Tory leadership: Jeremy Hunt 'expects' Brexit by Christmas

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Media caption,
The BBC's Andrew Neil interviews Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt

Tory leadership contender Jeremy Hunt has refused to guarantee that the UK will leave the EU before Christmas, but said he "expects" it to happen by then.

He would not say when Brexit would take place if he became PM, telling the BBC: "I'm being honest with people".

Rival Boris Johnson said the UK would leave by 31 October "come what may".

He also defended his remarks on the UK ambassador in Washington, who quit this week over leaked criticisms of Donald Trump.

Mr Johnson added he did not accept that his failure to support Sir Kim Darroch during a debate on ITV earlier this week had prompted him to resign.

However, he said a "misrepresented" account of his remarks later relayed to Sir Kim had been "a factor" in his decision to step down.

He added: "I stood up completely for the principle that civil servants should be allowed to say what they want to their political masters."

Up to 160,000 Conservative Party members are voting for their next party leader - and UK prime minister - to replace Theresa May.

The BBC's Andrew Neil has interviewed both contenders for a programme broadcast on BBC One.

Mr Johnson, a former foreign secretary and mayor of London, is seen as the frontrunner in the contest.

Mr Hunt warned party members not to "vote with their hearts instead of their heads".

He added that the "quickest way" to leave the EU was "to send to Brussels a prime minister who can negotiate a deal that will get through Parliament - and I'm that person".

Media caption,
Tory leadership: Jeremy Hunt on making Brexit promises

Foreign Secretary Mr Hunt, who set up his own business before entering politics, was challenged on whether he had the skills to negotiate effectively with the EU.

He replied that being an entrepreneur had given him the "basics", adding: "In government those same skills I used to negotiate very complex things - like the licence fee deal with the BBC, the NHS pay awards, the protracted dispute to try and get a peace process going in Yemen - that business of negotiation is something I have been doing all my life."

Mr Hunt said the main change he wanted to see to the UK's current withdrawal deal was to the Irish border backstop plan - an insurance policy which aims to guarantee there will not be a hard border on the island of Ireland after Brexit.

He added that changes to this part of the Brexit withdrawal deal - which has been rejected three times by MPs - would "broadly" make it acceptable to the Commons.

When pushed on what else he would alter, Mr Hunt said that "there may be other elements", but did not provide further details.

On Parliament's attempts to block a no-deal Brexit, he warned that the UK needed to be "careful" about the 31 October deadline, and said: "I think I'm the best person to get a deal… but I can't control what Parliament does."

Asked whether Brexit would have happened by Christmas, Mr Hunt said: "I expect so."

He was then challenged on whether the UK would still be a member of the EU going into 2020, replying: "I don't believe so."

Media caption,
Boris Johnson on Sir Kim Darroch

In his interview with Andrew Neil, Mr Johnson said he believed the UK would leave the EU on 31 October, and that if this did not happen it would lead to "a huge erosion of trust in politics".

"I think it is very odd that those who say they would delay even further can't set another date - I mean, how much further are we going to wait?" he said.

"I think it's very, very important that we get ready to leave on 31 October, come what may, and we will."

Mr Johnson said he did not want to prorogue - suspend - Parliament to push a no-deal Brexit through, but he would not rule it out.

Ambassador row

The UK's ambassador in Washington, Sir Kim Darroch, resigned on Wednesday after a row over leaked emails critical of President Donald Trump's administration.

Mr Johnson was criticised in the aftermath for failing to fully support Sir Kim in the ITV leadership debate the evening before. This followed angry criticism of Sir Kim by Mr Trump.

Mr Johnson said he had spoken to Sir Kim on Thursday to express his sadness over his resignation and the ambassador told him he had not watched the TV debate.

But Mr Hunt said: "I think we have to back our diplomats all over the world.

"Sir Kim was doing his job. He was giving his own personal but totally honest view about the country he was serving in."

Tax and spending pledges

On economic policy, Mr Hunt admitted that some of his spending pledges would take longer to deliver if the UK left the EU without a deal.

But he insisted that even in a no-deal scenario, he would push ahead with his plan to cut corporation tax - adding it would help firms cope with the resulting "shock" to the economy.

When asked whether he would continue with the current government's self-imposed limits on borrowing, Mr Johnson pledged to "continue to bear down on our national debt".

"We will be setting out in a Budget and a spending review exactly what we will be doing on the fiscal rules and everything else," he added.

The result of the Conservative leadership contest will be announced on 23 July, with the winning candidate taking over from Mrs May on 24 July.

Compare the candidates' policies

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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

- 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".


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

- 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.


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

- 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.


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

- 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

- 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".


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

- 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.

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