Home WORLD Tory leadership race: Johnson absent as candidates face questions – BBC News

Tory leadership race: Johnson absent as candidates face questions – BBC News

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Conservative leadership contenders have faced further questions about Brexit and their personal beliefs ahead of Tuesday’s second ballot of MPs.

Boris Johnson skipped the hustings of Westminster journalists, having also missed Sunday’s Channel 4 TV debate.

Rory Stewart would not say how he would vote if there was another referendum, but having one would be a “failure”.

Dominic Raab suggested the current “paralysing uncertainty” was worse than a no-deal exit from the EU.

Mr Johnson, former foreign secretary, is the clear frontrunner in the race after topping the first ballot with 114 votes.

On Monday, he got a fresh boost after he was endorsed by Health Secretary Matt Hancock – who pulled out after coming sixth in last week’s vote.

But Mr Johnson’s low visibility in the campaign so far continues to attract criticism from his rivals and their supporters.

Justice Secretary David Gauke, who is supporting Mr Stewart, said the public was “entitled” to expect every candidate to subject themselves to rigorous scrutiny.

“At the moment Boris Johnson is not doing that,” he told BBC News.

He also accused Mr Johnson of making a series of pledges to cut tax or spend more – via his newspaper column – without answering the question “where is the money coming from?”

Mr Johnson has agreed to take part in a BBC TV debate after Tuesday’s ballot while he is also expected to attend a hustings organised by the 1922 Committee of Tory backbenchers later.

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The five remaining candidates – also including Jeremy Hunt, Michael Gove and Sajid Javid – were grilled by lobby journalists on Monday morning in a closed-door session.

Ahead of the hustings, Mr Hunt urged Mr Johnson to show “Churchillian spirit” and turn up. Mr Raab started his hustings slot by describing the event as an “essential gauntlet” in an apparent dig at his erstwhile rival.

Mr Gove, who famously fell out with Mr Johnson after the 2016 referendum, said “Boris could be a good prime minister, but I think I could be a better one.”

‘Unlock’ support

Mr Raab defended his backing for the UK to leave the EU on 31 October with or without a deal – saying the “biggest risk is the paralysing uncertainty” currently afflicting the UK.

Mr Stewart said he believed Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement could be the basis of a “moderate, pragmatic” Brexit despite being rejected by MPs three times.

He said his new approach to explaining and promoting the deal agreed with the EU could “unlock” up to a dozen Tory MPs, after which he would seek Labour backing.

If the parliamentary deadlock could not be broken, he said his plan B was to get 500 or so members of the public to decide how to proceed in a citizens’ assembly.

Compare candidates’ policies

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BREXIT


– Has said he would consider a further delay to Brexit to achieve a better deal.
– Plans to negotiate a “fullstop” to the Irish border backstop plan. He wants a free trade agreement, similar to the deal between Canada and the EU.
– Would support a no-deal Brexit if he couldn’t get a better deal from Brussels.


– 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.


– Would focus on making changes to the backstop. Would commission UK border force to work on solving the Northern Ireland border problem, paid for by the UK.
– Says he cannot envisage circumstances in which he would want to have another extension to the UK’s exit date and the country must be prepared for a no-deal Brexit.


– Wants to leave on 31 October, the deadline for Brexit set by the EU, with or without a deal. He admits a no-deal exit will cause “some disruption” but says the “way to get a good deal is to prepare for no deal”.
– Wants to remove the backstop from any deal and replace it with “alternative arrangements”.
– Says he would withhold the £39bn “divorce” payment the UK is due to give the EU as part of the negotiated deal. He says the money will be retained until there is “greater clarity about the way forward”.


– Wants to re-open the withdrawal agreement for renegotiation in order to “overhaul the backstop”.
– Says a new deal would include “the vast majority” of the deal Theresa May negotiated, but would replace the Irish backstop with “alternative arrangements” involving “advanced customs and trade measures” and checks away from the border.
– Willing to leave on WTO rules, claiming it is “far better than leaving with a fatally flawed deal”, and will not rule out proroguing Parliament (essentially shutting it down) ahead of the 31 October deadline to prevent it blocking a no-deal Brexit


– Believes a no-deal Brexit would be “catastrophic” for the UK and is “undeliverable” and “unnecessary”.
– He said it was unrealistic to believe the UK could get a new Brexit deal agreed by the EU and Parliament by the 31 October deadline.
– Prefers trying to push through the current deal, agreed by Theresa May. However he says, if that failed, he would set up a jury of citizens to thrash out a compromise.

TAX AND SPENDING


– Says he wants to replace VAT after Brexit with a lower, simpler sales tax.
– Wants to create the “most pro-business” tax regime in the world and put business at the heart of the revival of Britain.
– Says he would not use the tax and benefits system to give the already wealthy another tax cut.
– Says he would scrap the High Speed rail 2 project.


– 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.


– Has promised to break from the austerity of the past nine years by slowing the pace of debt reduction.
– Says this would free up about £25bn a year for spending priorities, including education.
– Other money would be spent on local government and efforts to tackle crime, including an increase in the number of police officers by 20,000.


– Pledges to cut income tax for people earning more than £50,000 by raising the 40% tax threshold to £80,000.
– Says it will benefit three million people and would cost £9.6bn a year.
– Plans to pay for the cut partly from a pot set aside by the Treasury for a possible no-deal Brexit, and partly by increasing employee National Insurance payments.


– Wants to cut the basic rate of income tax from 20% to 15%. He suggests the basic rate falling by a penny a year.
– Would equal a tax cut for the majority of UK workers. HMRC says there are currently 26.3m basic rate tax payers, but IFS says it costs about £5bn for every 1p cut in the rate of income tax.
– Wants to raise the point that people start to pay national insurance to be the same as income tax, £12,501 a year. He says it would save the lowest paid workers £460 a year.


– Criticises other candidates for offering “cheap electoral bribes” to win support.
– Says rather than being “straight” with people, his opponents have pledged “eye-watering” tax cuts worth £84bn.

HEALTH AND EDUCATION


– Says he wants to ensure the NHS is “fully-funded, properly funded” and that funding is protected under law.
– Says he will spend £1bn extra on schools if he becomes prime minister.


– 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.


– Has suggested slowing down the rate of debt reduction, to release money for education.
– Wants to see a “multi-year, multi-billion-pound boost” to spending on schools to “change the life chances of so many young people”.


– 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 he is in favour of bringing back young apprenticeships for 14-16 year-olds.
– Wants review of spending in Whitehall, with a “special commission” to look at public sector procurement, especially in the NHS.
– Says he would “recycle roughly half” of the savings made by the spending review into frontline services, such as teachers and nurses.


– Pledges to invest more into education, especially for those in “mid-life”.
– Vows to put a long-term plan in place to tackle the issue of social care in the UK.
– Says people should not have to pay hospital car parking charges to visit a sick relative or wait four weeks for a GP appointment.

He said he did not believe the assembly would come out in favour of another Brexit referendum, which he said would be “catastrophic”.

Mr Javid warned against his rivals turning on each other, saying that the only winners of a “vicious” debate would be Labour.

Asked whether he trusted Boris Johnson, he replied yes but joked that he might not appoint him as foreign secretary in his cabinet if he won power – a reference to Mr Johnson’s much-criticised tenure in the Foreign Office.

The home secretary conceded he was not the most confident orator in the field.

“I didn’t go to the debating societies at Oxford or other places. But I am trying to communicate in the best way I can.”

Mr Hunt said the central question about delivering Brexit was “who” was going to be doing the negotiating.

The BBC’s political correspondent Chris Mason said Mr Hunt talked about different variations of the UK leaving the EU without a legal agreement.

He characterised these as a “hostile no deal”, where there was little or no co-operation of any kind, or one more accommodating between the two sides.

Among the more unusual questions fielded, Mr Stewart – a former solider and diplomat – was asked whether he ever worked for MI6, to which he replied no.

And Mr Hunt was asked whether he believed in God, to which he said yes.

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