Monday 15 July 2019

Boris Johnson defends himself in ill-tempered Tory clash

BBC handout photo of Boris Johnson (left ) and Jeremy Hunt during the BBC TV debate featuring the contestants for the leadership of the Conservative Party. Jeff Overs/BBC/PA Wire
BBC handout photo of Boris Johnson (left ) and Jeremy Hunt during the BBC TV debate featuring the contestants for the leadership of the Conservative Party. Jeff Overs/BBC/PA Wire

Jennifer McKiernan

Boris Johnson took a step closer to becoming the UK's next prime minister yesterday, winning 40pc of votes in the second round of the Tory leadership battle.

Mr Johnson, the face of the official Brexit campaign in the 2016 referendum, won 126 out of 313 votes and so goes through to a third ballot this afternoon with four other candidates who won 33 votes or more.

The former foreign minister was far ahead of the rest of the pack, stretching a lead which, for many, makes Mr Johnson the all-but-inevitable victor to replace Theresa May and take on the UK's ill-fated Brexit negotiations.

At a sometimes ill-tempered BBC debate last night, Mr Johnson repeated his pledge that he would take the UK out of the EU by October 31, again saying the only way to do so was to prepare for a so-called no-deal exit and concentrate on winning a new trade deal.

"We must come out on the 31st of October because, otherwise I am afraid we face a catastrophic loss of confidence in politics," Mr Johnson said.

"October 31 is eminently feasible. Let me just say if we now say that we have a deadline that is not a deadline and we allow October 31 to come and go as March came and went and April came and went I think the public will look upon us with increasing mystification."

Boris Johnson, Jeremy Hunt, Michael Gove, Sajid Javid and Rory Stewart appear on BBC TV's debate with candidates vying to replace British PM Theresa May, in London, Britain June 18, 2019. Jeff Overs/BBC/Handout via REUTERS
Boris Johnson, Jeremy Hunt, Michael Gove, Sajid Javid and Rory Stewart appear on BBC TV's debate with candidates vying to replace British PM Theresa May, in London, Britain June 18, 2019. Jeff Overs/BBC/Handout via REUTERS

With Mr Johnson so far ahead, the race is on for second place, with Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, Environment Secretary Michael Gove, International Development Secretary Rory Stewart and Home Secretary Sajid Javid all trying to prove they would be his toughest challenger.

The remaining five will now face votes until the race is whittled down to two candidates, who will face a postal ballot of the Conservative Party's largely pro-Brexit members. A new prime minister should be chosen by the end of July.

At the debate, the four other candidates - after former Brexit minister Dominic Raab was knocked out - tried to test Mr Johnson, a former London mayor who has so far been relatively silent in the campaign, even avoiding an earlier debate.

Mr Johnson has attracted criticism from his rivals for promising to cut income tax for high earners.

In last night's debate, Mr Johnson was also taken to task for past comments in which he offended Muslims, women and others. "In so far as my words have given offence over the last 20 or 30 years when I've been a journalist and people have taken those words out of my articles and escalated them... of course I am sorry for the offence they have caused," he said.

With four of the five candidates willing to accept a no-deal Brexit, Mr 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.

Flagging up how all the candidates had voted for Mrs May's deal, he called on them to do so again, saying: "Let's get on with it, let's vote it through, let's get it done."

But Mr Gove said MPs could not just be presented with the same "cold porridge" of Mrs May's deal for a fourth time.

In response to a question about the Border backstop, Mr Javid said he could solve the issue using "existing technology" - although BBC presenter Emily Maitlis immediately pointed out the existence of such technology 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."

Mr Johnson also said the issue could be solved during the implementation period.

"You can solve the questions of how to keep goods flowing freely across that Border whilst the UK comes out of the EU," he said.

Critics say the EU won't allow an implementation period if there's a no-deal Brexit as advocated by Mr Johnson.

Irish Independent

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