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UK: Tory leadership race – contenders clash over Brexit

From BBC


Contenders to replace Theresa May as Conservative leader have clashed over delivering Brexit during a TV debate.

The MPs argued over whether a new deal could be renegotiated with the EU, and the prospect of a no-deal Brexit.

Leadership hopefuls appeared before a studio audience at a debate hosted by Channel 4 News in east London.

Boris Johnson did not take part, arguing that debates with several candidates “can be slightly cacophonous”.

Four of the five candidates argued against closing down Parliament in order to push through a no-deal Brexit by 31 October.

The UK had been due to leave the EU on 29 March, but EU leaders agreed to delay the date to October after MPs repeatedly rejected Theresa May’s Brexit deal.

International Development Secretary Rory Stewart said it was a “deeply disturbing” option and Home Secretary Sajid Javid warned “you don’t deliver democracy by trashing out democracy.”

However ex-Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab refused to rule it out, saying “every time one of these candidates take an option away… we weaken our chances of getting the best deal.”

Conservative leadership candidates
Image captionChannel 4 set up an empty podium for Boris Johnson, who declined to take part in the debate

No-deal Brexit?

The candidates also argued over whether a no-deal Brexit should be considered.

Sajid Javid said no deal was the “last thing” he wanted but added: “You do plan for no deal precisely because you want a deal.”

Dominic Raab said Britain would be able to “manage those risks” associated with leaving the EU without a deal.

However Mr Stewart said “I think a no-deal Brexit is a complete nonsense,” adding “it would be deeply damaging for our economy.”

The candidates were united in condemnation of the Labour leader with Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt accusing Jeremy Corbyn of being “against aspiration”.

Environment Secretary Michael Gove argued he was the candidate Mr Corbyn would be most scared of facing at Prime Minister’s Questions.

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The UK’s next prime minister

Number 10 Downing Street
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BBC reporter Matt Cole said the warmest responses in the room seemed to be for Rory Stewart and the most testy exchanges were over Brexit.

Beyond Brexit

The politicians were asked about their priorities apart from Brexit.

Sajid Javid chose funding education and further education colleges, saying: “We have cut back too much in that space.”

Dominic Raab said he wanted to improve state schools and offer more choices for young apprenticeships, while Michael Gove said children would be his top priority and emphasised the importance of protecting the environment for the future.

Jeremy Hunt told the audience “every Conservative has two desires: cut taxes and spend more on public services.” He also said he would focus on literacy and the social care system.

Rory Stewart also said his central priority would be fixing the adult social care describing the issue as “the great unfinished revolution”.

Biggest weakness?

The candidates were also asked about their biggest weaknesses.

Michael Gove said he was impatient, while Dominic Raab said he was “a restless soul” who “always wanted to make things better”.

Sajid Javid admitted to being stubborn while Rory Stewart said there were “many things he didn’t’ know about the world”. However, he added “we need leaders who listen” and criticised “macho posturing”.

Jeremy Hunt suggested others might say his biggest weakness was “getting my wife’s nationality wrong” – referring to a time he got muddled about whether his wife was Chinese or Japanese.

‘Where’s Boris?’

Meanwhile, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt attacked Mr Johnson for failing to appear at the debate.

“Where’s Boris,” he asked, adding “if his team won’t allow him out with five fairly friendly colleagues, how is is he going to deal with 27 European countries”.

Rory Stewart also made a pointed dig at his absent colleague, saying he hoped “one of us” – referring to the MPs who had attended the debate – becomes prime minister.

Speaking to Radio 4’s World at One earlier, Mr Johnson said he was “pretty bewildered” by claims he was dodging scrutiny.

“I think the public have had quite a lot of blue-on-blue action, frankly, over the last three years,” he added.

He said the best time for a debate was on Tuesday after the second ballot.

The candidates will go on to take part in further ballots until only two remain.

The final pair will be put to a vote of the 160,000 members of the Conservative Party from 22 June. The winner is expected to be announced about four weeks later.

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On Tuesday 18 June BBC One will host a live election debate, hosted by Emily Maitlis, between the Conservative MPs who remain in the race.

The participants will face questions from viewers across the country via local TV studios.

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