UK Politics

Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt divided over Brexit plans

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Media captionJeremy Hunt says he is the right man to negotiate a new deal

Tory leadership rivals Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt are at loggerheads over how the UK should leave the EU.

Both contenders for prime minister claim they can renegotiate a Brexit deal that the EU says is closed.

Mr Johnson said the UK must leave on 31 October "deal or no deal" but Mr Hunt called this a "fake deadline" that could trigger a general election if Parliament rejects a no-deal Brexit.

The winner of the contest will take over from Theresa May on 24 July.

The two men will face more questions from the public on Wednesday in a digital hustings, streamed on the Conservative Party's Facebook and Twitter accounts.

'No respect'

In an interview with Talk Radio, Mr Johnson insisted he would take the UK out of the EU by Halloween "come what may, do or die" and has challenged his opponent to make the same commitment.

Mr Hunt said he was prepared to leave without a deal, but not if there was a "prospect of a better deal".

During a phone-in on BBC Radio 2's Jeremy Vine Show, the Mr Hunt agreed with a caller who said the EU was "treating us like dirt", adding: "I don't think they've shown respect for us at all."

He has secured the backing of Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson - who supported Sajid Javid and then Michael Gove in previous rounds - because she said he had "put the Union first".

A no-deal exit would see the UK leave the customs union and single market overnight and start trading with the EU on World Trade Organisation rules.

Opponents say it would cause huge disruption at the borders and be catastrophic to many firms reliant on trade with the continent - supporters say any negative effects would be manageable.

The EU has repeatedly insisted it will not re-open negotiations on the withdrawal agreement drawn up between Brussels and Theresa May - rejected three times by MPs.

On Wednesday, a European Commission spokeswoman confirmed that remained the bloc's position even if the only alternative was a no-deal exit.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Jeremy Hunt said he is prepared to leave the EU without a deal
Image copyright PA
Image caption The foreign secretary was on the campaign trail in Chelmsford, Essex, on Wednesday

Earlier, former Brexit secretary Dominic Raab, who is backing Mr Johnson, said Mr Hunt had shown "weakness" and "naivety" by entertaining the possibility of another extension.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme it would be the "EU's choice" to see the UK leave without an agreement, adding: "There is nothing stopping us getting a deal by October, if there's the political will."

He predicted "vanishingly few" Tory MPs would vote to bring down a government pursuing a no-deal exit in a vote of no confidence - even though Defence Minister Tobias Ellwood has said "a dozen or so" Conservatives could support such a move.

GATT dispute

It comes as International Trade Secretary Liam Fox - who is backing Mr Hunt - again criticised Mr Johnson's claim that the UK could continue tariff-free trade with the EU in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

Mr Johnson has argued that a provision under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade - known as GATT 24 - could be used to avoid tariffs for up to 10 years.

But Mr Fox said this would require the agreement of the EU, which Brussels has made clear it would not give.

On Tuesday, Mr Johnson conceded that his plan would require the approval of the rest of the EU, but insisted it was still "an option".

Why EU is unfazed by no-deal threats

Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt say they are serious about pushing for a no-deal Brexit if they are unable to negotiate a better withdrawal agreement with Brussels.

Yet the EU seems unfazed. Why, when we know EU leaders want to avoid a no-deal Brexit?

Part of the reason, at least, is time.

It's summer. European capitals are sweltering under a heatwave with government ministers counting the days until they hit the beach or find some cool mountain air.

The day the Brexit extension runs out - 31 October - seems an eternity away in political terms.

Also, just as Messrs Johnson and Hunt do not accept the EU's word when it says the Withdrawal Agreement cannot and will not be re-negotiated, EU leaders do not take them at their word when they threaten no deal by the end of October.

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Former leadership candidate Rory Stewart, who is backing Mr Hunt, said the problem with Mr Johnson's plan was that he was just telling people "what they want to hear".

The international development secretary told the Today programme Mr Johnson was "pretending he has a magic solution" which was "not going to damage them at all", but the reality was he was going to let people down.

He also said he would definitely vote against a Tory government to stop a no-deal Brexit, but would stop short of backing a no confidence vote.

Compare the candidates' policies

Select a topic and a candidate to find out more

BREXIT

Jeremy Hunt
Foreign Secretary

- Wants to leave with a deal, but says he would back a no-deal Brexit with "a heavy heart" if necessary. - Will create a new negotiating team to produce an "alternative exit deal" to Theresa May’s plan, and engage with EU leaders over August. - Will present a provisional no-deal Brexit budget in early September and decide by the end of the month if there is a "realistic chance" of a new deal. - If not, will abandon talks and focus on no deal preparations. - Pledges to cover the cost of tariffs imposed on the exports of the farming and fishing industries in the case of a no-deal Brexit.

Boris Johnson
Backbencher

- Vows to leave the EU by the 31 October deadline "come what may", but claims the chance of a no-deal Brexit is a "million to one". - Wants to negotiate a new deal, which will include replacing the Irish backstop with alternative arrangements. - Will not hand over the £39bn divorce settlement with the EU until the UK gets a new deal. - If a new deal is not agreed, will ask the EU for a "standstill period" to negotiate a free trade deal. - Argues a provision under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, known as GATT 24, could be used for the UK to avoid tariffs for the next 10 years, but admits it would need EU sign off. - Promises to support the rural community in a no-deal Brexit scenario with "price support" and "efficiency payments".

IMMIGRATION

Jeremy Hunt
Foreign Secretary

- Calls for flexibility on immigration, saying skilled workers should be prioritised. - Wants to review policy of stopping migrants with less than £30,000 coming to the UK to work. - Pledges to scrap the target to reduce net migration to below 100,000.

Boris Johnson
Backbencher

- Wants a new Australian-style points-based system, considering factors such as whether an immigrant has a firm job offer and their ability to speak English. - Will get Migration Advisory Committee to examine the plan. - Wants to block the ability for immigrants to claim benefits immediately after the arrive in the UK. - Opposes the net migration target of under 100,000 a year.

TAX

Jeremy Hunt
Foreign Secretary

- As an entrepreneur, he wants to turn Britain into "the next Silicon Valley... a hub of innovation". - Wants to cut corporation tax to 12.5%. - Wants to raise the point at which workers start paying National Insurance to at least £12,000 a year. - Pledges to scrap business rates for 90% of high street shops. - Will increase the tax-free annual investment allowance from £1m to £5m.

Boris Johnson
Backbencher

- Pledges to raise the tax threshold for the higher rate to £80,000 (rather than the current £50,000). - Wants to raise the point at which workers start paying income tax. - Will review “unhealthy food taxes” such as sugar tax on soft drinks.

SPENDING

Jeremy Hunt
Foreign Secretary

- Wants to increase defence spending by £15bn over the next five years. - Promises to keep free TV licenses for the over-75s. - Wants to build 1.5 million homes and create a “right to own” scheme for young people. - Backs both HS2 and a third runway at Heathrow.

Boris Johnson
Backbencher

- Pledges more money for public sector workers and wants to increase the National Living Wage. - Will “find the money” to recruit an extra 20,000 police officers by 2022. - Promises to maintain spending 0.7% of GDP on Foreign Aid. - Wants to review the HS2 train project. - Pledges full fibre broadband in every home by 2025.

HEALTH AND SOCIAL CARE

Jeremy Hunt
Foreign Secretary

- Promises more funding for social care. - Wants to introduce an opt out insurance system to fund future care, similar to the way pensions work. - Wants to target manufacturers of unhealthy foods to make them cut the sugar content. - Mental health support to be offered in every school and a crackdown on social media companies that fail to regulate their content.

Boris Johnson
Backbencher

- Rules out a pay-for-access NHS, saying it would remain "free to everybody at the point of use" under his leadership. - Has previously said money spent on the EU could be put into the NHS. - Plans to give public sector workers a "fair" pay rise, according to supporter Health Secretary Matt Hancock. - Says more should be spent on social care, according to a cross-party "national consensus".

EDUCATION

Jeremy Hunt
Foreign Secretary

- Pledges to write off tuition fees for young entrepreneurs who start a new business and employ more than 10 people for five years. - Wants to reduce interest rates on student debt repayments. - Long-term plan to provide more funding for the teaching profession. - Wants to abolish illiteracy.

Boris Johnson
Backbencher

- Wants to raise per-pupil spending in primary and secondary schools, with a minimum of £5,000 for each student in the latter. - Wants to look at lowering the interest rate on student debts.

Mr Johnson continues to face scrutiny about Friday's row with his girlfriend Carrie Symonds, which prompted neighbours to call the police.

After days of criticism that he was hiding away, Mr Johnson undertook a series of media and public appearances on Tuesday - but declined to answer questions about the argument.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Mr Johnson spoke to members of the public in Surrey as part of a series of appearances on Tuesday

On Tuesday Mr Hunt told the BBC the next prime minister should be someone who is "trustworthy" and the ability to negotiate a new Brexit deal was about "personality", but stopped short of directly criticising his rival.

The day before, Mr Johnson told the BBC anyone questioning his character was "talking absolute nonsense".

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