Tory leadership debate: who came out on top?

Boris Johnson flaunted optimism but Jeremy Hunt managed to undermine him on detail

Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt, rivals to become Britain's next prime minister, clashed over who could be most trusted on Brexit in a sometimes bad-natured TV debate just two weeks before one takes the keys to 10 Downing Street. Video: ITV/Reuters

 

Overall pitch

Boris Johnson: Pitched himself as the candidate to give Brexit its “mojo” back, and got applause for his insistence that energy and optimism was important when it came to delivering a departure from the European Union. The favourite contrasted his determination to get the UK “off the hamster wheel of doom” with the “managerial” approach that Theresa May – and Jeremy Hunt – have had so far.

Jeremy Hunt: Gave familiar lines that he would deliver Brexit because he is an experienced negotiator and has been an entrepreneur. He also promised to invest in “our brilliant armed forces” and boasted of having won a marginal seat – even though his South West Surrey constituency has always been Conservative.

Best line

Johnson: Steered mostly clear of attacks on Hunt but he did deliver one stinging remark near the end, saying he “greatly admires Jeremy’s ability to change his mind”, highlighting his rival’s conversion from remainer to Brexiter.

Hunt: There were a few zingers that took aim at Johnson but one of the best was his attack on his rival’s vagueness about Brexit trade tariff policy. “Getting details like that wrong is fine for a newspaper column but if you’re prime minister that is people’s jobs at stake,” Hunt said.

BREXIT: The Facts

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Strategy

Johnson: His main aim in the debate was to get through it without any major gaffes and to ram home his message that he would take the UK out of the EU no matter what by October 31st. He pretty much achieved that, with a performance that was short on jokes and long on pre-rehearsed lines about his ability to see off both the Brexit Party and Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour. The only slight slip-up seemed to be his mention of a “forthcoming election”, which appeared to imply it could be sooner than 2022.

Hunt: He had his first and only opportunity to directly take on Johnson, attacking him on his weak spots of being poor on detail and most interested in his own ambition. He managed to deliver some cutting pre-prepared lines, saying: “Because Boris never answers the question we’ve absolutely no idea what a Boris premiership would be like.”

Worst moment

Johnson: Struggled over the issue of why he is targeting income tax cuts at higher earners, saying it was “part of a package”. Hunt (himself prioritising tax cuts for businesses) said it was not helping dispel the Conservatives’ image as a “party of the rich” and argued any income tax cuts should be for lower earners. This riled Johnson to the extent that he lamented even having to take part in the event, saying: “This is one of the reasons that blue-on-blue debates are so embarrassing.”

Hunt: Had taken what appeared to be a tough line on keeping Kim Darroch in his job as UK ambassador to Washington, implying that he was standing up to Donald Trump. But Johnson took this apart somewhat by pointing out that the ambassador was due to go anyway near the end of the year and Hunt was unwilling to say that he would extend the tenure.

Unanswered questions

Johnson: Refused to say he would resign if he failed to achieve Brexit by October 31st under direct questioning from Hunt rather than an audience member. Hunt mocked him for declining to commit to that, saying: “It’s not ‘do or die’ is it? It’s Boris in No 10 that matters.” He also dodged the question of whether he would sack Darroch, after the transatlantic furore about his leaked memos criticising Trump.

Hunt: Could not really address how to stop parliament simply blocking a no-deal Brexit if an agreement could not be reached, falling back on his insistence that he could come to a deal with the EU. He also declined to give a firm deadline for when the UK will have left the EU. – Guardian

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