Boris Johnson lays down gauntlet to Jeremy Hunt after rival mocks Sky News debate no-show

25 June 2019, 12:33 | Updated: 25 June 2019, 17:15

Boris Johnson has thrown down the gauntlet to Jeremy Hunt, after his Tory leadership rival mocked his refusal to take part in a head-to-head Sky News debate.

Mr Johnson has sent a letter to Mr Hunt, calling on him to guarantee he would take Britain out of the EU on 31 October and not ask Brussels for another extension.

He wrote on Twitter: "If I become PM, we will leave the EU on 31st October, deal or no deal. Today I have asked @Jeremy_Hunt whether he will also commit to this date, no matter what.

"We must keep our promises to the British people and deliver Brexit - no ifs, no buts, and no second referendum."

Mr Hunt quickly replied: "Hi Boris, it's good to talk. But no need for snail-mail, why not turn up to Sky tonight and I'll give you full and frank answers? #BoJoNoShow."

It comes after Mr Hunt taunted his rival's refusal to take him on in a head-to-head Sky News debate, calling it a "BoJoNoShow".

Mr Hunt had committed to take part in the debate with Mr Johnson this evening as the pair battle for the keys to Number 10.

Sky News has postponed the live broadcast until 1 July because Mr Johnson has so far declined the invitation.

The foreign secretary said he would instead answer people's questions on Twitter and announced the plan with the hashtag #BoJoNoShow.

He tweeted: "Tonight I was meant to be debating Boris Johnson on Sky, answering questions about our plans for Britain.

"Sadly, Boris has pulled out - which I don't believe is fair on you, the public. So from 8pm I will be answering as many of your questions as poss - tweet me using #BoJoNoShow."

Mr Johnson's supporters were quick to criticise the hashtag and express disappointment in Mr Hunt for the tone of his campaign.

Speaking to Nick Ferrari on LBC earlier, Mr Johnson batted away claims he is a coward, pointing to the 16 further hustings he and Mr Hunt will do before the leadership contest wraps up in about four weeks' time.

As he left his London home this morning, Mr Hunt said of his and Mr Johnson's Brexit strategy: "The plan may be similar but the person is not."

Asked about his rival's plan, he said: "That's for him to explain, it's why we want the debates."

On whether the EU would budge on the Irish backstop issue he said: "If we send the right person, we have the best chance."

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Following the morning's cabinet meeting, Mr Hunt was at the dispatch box in the House of Commons, where he appeared to win the backing of shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry, who congratulated him for making the final two.

She said: "It gives me an opportunity to congratulate the foreign secretary directly, not just for being in the final two, getting into the final two, but also being the only candidate who has the police outside his house for the right reasons."

Mr Hunt called his rival a "coward" on Monday and said that Mr Johnson's refusal to take part in the debate was "disrespectful" to Conservative Party members who have about two weeks to consider their choices before their postal ballots arrive.

On Twitter, Mr Johnson has committed to a similar event hosted by ITV next month.