Belfast Telegraph

Allan Preston: No rock star welcome for rivals as they set out stall to party faithful at Co Down hotel

Jeremy Hunt
Jeremy Hunt
Allan Preston

By Allan Preston

There was no rock star welcome for Boris Johnson or Jeremy Hunt in Holywood yesterday, with around 200 local Conservatives with Brexit fatigue more interested in getting answers from their next leader.

Both candidates enjoyed polite applause throughout the day, appearing separately on stage in a suite in the Culloden Hotel to set out their stall and take questions from the audience.

In relaxed form, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt was up first and gained approving nods when he pledged to give 100% backing to local Conservatives for future elections.

After a grilling on his backstop plans other issues, he was also asked which Game of Thrones character he most identified with.

He reluctantly settled on the "hero" figure of Jon Snow, after recalling how the actor Kit Harington was let off a speeding ticket by the PSNI in exchange for plot spoilers.

Many speaking to the Belfast Telegraph afterwards agreed Hunt was by far the more polished performer of the day, but with Johnson having the more imposing presence.

Illustrating his off-the-cuff style, the former London Mayor likened himself "to the guy with the lightsabre" from Star Wars.

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The largely friendly tone in the room only seemed to evaporate briefly when the topic of Johnson's appearance at last year's DUP conference was raised.

Mr Hunt himself sent a pointed message to the DUP by calling on them to "do their bit" and help get a Brexit deal through Parliament.

Playing to the crowd, there were also laughs for Mr Johnson when asked about the possibility of a snap referendum in Northern Ireland on temporary membership of the Customs Union.

"The only thing it would snap would be people's patience," he said.

With his rival having already left the room, Mr Johnson had the visual advantage of leaving the stage to push his way through a crowd of supporters.

While some have already claimed the contest is his to lose, there was a mixed response outside the hustings with many only deciding which way to vote after attending.

Far from the style of a US presidential rally, there were no personal jibes thrown between the candidates with Mr Johnson instead dwelling on defeating the "enemy" of Jeremy Corbyn.

Common ground between the candidates included keeping the option of a no-deal Brexit on the table.

Both men said the divisive issues of same-sex marriage and abortion rights in Northern Ireland should only be decided at Stormont.

There was also agreement that the current proposal of a backstop could not be part of any deal to leave the EU.

Belfast Telegraph


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