POLITICS
30/06/2019 13:13 BST

Sunday Shows Round-Up: Johnson Promises Investment While Hunt Pledges Quicker Brexit

Frontrunner Boris Johnson said he wanted to boost earnings for poor people, but got the living wage rate wrong.

Boris Johnson 

The race between Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt to decide who will be the next Tory leader and PM is reaching a crucial phase. 

Both contenders for the crown gave interviews to broadcasters on Sunday morning, with Johnson pledging to borrow to invest in infrastructure while Hunt promised he would deliver Brexit sooner than his rival. 

The Labour Party, meanwhile, was forced to deny reports Jeremy Corbyn’s health is failing, with Unite boss Len McCluskey accusing The Times of “fake news” while its rank and file remained at war over Brexit. 

Here are the main headlines from a morning of news.  

Boris Johnson 

Frontrunner Johnson told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge he would use “headroom” to allow him to invest in multiple projects at the same time as cutting taxes. 

“I’m prepared to borrow to finance certain great objectives but overall we will keep fiscal responsibility and keep going with the objective of making sure this country pays its way and lives within its means,” he said. 

Cutting some taxes could boost government finances, he claimed, but he came unstuck when asked to name the current living wage rate, despite saying he wanted to raise it. 

Johnson said he believed the figure was “around £10 or so” before later insisting he was referring to the London living wage.

The minimum wage - which the government renamed the ‘national living wage’ - is currently £8.21 an hour for people aged 25 and over, £7.70 an hour for 21 to 24-year-olds, £6.15 an hour for 18 to 20-years-old, £4.35 an hour for under 18s and £3.90 an hour for apprentices.

The Living Wage Foundation, meanwhile, campaigns for a £9 an hour rate across the UK and £10.55 in London.

Johnson was also asked about him previously referring to black people with “watermelon smiles”, to which he replied “in a wholly satirical way”, and women in burkas who “look like letterboxes”.

He said he takes “full responsibility for everything I’ve said” and asked people to examine his record as mayor of London, adding: “If you want to look at somebody who’s campaigned for gender equality, look at what we did in the Foreign Office where had a huge campaign for 12 years of quality education for every girl in the world that was massively successful, it was taken up by other countries.

“Look at the way I ran London. We had huge campaigns to protect the rights of women and particularly against violence against women, and I think sometimes there is a tendency, as I say, take words out of context rather than to look at what I actually did.”

He was also challenged about his notorious “f*** business” comment when asked about business concerns last year. 

“My words have been totally taken out of context,” he said, before going on to claim he had spent his political career “genuinely acting as an ambassador and evangelist for UK business”.

Johnson admitted he feels a “deep sense of anguish” for what jailed British-Iranian charity worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been going through in Iran, but, as former foreign secretary, refused to accept any responsibility asked people to blame the Iranian regime.

He was challenged over 2017 remarks in which he said Zaghari-Ratcliffe - who was sentenced to five years in jail after being accused of spying, a charge she vehemently denies - was teaching people journalism.

Johnson said: “I feel sorry for her, for her daughter, for her husband Richard and I’ve said this many, many times. I feel a deep sense of anguish for what she has been going through.” 

On Brexit, Johnson insisted the EU would be prepared to renegotiate, adding that leaders who refused to engage with the idea now “would say that at this particular stage in the negotiations”. 

He also repeated his assertion he was “not attracted” to proroguing parliament to drive through a no-deal Brexit, but would not rule it out. 

Asked whether he was prepared to give his rival Hunt a job in his cabinet should he win, he said the foreign secretary will “not be locked in a dog kennel”. 

Jeremy Hunt 

Foreign secretary Hunt told the BBC’s Andrew Marr that he could deliver Brexit faster than Johnson and that he would be prepared to withhold some of the £39bn divorce bill from Brussels. 

He said it was a “fake debate” over who could take the UK out of the EU by October 31. 

“If we got to the end of October and we’ve got a deal and we’re trying to get it through parliament but we need a few more parliamentary days, I’m not going to rip up that deal - Boris is,” he said. 

Pressed further on the date of the UK’s departure, Hunt said: “I believe we’ll leave sooner with me than with Boris or anyone else because I am the person most likely to negotiate a deal - and that is the quickest way to leave.”

Hunt earlier said some of his spending commitments “would have to wait” if there was a no-deal Brexit as money would be diverted to support businesses.

This would include pressing ahead with his promised cut to corporation tax, adding: “I wouldn’t drop them because I think we can make a success of no-deal... they would take longer because you wouldn’t have that money at your fingertips straight away.”

Hunt, questioned if he would look people in the eye and tell them they should be prepared to lose their job as he will pursue a no-deal Brexit, replied: “I’d do so but I’d do it with a heavy heart precisely because of the risks.”

International Trade Secretary and Hunt supporter Liam Fox gave a hint to how the leadership contender might press for a deal. 

Fox said a time-limit on the Northern Ireland backstop is the way to get a deal through the House of Commons.

Speaking to BBC Five Live’s Pienaar’s Politics he said: “If you think about where we are in common in the backstop. Both the European Union, the UK and the Irish Government have always said this is a temporary arrangement. Well if it is temporary can we put a time limit on it?

“That I think has been the top element in stopping an agreement going through the House of Commons.” 

Labour 

Labour’s ongoing war over whether to back a second referendum and whethger to campaign for remain rumbles on.

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell has told Sky’s Sophy Ridge that shifting Labour’s stance is taking longer than expected. 

McDonnell said the discussion was about the “attitude” Labour should take and Jeremy Corbyn had given trade unions more time to decide.

He said: ”(Jeremy) had a meeting on the Monday before the last shadow cabinet and I thought the next day we were going to move forward.

“The unions asked for a bit more time and I don’t mind that - that’s the type of leader Jeremy is, he is a consensus builder.”

There should be no “panic” to switch Labour’s position, Unite boss Len McLuskey told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, as he blamed a “well-funded remain lobby” for creating a “toxic situation”.

He said: “There seems to be a panic to rush in order to establish a different position from one the Labour Party has had for a couple of years now, which is respecting the result of the 2016 referendum and trying to negotiate a deal which would unite the nation.

“Unfortunately we have had a prime minister who has made huge mistakes and a government which has been incapable of delivering Brexit.

“And we have had a well-funded Remain lobby that has turned the nation into a toxic situation.”

Turning to reports about Jeremy Corbyn’s failing health, McCluskey said the claims published in The Times were “fake news”. 

The Labour leader was “fit as a fiddle”, he insisted, adding that journalists at the paper “should be ashamed of themselves”. 

The newspaper reported on Saturday that senior party figures were concerned Corbyn had suffered a mini-stroke and that civil servants did not regard the opposition leader as “mentally or physically” fit to be prime minister. 

“They ought to be ashamed of themselves,” McCluskey said of the journalists behind the Times report. “It was fake news, it was lies, it was distortion.

“Jeremy Corbyn is fit as a fiddle, he is one of the strongest people I have ever met - people 20 years younger struggle to keep up with him...

“I don’t believe them at all - it’s the Murdoch press, of course they are going to attack and try to undermine Jeremy.”

Lib Dems 

The favourite to be the next leader of the Lib Dems - Jo Swinson - said she thinks her party could win the keys to Number 10 in the event of a general election.

“We could be better than kingmakers, there was a poll out yesterday that said we could actually, in one scenario, win that election with 30% of the vote,” she said.

When asked whether she thinks she could become prime minister in the event of a general election, she went on: “Yes. I think our politics are volatile at the moment, I think predictions are a bit of a mug’s game in politics.

“I do not put any limit on our ambitions for the Liberal Democrats because our country needs a liberal alternative.”

The party’s current deputy leader also said she was hopeful that there will be further MP defections to the Lib Dems, following Chuka Umunna’s move from Change UK.

She said: “I do have conversations, they’re private conversations.

“But I think in order for people to be able to talk frankly about what is a difficult step if somebody’s thinking about joining a new political party, then those need to be able to be kept private.”