Boris Johnson v Jeremy Hunt: The Key Moments Of Fiery TV Debate

9 July 2019, 21:25 | Updated: 10 July 2019, 07:45

Boris Johnson faced off against Jeremy Hunt
Boris Johnson faced off against Jeremy Hunt. Picture: Britain’s Next Prime Minister: The ITV Debate

Jeremy Hunt's accused his rival in the Tory leadership race of "peddling optimism" about Brexit. But speaking during a Tory leadership debate Mr Johnson disputed the cost to businesses of leaving without a deal.

Boris Johnson used his opening statement in the ITV head-to-head debate with Jeremy Hunt to promise he would give the UK its "mojo" back.

In his opening statement the Tory leadership hopeful said: "This country faces a momentous choice - we can either continue with the same old, failed, can-kicking approach, destroying trust in politics, sapping business confidence.

"Or else we can change, get back our mojo, restore this country's reputation around the world and put ourselves on the path to long-term success."

He vowed to get Brexit done by October 31 and pledged more money for schools, police and promised full-fibre broadband for all.

Mr Johnson said he would be able to take on the "semi-Marxist, wealth and job-destroying lunacy of Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party".

Jeremy Hunt used his opening statement in the debate to claim he was the candidate who could have an appeal beyond the Tory party.

"As a tough negotiator, I'll deliver Brexit but so much more," he said.

Highlighting his experience as an entrepreneur, the former health secretary and current Foreign Secretary, said: "In poll after poll I am the public's preferred choice for prime minister because I appeal not just to those who already vote Conservative but those we need to win.

"And to those watching at home I will be your prime minister, whoever you vote for, as I bring together our amazing United Kingdom."

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.

"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," he said.

"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."

The Foreign Secretary, whose birthday is on November 1, earlier said "nothing would be a better birthday present than knowing we have left on the 31st October".

Jeremy Hunt said he did not want an election before Brexit was delivered - something that Boris Johnson risked with his "do or die" commitment to October 31.

Mr Johnson said it was "totally defeatist not to set a hard deadline".

But the Foreign Secretary told Mr Johnson: "Being prime minister is about telling people what they need to hear, not just what they want to hear."

Accusing Mr Johnson of simply "peddling optimism" he said: "We need leadership that is going to guide us through a big constitutional crisis and make a great success of Brexit, that means being honest with people about the challenges."

Asked if he would be prepared to suspend Parliament to force through a no-deal Brexit, Jeremy Hunt said: "When that has happened in the past, when Parliament has been shut down against its will, we actually had a civil war.

"I think it would be a rather curious thing to do, if this is about taking back control for Parliament, to actually shut it down."

He challenged Mr Johnson to rule it out, but the former London mayor said: "I'm not going to take anything off the table, any more than I'm going to take no deal off the table.

"I think it's absolutely bizarre at this stage in the negotiations for the UK - yet again - to be weakening its own position."

On the UK-US diplomatic spat, Mr Johnson said: "I think it is absolutely vital that the advice that civil servants give to ministers should not be leaked by ministers and should not be commented on by ministers if civil servants are going to feel free to give that advice with the impartiality that they want."

But he refused to say whether he would keep Sir Kim Darroch in post as UK ambassador to the US, saying: "It is vital that our civil service is not politicised by ministers leaking what they say. Whoever leaked that deserves to be eviscerated."

Mr Hunt said: "Who chooses our ambassadors is a matter for the United Kingdom Government and the United Kingdom prime minister and I have made it clear if I am our next prime minister the ambassador in Washington stays because it is our decision."

He added that he would "certainly keep him (Sir Kim) until he is due to retire".

Boris Johnson was challenged on his comments about Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe during his time as foreign secretary.

The Tory leadership hopeful had wrongly stated that the British-Iranian prisoner was training journalists, something that was seized on by the Iranian regime.

Mr Johnson said: "I have the utmost sympathy for her, for her family and the other cases that are similar."

He added: "It's very, very important that when you consider those cases that we all point the blame where it belongs, which is with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard who are detaining not just Nazanin but several others in a way that is inhumane, illegal and unfair.

"They are responsible and we should not inadvertently exculpate them in any way."

Jeremy Hunt was challenged about the junior doctors' strike while he was health secretary.

He said he had been acting to tackle a problem of excess deaths at weekends.

"I would not be a prime minister who courted popularity, I would be a prime minister who did the right thing," he said.

Jeremy Hunt added: "Boris campaigned for £350 million a week extra for the NHS.

"I actually delivered it, I'll deliver Brexit as well."

Asked what quality they most admired in their opponent as a future prime minister, Mr Johnson said: "I greatly admire his (Mr Hunt's) ability to change his mind and campaign for Brexit now and I think that's a very important attribute."

Mr Hunt said: "I really admire Boris's ability to answer the question. I think he has this great ability - you ask him a question, he puts a smile on your face, and you forget what the question was.

"It's a brilliant quality for a politician, maybe not a prime minister though."

If you missed the debate you can watch it in full here and you can see Iain Dale's expert analysis.