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Key moments in Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt’s head-to-head debate

Politics | Published: | Last Updated:

With barbed praise and being told ‘gentlemen please!’, the Tory leadership campaigners faced off in an often rowdy debate.

Tory leadership race

Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt sparred in a sometimes noisy debate for what was their only scheduled head-to-head encounter of the Tory leadership campaign.

Here are some of the key moments of the ITV show:

– Do or die, but whose neck is on the line?

Tory leadership race
The two rivals went head to head (ITV/PA)

Mr Johnson refused to say whether he would resign if he failed to deliver Brexit by the Halloween deadline when pressed by his rival.

Despite calling that date “do or die”, Mr Johnson repeatedly dodged giving a direct answer and instead stressed it was “very, very important not to envisage any circumstances” for failure.

“I don’t want to hold out to the EU the prospect that they might encourage my resignation by refusing to agree a deal,” he continued.

But Mr Hunt carried on pressing.

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“I think it’s do or die for the country but not a prime minister who will put his own neck on the line and that is not leadership,” Mr Hunt said.

“It’s not do or die, is it? It’s Boris in No 10 that matters.”

– But is the deadline a real deadline?

Mr Johnson, too, swiped at his rival when he criticised Mr Hunt for saying that the departure could be delayed if a new deal is in sight.

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“If we go into these negotiations from the beginning with a plan to allow that deadline yet again to be fungible, to be a papier-mache deadline, I’m afraid that the EU will not take us seriously,” Mr Johnson said.

Mr Hunt, whose birthday is on November 1, earlier said “nothing would be a better birthday present than knowing we have left on October 31”.

Julie Etchingham
Julie Etchingham was praised for her role (ITV/PA)

– ‘Gentlemen please!’: The squabbling rivals scrapped repeatedly

It was early on in the debate when moderator Julie Etchingham admonished the men with “you will not help if you speak over one another”.

The journalist went on to shoot at them: “Gentlemen please!”

But those were not the most chaotic segments by some stretch.

When clashing over tax cuts, nearly two minutes passed before Mr Hunt fully responded, as he faced noisy interjections and chatted back to the frontrunner.

Ms Etchingham did her best to control the debate, at one point saying: “Thank you, stop, please Mr Johnson, thank you, thank you! Mr Johnson.”

The cross-talking continued – with some laughter from the audience – until some 100 seconds later.

The moderator concluded: “Right I’m going to draw a line under there, thank you both, enough, finished with that, thank you.”

Channel 4 News presenter Cathy Newman decided there was only one “bloody brilliant” winner.

“Julie for PM anyone?!” she tweeted.

– Mr Hunt backs Sir Kim Darroch, while Mr Johnson equivocates

Both candidates were questioned over the diplomatic spat between the UK and the US, which has seen President Donald Trump fire off hostile tweets aimed at the ambassador and Theresa May.

Mr Hunt, the Foreign Secretary, said he would “certainly” keep Sir Kim in his post until his retirement date later this year.

But Mr Johnson answered: “It is vital that our civil service is not politicised by ministers leaking what they say. Whoever leaked that deserves to be eviscerated.”

– LGBT and women’s rights in Northern Ireland

UK gay marriage
Members of the LGBT community celebrate (Peter Morrison/PA)

On a day when MPs overwhelmingly voted to liberalise access to abortion and allow same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland if devolution is not restored, the candidates were asked their views.

Asked if he would extend the rights to Northern Ireland, Mr Hunt replied simply: “Yes.”

However Mr Johnson said: “I think it’s a matter for the people of Northern Ireland and one of the most important reasons for getting government in Northern Ireland back up and running.”

– Both were forced to defend their previous roles in Cabinet

Mr Johnson was challenged on his comments about Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who remains in jail in Iran.

He had wrongly said, as foreign secretary, that the mother was training journalists, something that was seized on by the Iranian regime.

On Tuesday, Mr Johnson said he has the “utmost sympathy” for Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe and her family, but deflected criticism towards the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.

“They are responsible and we should not inadvertently exculpate them in any way,” he said.

Mr Hunt was challenged about the junior doctors’ strike in his former role as health secretary.

“I would not be a prime minister who courted popularity, I would be a prime minister who did the right thing,” he said.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe remains in jail (Family handout/PA)

– Barbed praise all round

The debate closed with both candidates being asked perhaps the toughest question of the night: What one quality do you most admire in your opponent as future PM?

Mr Johnson complimented his rival for flip-flopping from his original backing of Remain to his Brexit stance.

Mr Johnson said: “I greatly admire his (Mr Hunt’s) ability to change his mind and campaign for Brexit now and I think that’s a very important attribute.”

Mr Hunt said: “I really admire Boris’s ability to answer the question. I think he has this great ability – you ask him a question, he puts a smile on your face, and you forget what the question was.

“It’s a brilliant quality for a politician, maybe not a prime minister though.”

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