Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt last night faced each other in front of a live TV audience, debating key issues in their respective campaigns to become the next Conservative Party leader. Grassroots Tory members have now received postal ballots and will vote to decide which of the two will succeed Theresa May. The winner of the postal vote will be announced on July 23.
Before the debate, Mr Johnson told the BBC he had said “some pretty critical things about the Brexit negotiations so far and that’s one of the reasons I’m standing tonight”.
He said there was a chance to “do things differently” and “break away from the failed, old, can-kicking approach”.
Mr Johnson said: “Now’s the time to really get a grip on this, stop being so defeatist on our approach to the EU negotiations, and maybe be a lot more positive about our country and what it can do.”
Mr Hunt had been pushing for the debate to take place at an earlier date, worried voters had made their minds up before they were able to discuss issues on live TV.
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The current underdog, Mr Hunt seemed confident heading into the debate saying: “We started by saying we’re going to turn a coronation into a contest, now we’re going to turn a contest into an upset.”
Short opening statements were made at the beginning of the programme, and closing statements at the conclusion of the debate, which was held in front of a studio audience of around 200 people.
The debate began at 8pm BST on ITV1, hosted by Julie Etchingham.
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Mr Hunt repeatedly challenged Mr Johnson to say whether he would resign if he failed to deliver Brexit on 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.”
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.
He said: “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.
“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.”
According to bookmakers Coral, Mr Johnson is now as short as 1-25 to win the Tory leadership race.
Mr Hunt meanwhile has odds of 14-1 to become the next Prime Minister.
Coral spokesman John Hill said: “Boris Johnson is now long odds-on to win this leadership contest where it would be one of the biggest upsets in political betting history if he wasn’t the next Prime Minister at the end of it.
“Punters have been backing Boris to become the next Prime Minister ever since Theresa May moved into number 10 Downing Street so they will be hoping he can now get past his last rival.”