire”.
Asked if he would be prepared to suspend Parliament to force through a no-deal Brexit, Jeremy Hunt said: “When that has happened in the past, when Parliament has been shut down against its will, we actually had a civil war.
“I think it would be a rather curious thing to do, if this is about taking back control for Parliament, to actually shut it down.”
He challenged Mr Johnson to rule it out, but the former London mayor said: “I’m not going to take anything off the table, any more than I’m going to take no deal off the table.
“I think it’s absolutely bizarre at this stage in the negotiations for the UK – yet again – to be weakening its own position.”
Mr Johnson was challenged on his comments about Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe during his time as foreign secretary.
The Tory leadership hopeful had wrongly stated that the British-Iranian prisoner was training journalists, something that was seized on by the Iranian regime.
Mr Johnson said: “I have the utmost sympathy for her, for her family and the other cases that are similar.”
He added: “It’s very, very important that when you consider those cases that we all point the blame where it belongs, which is with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard who are detaining not just Nazanin but several others in a way that is inhumane, illegal and unfair.
“They are responsible and we should not inadvertently exculpate them in any way.”
Quite right from @Jeremy_Hunt: “We need to have your facts straight: you said we would leave with no deal and not tariffs. That was wrong. You also said it was a million to one that we would leave with no deal." The chance are far, far more likely than that” #HastoBeHunt— Greg Hands (@GregHands) July 9, 2019
Mr Hunt said he did not want an election before Brexit was delivered – something that Mr Johnson risked with his “do or die” commitment to October 31.
Mr Johnson said it was “totally defeatist not to set a hard deadline”.
But the Foreign Secretary told Mr Johnson: “Being prime minister is about telling people what they need to hear, not just what they want to hear.”
Accusing Mr Johnson of simply “peddling optimism” he said: “We need leadership that is going to guide us through a big constitutional crisis and make a great success of Brexit, that means being honest with people about the challenges.”
The contenders have clashed over Mr Johnson’s optimism.
Mr Johnson, in a swipe at his rival, said the EU will not take the UK seriously if there is a “papier-mache” Brexit deadline.
“If we go into these negotiations from the beginning with a plan to allow that that deadline yet again to be fungible, to be a papier-mache deadline, I’m afraid that the EU will not take us seriously,” he said.
“Nor will business understand that they must prepare for no-deal.”
Mr Hunt replied: “It’s not do or die, is it? It’s Boris in Number 10 that matters.”
The Foreign Secretary, whose birthday is on November 1, earlier said “nothing would be a better birthday present than knowing we have left on the 31st October”.
The timing of this debate is being questioned by some.
Struggling to engage with this debate - solely because the majority of the membership have already voted. This should have been done sooner— Georgia Toffolo (@ToffTalks) July 9, 2019
Mr Johnson has said preparation will make a no-deal Brexit “vanishingly inexpensive”.
Mr Hunt challenged Mr Johnson over whether he would resign as PM if the UK does not leave the EU by October 31.
He asked: “Will you resign if you don’t deliver it, yes or no?”
Mr Johnson replied: “My opponent is clearly not committed to coming out of the EU on October 31…
“I think it’s very, very important not to envisage any circumstances in which we would fail to come out of the EU on October 31st.
“I don’t want to hold out to the EU the prospect that they encourage my resignation by refusing to agree a deal.”
The candidates clash as Jeremy Hunt says he is far more likely to take Britain out of the EU by October 31st and asks Boris Johnson whether he will resign if he fails to do so #ITVdebate pic.twitter.com/a1DEhWgZrv— ITV News (@itvnews) July 9, 2019
Mr Hunt used his opening statement in the debate to claim he was the candidate who could have an appeal beyond the Tory party.
“As a tough negotiator, I’ll deliver Brexit but so much more,” he said.
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.”
Team takeover #ITVDebate : in poll after poll I am the public’s preferred choice for PM because I appeal to those we need to win, and I will bring the country together. #HastobeHunt pic.twitter.com/BHMftt77CI— Jeremy Hunt (@Jeremy_Hunt) July 9, 2019
Mr Johnson used his opening statement to promise he would give the UK its “mojo” back.
He 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 and pledged more money for schools, 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 Johnson has been thanking his supporters.
Just about to head into tonight's #ITVDebate in Salford - but before I do, I want to thank everyone for all your support so far. Together, we will deliver Brexit, unite our country and stop Jeremy Corbyn getting into Downing Street pic.twitter.com/dXUGrHR6ia— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) July 9, 2019
Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt have arrived in Salford for the #ITVdebate to a mix of boos and cheers— ITV News (@itvnews) July 9, 2019
The debate will be live on @ITV at 8pm and also on the ITV News website here: https://t.co/TDouY1Zdzx pic.twitter.com/dclr48I9vo