UK Politics

Conservative PM candidates face final hustings

Jeremy Hunt and Boris Johnson Image copyright EPA/Getty

The two candidates to become the UK's next prime minister have made their final pitch to the Conservative Party.

Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt took part in the final leadership hustings at the London Excel Centre on Wednesday, in front of more than 2,000 Tory members.

It came ahead of the final day the 160,000 members can post their votes to choose their next leader.

Brexit dominated the conversation, although feminism and hair-dye also made an appearance.

The winner of the contest will be announced on 23 July, and take office the following day.

On Brexit

Both candidates were asked about their views on the deal Theresa May negotiated with the EU - turned down by MPs three times - and what they would change.

It came after a head-to-head debate earlier this week, where Mr Johnson and Mr Hunt declared the Irish backstop - the insurance policy part of the deal to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland after Brexit - was "dead".

Mr Johnson said the outgoing PM's deal was "effectively defunct", but it was the backstop element that he found "the most difficult".

"We would see a division between the union between and Great Britain and Northern Ireland and I think that's an utterly intolerable choice," he added.

"So as far as I'm concerned the backstop won't work."

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Media captionJohnson: PM's deal "effectively defunct"

Asked if the whole withdrawal agreement was dead, Mr Hunt said: "As it is now, yes."

"I want to get a deal and so we have got to make some profound changes to that withdrawal agreement."

But Mr Hunt said his plan didn't mean "ripping up" Mrs May's deal - instead it was the backstop that "had to go".

"If you are saying that we will remove any guarantees over not having hard border infrastructure in the island of Ireland, then no," he added.

"I think there is agreement in our party that we can never go back to a hard border in the island of Ireland."

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Media captionJeremy Hunt said the withdrawal agreement needs "profound changes"

On Feminism

The candidates said they were both feminists and backed equality between the sexes.

However, they both ruled out championing all-female shortlists to get more female Conservative MPs.

Mr Johnson said: "I want to encourage young women to get into politics, join our party and to lead our party. That is the way it should be.

"But I am not certain introducing quotas, which areā€¦ by their nature discriminatory, is the way to solve the problem."

Mr Hunt said: "I'm not in favour... because we are a meritocracy and I think the risk is that devalues the achievement that a woman makes when she achieves the job, if she thinks she got it because of her sex.

"But that doesn't mean there aren't a thousand other things we can do to help people reach their potential."

On hair dye

It was alleged by the compere, LBC presenter Iain Dale, that the talk among political journalists at the hustings was that Boris Johnson dyed his hair.

But Mr Johnson denied such an accusation, saying: "Never. Outrageous suggestion. What with?"

For a matter of "balance", Mr Dale asked the same question to Mr Hunt.

He also denied it, but added: "I have got a few grey ones mind you. I might have to start."

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