Mr Hunt will take on the man he replaced as Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary in a ballot of the 160,000 or so party members. He criticised Mr Johnson for not being willing to engage in a public debate until July 9th, four days after members receive membership ballots. In an interview with The Daily Telegraph, Mr Hunt said: “He may be the right man, I may be the right man. But Conservative Party members can only make that choice if you have a proper debate.
“And you can’t have that debate if one of the candidates is bottling all opportunities to have a public head to head debate before ballot papers are sent out.”
Invoking Winston Churchill he added: “This is supposed to be his finest hour but if you’re going to hide away, that’s not democracy.”
The former Health Secretary explained he was delighted at the opportunity “to have a really good debate” but felt the date was too late to give members a sufficient opportunity to evaluate the candidates.
Mr Hunt wrote to Mr Johnson on Friday night, challenging him to televised debates during the early stages of the campaign.
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He argued it would “do this country a deep disservice if we hide away until members have submitted their postal ballots”.
When Theresa May replaced David Cameron as Prime Minister in 2016 the Conservative leadership contest did not go to the members, as Mrs May’s rival Andrea Leadsom withdrew.
Similarly, in 2007 Tony Blair was replaced by Gordon Brown as Prime Minister without a leadership election.
Mr Hunt questioned whether Mr Johnson would be able to negotiate effectively with the EU if he wouldn’t debate his domestic political rival.
He said: “How is he going to argue against Jeremy Corbyn or Nigel Farage if he doesn’t even want to debate with a friendly foreign secretary, which is what I like to think I am?”
“Boris may have an exciting vision as well. So far we’ve heard about tax cuts for the rich.
“I’m sure there are some other things there, but he needs to get out and tell them so we can have a debate about it.”
The winner of the contest is expected to be announced in the week beginning July 22nd.
In the final ballot of Tory MPs, Mr Johnson had the backing of 160 MPs, versus 77 for Mr Hunt and 75 for Michael Gove who was eliminated.