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What did we learn from Jeremy Hunt at the first hustings?

The self-declared underdog said he would take the UK out of the EU on October 31 ‘if no deal is on the table’.

Jeremy Hunt during the first party hustings at the ICC in Birmingham (PA)
Jeremy Hunt during the first party hustings at the ICC in Birmingham (PA)

Jeremy Hunt described himself as “the underdog” at the first hustings for the final two leadership contenders, before taking questions on how he would negotiate a Brexit deal, what NHS staff think about him and his views on HS2.

So, what did we learn?

– Mr Hunt has been enjoying a kinder side to the internet

“The internet has been kind to me for the first time in my life,” he said.

Various hashtags in support of his campaign have been floated online, including #HuntyMcHuntFace.

Mr Hunt, whose surname has been mistakenly mispronounced as a swear word on several occasions by broadcasters, joked: “Now be very careful how you say that one because we’re the party of family values.”

– Mr Hunt thinks he can “turbo charge” Britain’s economy

Pledging to cut corporation tax to 12.5%, the self-professed “entrepreneur by background” said: “I want to land an economic jumbo jet on Europe’s doorstep so that when it comes to those trade talks, they need us every bit as much as we need them.”

– He would “100%” leave the EU without a deal

Mr Hunt has previously said he would delay beyond October 31 if a deal was in reach.

During the hustings on Saturday, he said: “If no deal is on the table, then I will leave without a deal because we must keep our promise to the British people.”

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Mr Hunt wants to “turbo charge” Britain’s economy (PA/Ben Birchall)

Mr Hunt added: “If we got to the 31st of October and the EU have not shown any willingness to negotiate a better deal that can get through the House of Commons, that’s not going to trap us in the Customs Union, then my judgment is that weighing those difficult options up, the political risk of no Brexit is far worse than the economic risk of no deal.”

Mr Hunt said he would take the UK out of the European Union in that situation “100%”, but said it would not be his choice.

He said a “responsible” prime minister should aim for a deal.

– He is a supporter of HS2

Mr Hunt said HS2 is “absolutely vital” and said there are two reasons for this.

“First of all, at the point of Brexit, the world is looking at us, they’re saying what sort of economy are you going to be? Are you going to be an economy that still can’t do big infrastructure projects? Even though in Japan they had their first high speed in 1964, two years before I was born.

“We need proper transport infrastructure in this country if we’re going to be the most hi-tech, modern, fastest-growing economy in Europe.

“And the second reason is, as Conservatives, we can’t just be the party of prosperity in London and the south east.

“We have to be the party that spread prosperity to the whole country.

“And that’s why it’s not just HS2 for me, it’s the third (Heathrow) runway, it’s Northern Powerhouse rail, it’s fibre to the home across the whole country, all these things that will spread that prosperity to every corner of our great country.”

– Mr Hunt believes the NHS got safer when he was Health Secretary

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HS2 is “absolutely vital” according to the leadership hopeful (Ben Birchall/PA)

When it was put to Mr Hunt that he “alienated the vast majority of NHS staff” during his time as health secretary, he said: “As prime minister you have to take very difficult decisions, and as health secretary you have to take life and death decisions.”

He said he is so proud of the NHS, adding that doctors and nurses do an “amazing job”.

Mr Hunt added: “But sometimes we get it wrong, and in order to put these things right, I had to fight some very tough battles, and I hope people can see from that that I’m a kind of prime minister who isn’t going to make it my biggest priority to court popularity.

“I’m going to do the right thing. And I do believe the NHS got safer on my watch and I’m very proud of the changes that were made.”

– He wants the Conservatives to have a “social mission” and will boost defence spending and police numbers

Mr Hunt said he will increase defence spending and called for Conservatives to have a “social mission”, saying the one he wants to focus on is the social care system for older people.

Mr Hunt, who said he wants to end illiteracy, vowed to get more young people voting Conservative.

He also said he would make a commitment on extra police officers, but would not put a number on it.

PA

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