Published On: Wed, Jun 26th, 2019

Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt divided over Brexit plans

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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.

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 would leave the EU without a deal, but not if there was a “prospect of a better deal”.

But 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.

“The minute you start flirting with an extension, you undermine your negotiating leverage,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

He said 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 added that any motion passed by MPs requiring the new prime minister to extend Brexit talks would have “zero legal effect”.

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

He added it was important that public debate on the topic was conducted “on the basis of fact rather than supposition”.

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.

Read more from Katya

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

The international development secretary told the Today programme that 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 a no-confidence vote.

Compare the candidates’ policies and careers

Select a topic and a candidate to find out more




BREXIT


– Would leave the EU with no deal, but it’s not his preferred option.
– Wants changes to the Irish backstop and proposes sending a new negotiating team to Brussels.
– Wants to make changes to the Withdrawal Agreement and thinks it’s possible to get them done by 31 October, but has not ruled out an extension.


– Wants to leave on 31 October, the deadline for Brexit set by the EU, with or without a deal.
– Says he wants to leave on the basis of a new withdrawal agreement negotiated with the EU, with the backstop removed and replaced with “alternative arrangements”.
– If this is not possible, he says he would ask the EU to agree to a “standstill period” during which the UK could negotiate a free trade deal with the bloc.
– Failing this, he says the UK must be prepared to leave on World Trade Organisation (WTO) terms if required, and the country would “get ready for that outcome”.
– Says he would demonstrate “creative ambiguity” over when the UK will pay the £39bn ‘divorce’ payment it is due to give the EU as part of the negotiated deal. He has also said the money should be retained until there is “greater clarity about the way forward”.

TAX AND SPENDING


– As an entrepreneur, he wants to turn Britain into the next Silicon Valley, a “hub of innovation”.
– Pledged to slash business taxes to the lowest in Europe to attract firms to Britain after Brexit and reduce corporation tax.
– Wants to boost defence spending by £15bn over the next five years.


– Pledges to cut income tax for people earning more than £50,000 by raising the 40% tax threshold to £80,000.
– Plans to pay for the reported £9.6bn annual cost of the cut in part from a pot set aside by the Treasury for a possible no-deal Brexit, and in part by increasing employee National Insurance payments.
– However he says his tax proposals will begin by “lifting thresholds for those on lowest pay”.
– Pledges to “find the money” to recruit an extra 20,000 police officers over an as-yet unspecified timetable.
– Promises to speed up the delivery of ‘full fibre’ internet connection, with the super-fast service available to all by 2025, eight years earlier than currently planned.

HEALTH AND EDUCATION


– Mental health support in every school and a crackdown on social media companies that fail to regulate their content.
– A cut in interest rate paid on tuition fees.
– Long term plan to provide more funding for the teaching profession in return for a guarantee that no one leaves the education system without a “rigorous qualification” sufficient to work up to at least the average salary.


– Promises to raise spending on secondary school pupils to £5,000 each.
– Called the funding gap between some schools in cities compared to those in rural areas a “disturbing reality”.
– Has previously said money spent on the EU could be put into the NHS.
– Says more should be spent on social care, according to a cross-party “national consensus”.

CAREER


– The foreign secretary campaigned to remain in the EU during the 2016 referendum, but has since been reborn as a Brexiteer.
– He even suggested, to widespread criticism, that the EU was like the Soviet Union. However, he has said his party would be committing “political suicide” if it tried to push through a no-deal Brexit.
– An MP for South West Surrey since 2005, Mr Hunt was made culture secretary under the coalition government in 2010 and oversaw the 2012 London Olympics before becoming health secretary.
– In 2018, he became the longest-serving health minister, and arguably one of the most controversial, since the NHS was created, completing six years in the role. During his tenure, he clashed with unions over contracts for junior doctors, who took part in a series of walkouts in 2015.


– The 55-year Eton and Oxford-educated former political journalist has coveted the top job for many years, but was beaten to No 10 by his contemporary David Cameron.
– After eight years as mayor of London, he returned to Parliament as MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip in 2016.
– A leading Brexiteer, Mr Johnson had been at odds with Theresa May’s Brexit vision for some time before he eventually quit as foreign secretary in protest last year.
– Polls suggest he is a popular figure with members of the wider Conservative party.

Meanwhile, Mr Johnson has recruited former Tory leader and Brexiteer Iain Duncan Smith as his campaign chairman, in an attempt to boost his leadership bid, the Telegraph reports.

It comes as the former foreign secretary 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.

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”.

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

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Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt divided over Brexit plans