UK Politics

Hunt urges Johnson to 'be straight with people' over no-deal Brexit

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Media captionWhat some Tory voters think of Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt

Jeremy Hunt has urged Tory leadership rival Boris Johnson to "be straight with people" about what a no-deal Brexit would mean.

The foreign secretary said Mr Johnson's "million to one" claim about the chance of a no-deal "flies in the face of reality".

Mr Johnson said any suggestion Brexit could be delayed again would "end up eroding trust in politics".

Both men have said they would try to renegotiate a deal with the EU.

But Mr Johnson says the UK must leave the EU on 31 October, "do or die", with or without a deal.

Mr Hunt says he would leave without a deal in October if there was no prospect of leaving with one - but has not ruled out a further delay and has called 31 October a "fake deadline".

They are competing for Conservative Party members' votes in the race to replace Theresa May as Conservative leader - and prime minister.

At a hustings in Bournemouth, Mr Johnson was asked if he would rule out suspending Parliament - a controversial move - in order to push through a no-deal Brexit.

Describing it as an "archaic device", he said: "I'm not attracted to the idea of a no-deal exit from the EU but, you know, I think it would be absolutely folly to rule it out. I think it's an essential tool of our negotiation.

"I don't envisage the circumstances in which it will be necessary to prorogue Parliament, nor am I attracted to that expedient."

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 Organization rules.

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Mr Johnson has said a mechanism known as GATT 24 could be used to prevent tariffs, if there was a no-deal Brexit.

But in a letter to his rival, Mr Hunt quoted Leave-backing cabinet ministers Liam Fox and Geoffrey Cox, who have argued that this would require a deal with the EU.

In his letter, he asked: "Who is correct: You, or the Attorney General and the International Trade Secretary?"

He also questioned Mr Johnson's suggestion that a free trade agreement could be negotiated during an "implementation period", if no deal was reached - saying it was a "fact" that without a deal, there would be no implementation period and Brussels negotiators put the political cohesion of the EU before economics.

"We must be careful to face the facts as we find them. Will you be straight with people that no deal means no implementation period?"

At the hustings, Mr Johnson criticised Mr Hunt's suggestion that the current Brexit deadline of 31 October could be delayed again - having been pushed back from 29 March after MPs repeatedly rejected the deal Mrs May had agreed with the EU.

"Anybody who proposes any further delay is simply going to end up eroding trust in politics, eroding people's confidence in our democratic institutions further," he said.

"And further weakening out great Conservative Party and our mission to lead this country.

"And it simply won't work. Kick the can again and we kick the bucket, my friends, that's the sad reality."

Compare the candidates' policies

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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.

He also stood by his suggestion that the chances of leaving the EU without a deal were a "million to one", arguing there had been a "change in mood in Westminster" and that there was now a "growing opportunity to get this thing done with style".

In other answers from the hustings, Mr Hunt suggested he would quit as PM if he failed to deliver Brexit. Asked if he would "fall on his sword", he said: "Of course, no PM is going to last any time at all if they don't deliver Brexit and deliver it very quickly."

He also ruled out involving Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage in negotiations with the EU: "Nigel Farage doesn't want a deal, he wants a WTO Brexit straight away.

"And while I would be prepared to do that if there was no other alternative and I'm absolutely clear about that, I think it would be much better for our businesses and much better for our Union if we could get a deal and I haven't given up on that."

Mr Johnson dismissed his rival's pledge to cancel student debts for some entrepreneurs, saying: "I think people, a lot of people, would automatically be defining themselves as entrepreneurs."

"I think the more sensible things to look at are the interest rate, and a reduction of the interest rate, also looking at the cost of maintenance because I think those are very, very high and that people are paying a lot of money back over a long time."

The candidates are set to face each other at an ITV debate on 9 July and at an event hosted by the Sun newspaper and talkRADIO on 15 July.