Monday 19 August 2019

I'm the underdog but I'll give Johnson the fight of his life, insists Tory hopeful Hunt

And then there were two: Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt are the only ones left standing after a series of votes by Conservative Party colleagues that reduced the field from 10 candidates. Photo: PA
And then there were two: Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt are the only ones left standing after a series of votes by Conservative Party colleagues that reduced the field from 10 candidates. Photo: PA

David Hughes

Tory leadership underdog Jeremy Hunt insists he can cause an upset by defeating Boris Johnson, despite only narrowly securing his place in the final stage of the contest.

The UK foreign secretary beat Michael Gove by just two votes but trailed a long way behind clear favourite Mr Johnson.

Mr Hunt admitted he was the underdog "but in politics surprises happen as they did today".

"We are going to give Boris the fight of his life," Mr Hunt added.

"He needs to be ready for that because we're going to be going out there and making strong arguments that this is the best way to deliver Brexit, with someone who can go and get a better deal from the European Union."

Former foreign secretary Mr Johnson secured support from more than half of the Tory party in the House of Commons with 160 votes, while Mr Hunt collected 77 votes and Mr Gove 75.

The result in the fifth and final ballot came after Mr Gove had managed to finish second in the fourth round, sending shockwaves through the contest.

Allies of Mr Hunt urged MPs not to risk the "personal psychodrama" of a run-off involving the environment secretary and his rival Mr Johnson. Mr Gove's decision to stand for the leadership in 2016 scuppered Mr Johnson's campaign and the wounds have never healed.

There was also widespread speculation, denied by Mr Johnson, that supporters of the frontrunner were being encouraged to vote tactically in order to prevent Mr Gove reaching the final ballot.

Following the elimination of Sajid Javid from the race yesterday morning with 34 votes, at least five of his supporters - Chris Philp, Chris Skidmore, Mims Davies, Kevin Foster and Mike Wood - said they would switch to Mr Johnson.

But the former foreign secretary's vote tally increased only by three, raising eyebrows at Westminster.

Mr Johnson said he was "deeply honoured" by the result and "I look forward to getting out across the UK and to set out my plan to deliver Brexit, unite our country, and create a brighter future for all of us".

The final outcome of the leadership contest will not be known until the week beginning July 22, with the two remaining candidates taking part in a series of hustings in front of Tory members around the country before the votes are counted.

Mr Johnson and Mr Hunt will also take part in a head-to-head debate on ITV on July 9.

Mr Hunt, the son of an admiral, studied philosophy, politics, and economics at Oxford.

After working as an English teacher in Japan, he went on to found an educational publishing firm.

He speaks fluent Japanese and has a Chinese wife.

After Mr Johnson resigned as foreign secretary, Mr Hunt, while on a visit to China, accidentally referred to his wife as Japanese.

He supported remaining in the EU in the 2016 referendum but has since promised to lead the UK out of the bloc.

Mr Hunt says that while he would prefer to leave the EU with a deal, he believes a no-deal exit is better than no Brexit.

He was the most senior figure vying to succeed Theresa May to reject a threat to leave with no deal by the end of October, saying MPs would block any such move.

"Any prime minister who promised to leave the EU by a specific date - without the time to renegotiate and pass a new deal - would, in effect, be committing to a general election the moment parliament tried to stop it," he said.

"And trying to deliver no deal through a general election is not a solution; it is political suicide. A different deal is, therefore, the only solution. That means negotiations that take us out of the customs union while generously respecting legitimate concerns about the Irish Border."

Irish Independent

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