Boris Johnson, Jeremy Hunt, Michael Gove, Sajid Javid and Rory Stewart were all in the BBC 1 studio this evening, with Emily Maitlis leading the debate.
As expected, things got heated between the candidates, the host, and the public, a select few of who called in with questions.
There’s usually one candidate who comes out on top – and we’re letting our readers decide.
You can vote in our poll of who ‘won’ the debate here, but first, here is the snap verdict on what the Tory leadership candidates said on the five main topics discussed.
READ MORE: A full timetable of the Tory leadership race and what to expect
1. BREXIT TIMETABLE
“As a lifelong Tory voter, I voted for the Brexit party at the European elections. Can you guarantee that you will get your Brexit plan through the Commons by 31 October?”
Boris Johnson said it’s imperative to get Brexit through by October 31, or “we will all start to pay a really serious price”.
Jeremy Hunt said if there was no prospect of a deal by October 31, he’d leave without one. But if one was imminent, he’d delay to conclude the deal.
Michael Gove said he was frustrated as he’s the first one of them all to have rallied for Brexit. But he agreed with Hunt, saying in football you sometimes need extra time.
Said Javid said it is essential that we act on those instructions” from the British people who voted to leave the EU. “They are our bosses,” he said. He said it’s fundamental that Brexit must happen by October 31, ruling out any extension.
Rory Stewart agrees MPs must do what the public said, but also that they need to start being honest with the public. He said it’s not possible to negotiate a new deal by October 31, and he believes Theresa May’s deal is the best one we’ll get.
No-one addressed how they would actually achieve any of their plans. Policy seems stuck as ever: no room to renegotiate, no support for the existing deal, no appetite for no deal. Mostly, all arguments felt unconvincing.
Tory debate: The five remaining candidates
2. NO DEAL BREXIT
“My husband is in the property business. Under no deal, he could lose his job. Why are you even contemplating no deal?”
Gove said because we have to leave the EU. It would cause “some economic turbulence” and some may suffer but we must put our democracy first. He sought to reassure the questioner saying the UK is a great country and can get through this.
Stewart said the other candidates need to explain this one, as he wouldn’t prorogue Parliament to force no deal. He’d never accept a no deal Brexit.
Johnson said we need to prepare for no deal, as it’s the responsible thing to do.
Javid said you prepare for no deal precisely because you want a deal, and Johnson agreed.
Hunt said the questioner’s husband knows, from being in the property business, the only way to get a deal is to be willing to walk away.
The questioner was unconvinced. Again, none of the candidates seemed able to lay a clear solution on the table.
Tory debate: The debate on BBC this evening
3. IRISH BACKSTOP
“How would you solve the Irish border issue?”
Hunt said there must be no return to having border infrastructure in Northern Ireland, and the backstop was problematic in that is kept the UK in the customs union.
Javid said there would have to be a time limit on the backstop.
Johnson agreed with “Saj and Jeremy”. No return to a hard border. He said you can solve the border issue during the implementation period after getting a deal.
Stewart pointed out there will be no implementation period unless the UK agrees a deal.
Gove said he has a plan, as he worked in Northern Ireland, but didn’t say what it is.
The questioner said there seems to be “a lot of confusion” amongst the five. It seems they can all agree on one thing: a hard border is not an option. But no one could say how this could work.
Tory debate: Candidates must be whittled down until two remain
4. PUBLIC SERVICE CUTS
“I have fostered more than 100 children. What would you do to reverse cuts that have affected children”
Gove said he started his life in care before being adopted. He said he has a detailed plan to target money on the poorest, as well as furthering his policies that make adoption easier. He said he is the candidate most committed to working people.
Stewart said you need taxes to fund public services. He said it’s important to plan for how AI and robotics will change the way humans work. He added the adult social care system is a disgrace.
Javid said he has relied on public services, and would prioritise health and education.
Hunt said the Government all of the candidates have been in at one point or another has cut the social care budget too much. He said local authorities need more.
Johnson said we need to invest much more in education, and we need to join up our mental health system.
This all looked very bad for the Conservative Party. They all acknowledged that public services are stretched, but were unwilling to acknowledge they might have had a hand in it, supporting policies within the Government that lead to cuts.
5. CLIMATE CHANGE
“Would you commit to getting net carbon emissions down to zero by 2025?”
Johnson said he will commit to putting the environment at the heart of his programme, but when pushed on whether he’d stop the Heathrow expansion, he just said he had “grave concerns”, refusing to say outright he’d stop it as he said previously.
Gove said he has met and praised Greta Thunberg and has a 25-year environment plan.
Javid said his teenage daughter asks him about climate change a lot. He said we have done “nowhere near enough” and need to be more ambitious.
Hunt said the issue of climate change is a “fundamental matter of trust” between younger and older generations. He said he is already committed to the current 2050 target, and on trying to speed it up. He said it’s right the questioner has challenged them all to go further.
Stewart said climate change would be at the heart of his agenda, like Johnson. He said he’s “deeply proud” that the Government has committed to the UK being carbon neutral by 2020 and should be the “leader in the world in driving green and environmental change”.
The questioner, a 15-year-old, said none of the panel had impressed her. And with a generation of citizens who will turn 18 before the next planned general election, it is a very tenuous hold on power enjoyed by the Tories.