Hunt: Boris cares about No 10 more than Brexit

Tory ri­vals clash with per­sonal at­tacks over ambition and Bri­tain’s ‘do or die’ exit date

The Daily Telegraph - - Front page - By Gor­don Rayner, Anna Mikhailova and Christo­pher Hope

JEREMY HUNT ac­cused Boris Johnson of “ped­dling optimism” to get into Down­ing Street as he used the first head-to-head lead­er­ship de­bate to launch a se­ries of highly per­sonal at­tacks against his Con­ser­va­tive ri­val.

The For­eign Sec­re­tary said that “Boris in No10” was the only thing that mat­tered to his ri­val, in com­ments Mr Johnson de­scribed as “em­bar­rass­ing” blue-on-blue jibes.

The is­sue of Bri­tain’s de­par­ture from the EU on Oct 31 emerged as the key di­vid­ing line in the live ITV hus­tings event, as Mr Hunt chal­lenged Mr Johnson to re­sign if he failed to de­liver on his exit date prom­ise and Mr Johnson de­manded to know how long Mr Hunt would de­lay Brexit.

Mr Johnson also sug­gested Mr Hunt would leave Bri­tain on a “ham­ster wheel of doom” as he claimed he would be far too neg­a­tive as prime min­is­ter.

Mr Hunt said he had “no idea” what a Johnson ad­min­is­tra­tion would look like, adding: “Be­ing prime min­is­ter is about telling peo­ple what they need to hear, not just what they want to hear.”

The two men were also di­vided over the is­sue of whether Sir Kim Dar­roch should re­main in his job as Bri­tain’s am­bas­sador to Washington, with Mr Hunt say­ing the em­bat­tled diplo­mat would stay fol­low­ing the leak­ing of his dis­parag­ing com­ments about the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion. Mr Johnson re­fused to make such a com­mit­ment.

Many Tory MPS had feared that head-to-head de­bates be­tween the lead­er­ship can­di­dates would only ben­e­fit Jeremy Cor­byn as the con­tenders would tear strips off each other and weaken them be­fore they got a chance to lead the coun­try. Mr Hunt, who had ear­lier ad­mit­ted that last night’s de­bate was his fi­nal chance to over­take the run­away favourite, wasted no time in con­fronting Mr Johnson about Brexit, tax and his grasp of detail.

Mr Hunt, who had spent weeks goad­ing Mr Johnson for turn­ing down other chances to de­bate with him, chal­lenged him on his prom­ise to get Bri­tain out of the EU by Oct 31 “do or die”, ask­ing him whether he would re­sign if it did not happen.

When Mr Johnson re­fused to say he would quit, Mr Hunt rounded on him, say­ing: “It’s not do or die that mat­ters, it’s Boris in No10.”

Mr Johnson hit back by ask­ing Mr Hunt how long he would de­lay Brexit. “How about Christ­mas?” he said. “Christ­mas any good?” Mr Hunt said he was “as keen” as Mr Johnson to leave the EU on Oct 31, say­ing it would make a good present for him­self on his birth­day, Nov 1. How­ever he said: “No one should make a prom­ise un­less they ab­so­lutely know they can de­liver.”

Both can­di­dates were then asked to raise their hand if they were “con­fi­dent” the UK could leave the EU by Oct 31. Both did so, prompt­ing Mr Johnson to say to his ri­val: “I thought you said it couldn’t be done?”

Ac­cus­ing Mr Johnson of be­ing poor on de­tails, Mr Hunt said: “Get­ting de­tails wrong is fine for a news­pa­per colum­nist, but not if you’re prime min­is­ter.”

Dur­ing a row about tax cuts for high earn­ers, Mr Johnson said: “This is one of the rea­sons these blue-on-blue de­bates are so em­bar­rass­ing.” Mr Hunt also at­tacked Mr Johnson for re­fus­ing to give di­rect an­swers: “Just an­swer the ques­tion for once, just tell us,” he said.

BORIS JOHNSON last night re­fused to com­mit to keep­ing Bri­tain’s am­bas­sador to Washington in his job if he be­comes prime min­is­ter after Sir Kim Dar­roch was frozen out by Don­ald Trump.

The White House can­celled trade talks be­tween Wil­bur Ross, the US com­merce sec­re­tary, and his coun­ter­part Liam Fox yes­ter­day be­cause Sir Kim had been due to at­tend.

Sir Kim, who had de­scribed the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion as “inept” in a leaked diplo­matic cable, is con­sid­er­ing re­sign­ing “in the national in­ter­est”, ac­cord­ing to friends, after be­ing left un­able to do his job. How­ever, an­other source told The Daily Tele­graph that Sir Kim was de­ter­mined to con­tinue with “busi­ness as usual” amid the storm.

Sir Kim was also banned from a meet­ing be­tween Dr Fox and the pres­i­dent’s daugh­ter Ivanka Trump yes­ter­day after Mr Trump launched a fresh on­slaught in which he de­scribed him as a “pompous fool”, “wacky” and “a very stupid guy”. Mr Trump also called Theresa May “fool­ish” in an ex­tra­or­di­nary se­ries of tweets.

The row dom­i­nated the only headto-head tele­vi­sion de­bate in the race for Tory leader be­tween Mr Johnson and his ri­val Jeremy Hunt after the For­eign Sec­re­tary ac­cused Mr Trump of be­ing “dis­re­spect­ful and wrong” as the diplo­matic cri­sis rapidly es­ca­lated.

In the prime time ITV de­bate, Mr Hunt said that Sir Kim would still be in his post by Christ­mas, when he is due to re­tire. The For­eign Sec­re­tary re­fused to be drawn fur­ther, adding: “Who chooses our am­bas­sador is a mat­ter for the United King­dom government and the United King­dom prime min­is­ter.”

Mr Johnson was more nu­anced, say­ing: “It is ab­so­lutely vi­tal that the ad­vice that civil ser­vants give to ministers should not be leaked by ministers, should not be com­mented on if civil ser­vants are go­ing to feel free to give ad­vice with the im­par­tial­ity that they want.”

He said he had a good re­la­tion­ship with the White House, adding: “Who­ever leaked that de­serves to be evis­cer­ated ... What I will say is I and I alone will de­cide who takes im­por­tant and po­lit­i­cally sensitive jobs such as the Bri­tish am­bas­sador to the United States.”

Theresa May, the Prime Min­is­ter, is des­per­ate to avoid los­ing Sir Kim, as it would send a sig­nal to Mr Trump and other national lead­ers that they could ef­fec­tively pick and choose Bri­tish am­bas­sadors them­selves.

Mr Trump tweeted: “The wacky Am­bas­sador that the UK foisted upon the United States is not some­one we are thrilled with, a very stupid guy. He should speak to his coun­try, and Prime Min­is­ter May, about their failed Brexit ne­go­ti­a­tion, and not be up­set with my crit­i­cism of how badly it was han­dled.

“I told Theresa May how to do that deal, but she went her own fool­ish way – was un­able to get it done. A dis­as­ter! I don’t know the Am­bas­sador but have been told he is a pompous fool.”

Tax cuts

Mr Hunt ac­cused Mr Johnson of pri­ori­tis­ing “tax cuts for the rich” as he went on the at­tack when asked about eco­nomic pol­icy.

He asked Mr Johnson to ex­plain why his first ma­jor pol­icy an­nounce­ment was to raise the higher in­come tax rate thresh­old from £50,000 to £80,000.

Mr Hunt said: “I have spent my life try­ing to per­suade peo­ple that we are not the party of the rich.”

Mr Johnson de­fended his plans and said he would “fo­cus on those who are hard­est pressed”, in­clud­ing by raising the thresh­old for National In­sur­ance for low-in­come earn­ers. He cited his record as London mayor in in­tro­duc­ing mea­sures that helped lower-in­come vot­ers.

He added that he wanted to stop se­nior nurses, maths teach­ers and po­lice of­fi­cers from be­ing dragged into the higher in­come tax thresh­old. Mr Johnson chal­lenged Mr Hunt to say whether he agreed that mid­dle-in­come earn­ers should be pay­ing the higher rate of tax.

How­ever, Mr Hunt hit back, say­ing announcing the tax cut for higher earn­ers first was “a mis­take” and ac­cused him of making “cuts for the rich”.

Asked by an au­di­ence mem­ber why he is fo­cused on tax cuts in­stead of tack­ling aus­ter­ity, Mr Hunt said he wanted to “grow the size of the cake” by making cor­po­ra­tion tax cuts his pri­or­ity. He said this would “boost the growth rate of our econ­omy” and praised Mr Trump’s record in doing the same in Amer­ica.

Mr Johnson said he was “ab­so­lutely right” and called for “ju­di­cious tax cuts”.

Gen­eral election

Mr Hunt ac­cused Mr Johnson of “set­ting a fake dead­line” that would only lead to a gen­eral election be­fore the UK leaves the EU.

Mr Hunt told his ri­val that if he sticks to his pledge of “do or die” on Oct 31, he must be “pre­pared to take us into a gen­eral election” be­cause the par­lia­men­tary arith­metic would need to change.

He then ac­cused Mr Johnson of telling peo­ple “what they want to hear” and “ped­dling optimism”. He said: “Be­ing prime min­is­ter is about telling peo­ple what they need to hear, not just what they want to hear.”

Mr Johnson re­sponded by warn­ing against be­ing “to­tally de­featist”.

While Mr Hunt in­sisted he “would win over more non-con­ser­va­tive vot­ers”, he pledged not to call an election un­til he has de­liv­ered Brexit.

Mr Johnson said he would not do a deal with the Brexit Party, adding: “I don’t be­lieve in doing deals with any party.” He said he could de­liver Brexit with the help of Con­ser­va­tive MPS.

Asked if they would sus­pend Par­lia­ment if it blocked no deal, Mr Johnson said he would not take any­thing off the table, while Mr Hunt ruled it out.

Key poli­cies

Mr Johnson said he would not scrap the third run­way at Heathrow, but hinted he could step in if there were breaches of noise or air pol­lu­tion, say­ing: “The bull­doz­ers are a long time off.”

The MP for Uxbridge said he re­tained “the gravest reser­va­tions” about noise pol­lu­tion and air qual­ity. Mr Hunt chal­lenged Mr Johnson to give a clear an­swer, say­ing: “If you are go­ing to be prime min­is­ter, you have got to have to an­swer to those ques­tions.

“My an­swer is yes – a third run­way will help spread wealth around the coun­try. We should back it.”

Mr Hunt and Mr Johnson both agreed they would not scrap Uni­ver­sal Credit as well as pub­lish­ing a plan to deal with the so­cial care cri­sis this year.

On the HS2 high speed rail line, Mr Johnson said he would re­view the busi­ness case, which he de­scribed as “du­bi­ous”. Mr Hunt said Bri­tain needed the high speed link, say­ing it could bridge the North-south di­vide in the UK. “We should back it to the hilt,” he said.

Each other’s qual­i­ties

The can­di­dates re­sorted to in­sults dressed up as com­pli­ments when asked to name a qual­ity they most ad­mired in each other.

Mr Johnson ref­er­enced the abil­ity of Mr Hunt, a for­mer Re­main sup­porter, to “change his mind and cam­paign for Brexit now”.

Mean­while, Mr Hunt ac­cused Mr Johnson of dodg­ing ques­tions.

He said that he “re­ally ad­mires” Mr Johnson’s an­swers be­cause he “puts a smile on your face and you for­get what the ques­tion was”.

‘I have spent my life try­ing to per­suade peo­ple that we are not the party of the rich’

‘Be­ing prime min­is­ter is about telling peo­ple what they need to hear, not just what they want to hear’

Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt square up in the Con­ser­va­tive lead­er­ship con­tenders’ de­bate on ITV last night

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