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19 Jun 2019

Tory Leadership Candidates Feel the Heat in Live BBC Debate

Boris Johnson kicked off last night’s live leadership debate saying the UK ‘ will start to pay a really serious price’ if Brexit isn’t pushed through by October 31. Appearing alongside competitors Michael Gove, Jeremy Hunt, Sajid Javid and Rory Stewart – who couldn’t help but pull off his tie after a few minutes, Mr Johnson spoke on BBC One’s ‘Our Next Prime Minister’, presented by Emily Maitlis.

The first question came in from a Tory supporter, Lee from Norwich, who said: ‘As a lifelong Tory voter, I voted for the Brexit party at the Euro elections. Can you guarantee that you will get your Brexit plan through the Commons by 31 October?’

Candidates clashed over Brexit escape routes following the first question, with four of the five willing to accept a no-deal Brexit and Rory Stewart was the only one to rule it out entirely. Insisting it would not be possible to negotiate a new deal by October 31, Mr Stewart said the existing Withdrawal Agreement was the only way out of the EU.

Michael Gove said MPs could not just be presented with the same ‘cold porridge’ of Mrs May’s deal for a fourth time. He said: ‘We’ve run into that door three times already, Rory – we’ve got to have a different route out. ‘You cannot simply re-present the same cold porridge for a fourth time and ask people to say that’s what they want. ‘We need to have a different approach.’

Brexit Continues to Divide the Conservatives

Ruling out no-deal Brexit entirely, Boris Johnson said: ‘In the end we’re in a room with a door, and the door is called Parliament, and I am the only person here trying to find the key to the door. Everybody else is staring at the wall shouting “Believe in Britain”.’

Frontrunner Boris Johnson claimed that leaving on October 31 was ’eminently feasible’, agreeing with Sajid Javid that there must be a deadline. But Jeremy Hunt and Mr Gove both stressed how the date was arbitrary and getting a deal was more important than sticking rigidly to a date – although Mr Gove stressed he would guarantee leaving the EU before the end of 2019.

In response to a question about the Irish backstop, Mr Javid said he could solve the border issue using ‘existing technology’ – although BBC presenter Emily Maitlis pointed out that the existence of the technology to do so is in doubt. He said: ‘It is perfectly possible to have an open border with two different customs arrangements on either side of the border using existing technology. Unless we get out on October 31, I think that we will all start to pay a really serious price’

Candidates Defend “No-Deal” Stance

A second question came in from Carmela from Southampton, she said: ‘My husband is in the property business. Under no-deal, he could lose his job. Why are you even contemplating no-deal?’ Michael Gove said no-deal is being contemplated ‘because we have to leave the EU’. He added that ‘some parts of the UK would suffer. But we must put our democracy first’. Carmela said she had ‘not been reassured’ by the answer.

Sajid Javid suggested there was no issue with continuing free trade after Brexit – citing Article 24 of GATT – but adding that free trade would rely on the UK and EU both signing up and in the event of no deal, that will not happen. Mr Javid, who came fifth in Tuesday’s second round of voting, said a deadline was needed to “focus minds” in both the EU and the UK. “We have to learn from our mistakes,” he said. “One of the mistakes we have made is having a flexible deadline.”

Mr Hunt said he would back a no-deal exit as a “last resort” but if the UK was close to finalising a deal with the EU he would extend the talks to prevent the disruption a no-deal exit would cause to business. Both Mr Hunt and Mr Javid suggested new technology could potentially solve the intractable Irish border issue, but the EU has said there is currently none in use anywhere in the world that can keep it as open after Brexit as it is now.

Here’s a quick round-up of notable moments for leadership candidates in last night’s debate:

BORIS JOHNSON

Boris Johnson talked about his comments on Muslim women looking like letter boxes and said “I’m sorry or the offence they’ve caused”. He also reminded viewers his great-grandfather was Muslim and said he would be “astonished” his son could be the next Prime Minister.

JEREMY HUNT

Jeremy Hunt talked of his family and his children going to school “looking different than the others”. He added: “We are one of the most open outward-looking tolerant countries in the planet”. He was referring to his wife, who is from China and their three children.

MICHAEL GOVE

Michael Gove said his life “started in care”, when asked what he would do to reverse cuts that have affected children. Michael Gove said he plans to replace VAT with more flexible sales tax. He said he most understands working class people as his dad lost his small business and his mum was shop assistant. Jeremy Corbyn “isn’t interested in helping working people”, he added.

RORY STEWART

During the debate, Rory Stewart says MPs must do what the public wanted, but they also owe people “trust”. He added it will not be possible to negotiate a new deal by October 31, as it will take a long time to get a new deal.

SAJID JAVID

Sajid Javid says it is “essential that we act on those instructions” from the British people. “They are our bosses.” He says it is fundamental that Brexit must happen by 31 October and rules out an extension beyond that date.

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