POLITICS
15/07/2019 22:27 BST | Updated 16/07/2019 09:37 BST

7 Things Learned From Boris Johnson And Jeremy Hunt's Final Head-To-Head

Tory leadership contenders debate Brexit, Trump and Love Island at The Sun and Talk Radio face-off.

As the Conservative party leadership race finally enters the finishing straight, keen followers perhaps know all they could possibly want to know about the final two.

But during the final head-to-head debate hosted by The Sun at Talk Radio in central London, candidates Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt still managed to offer some insight into their character and policies.

From their response to Donald Trump’s racist tweets to when they last cried, here are the best takeaways from the last face-off before one of them becomes the UK’s new Prime Minister.   

 

PA Wire/PA Images
Conservative party leadership candidates Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt during a head-to-head debate hosted by The Sun at Talk Radio in London.

 

1. They’re hardline on Brexit

Both men put themselves on collision course with the EU and potentially made a no-deal Brexit far more likely by setting out much harder negotiating positions than expected.

In a significant moment, Johnson said he would refuse to accept either a time limit or an independent exit mechanism from the controversial Irish backstop, while Hunt ruled out a time limit.

Many eurosceptic Tory MPs are opposed to the deal negotiated by Theresa May because they believe the backstop could trap the UK in the EU’s close orbit forever with a customs union, and make Brexit pointless in their eyes.

In an attempt to placate them, May asked the EU for a time limit or way for Britain to get out of the backstop of its own accord – but her demands were flatly turned down.

By taking an even more hardline approach Johnson and Hunt appeared to make a successful renegotiation of her deal even less likely, potentially setting the UK’s course for no deal.

Johnson said: “No is the answer to time-limits or unilateral escape hatches or all these kinds of elaborate devices, glosses, codicils and so on which you could apply to the backstop.”

Hunt said: “The backstop, as it is, is dead. And so I agree with Boris, I don’t think tweaking it with a time limit will do the trick, we’ve got to find a new way.”

2. Tough on immigration too

Perhaps surprisingly, Hunt took a harder stance on immigration than Johnson, who refused to commit to cutting the numbers of people coming to the UK after Brexit.

He said: “I’m not going to get into some numbers game with you. What I think we will have is control, which is what the people voted for and it’s high time we got it.”

Hunt said he would bring down numbers, partially by boosting the education levels of UK citizens.

“I actually agree with Boris about taking back control,” Hunt said.

3. A sense of being out of touch

In the most striking question from the audience, the pair were asked what they would do to change the view that politicians are “self-serving posh boys”. Both went to elite private schools before Oxford university.

After Johnson essayed the “dithering and dickering around” over Brexit and Hunt said that “as a Charterhouse boy I would never criticise Boris for going to Eton”, both were keen to emphasis one point.

“I had a scholarship by the way,” Johnson said. “I did too,” returned Hunt. 

In another measure of their common touch, the MPs were asked who they though would win Love Island.

Johnson pondered: “It always seems to involve these people with very few clothes on ... what’s the right answer to that, Tom (Newton Dunn, Sun political editor)?”

The crowd suggested “Amber” - which both took to mean Amber Rudd, the Work and Pensions Secretary.

More likely they were referring to contestant Amber Gill, who is tipped as one of the favourites to win.

4. No election before Brexit

Johnson poured cold water on speculation he could call a general election to get a mandate for either a renegotiated Brexit deal or a no-deal withdrawal from the EU by increasing the Tories’ working majority, which is currently just three.

Asked to rule out a general election before Brexit is delivered, Johnson said: “Absolutely. I think it would be the height of folly.

“First of all, I think the people of this country are utterly fed up of politicians coming back to them with more elections and offering more referendums and all the rest of it, it’s totally wrong.

“What they want us to do is get on and deliver what they told us to do on June 23, 2016.”

Hunt also said he did not want an election before Brexit.

“If we have an election before we have Brexited we’d have a Labour, Lib Dem, SNP coalition and no Brexit at all,” he said.

But he warned that Johnson’s position to leave “do or die” on Halloween could tip the UK into a snap election because there are enough Tories bring down their own government to block no deal, which would be Johnson’s default position if he fails to renegotiate current agreement with the EU.

“If we get this wrong we will trip ourselves into an accidental general election long before October 31,” Hunt said.

5. There will continue to be a woman in the ‘great offices of state’

Overwhelming favourite Johnson has been reluctant to talk about who could get jobs in his cabinet for fear of appearing to be “measuring the curtains”.

But pressed by Newton Dunn, Johnson committed for the first time to having a woman in the four great offices of state, which means a female chancellor, foreign secretary or defence secretary would serve under his premiership.

“I think I’m going to say yes,” Johnson said. “Depending on what you mean by top four, but yes I think so.”

Hunt said he would “absolutely” give a woman a top four job. “I would give a woman any job or all the jobs if the right people are there,” he said.

“I haven’t had a discussion with Boris about which role he might do amongst those four jobs.”

6. Both refused to call Trump’s tweet racist

Johnson and Hunt criticised Donald Trump for telling four US congresswomen to “go back” to the “broken and crime infested places from which they came” – but refused to condemn the remarks as racist.

The Tory leadership rivals both said they agreed with Theresa May’s condemnation of the remarks as “completely unacceptable”.

Pressed on whether the comments were racist, Johnson said: “I simply can’t understand how a leader of that country can come to say it.”

Pressed again, he replied: “You can take from what I said what I think about President Trump’s words.”

Hunt said the remarks were “totally offensive”, but challenged on whether the remarks are racist, he said it would not be helpful to use such language about the US president. 

7. Johnson last cried over a stolen bicycle

During a quick fire round of questions, both were asked to reveal when they last cried. Hunt refused, noting that the questions were supposed to be on a ‘yes-or-no’ basis. But Johnson was more game.    

“The last time I shed a tear ... I came out of parliament to find my bike had been nicked,” he said.

“This was very recently. I had my bike for my whole mayoral career. It was a beautiful bike given to me by (Olympic cyclist) Chris Boardman.

“It was never nicked in all my time in the city, I rode it everywhere, and barely had Sadiq Khan’s reign begun and ... it was nicked.”

Hunt then asked: “Did you actually cry?”

Johnson: “I became mildly lachrymose. Anyone who has something they love stolen feels a sense of outrage.”