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Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt during a TV debate on July 9
Image: Reuters/ITV/M. Frost

Johnson and Hunt square off in Britain's PM debate

July 9, 2019

In their only head-to-head debate, the two remaining candidates for Britain's new prime minister have both said that the UK will leave the EU on the October 31 deadline. The new leader will take office later in July.


Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt, the remaining Tory contenders competing to replace Prime Minister Theresa May as Conservative Party leader and prime minister, held their only debate Tuesday night in a campaign that has centered on who is in the best position to lead Britain out of the European Union. 

Boris Johnson, the current favorite to become Britain's next prime minister, has repeated throughout his campaign that he would leave the EU on time, deal or no deal.

"I think it is very, very important not to envisage any circumstances in which we would fail to come out of the EU on October 31," Johnson said during the hour-long debate televised on ITV.

In the closing statements, Johnson said that the only way to get Britain off "the hamster wheel of doom" is by getting Brexit done. Hunt said that he would only make promises that he can keep. 

Read more: Boris Johnson threatens to withhold Brexit divorce payment

Forcing Brexit through Parliament? 

During the debate, Johnson also refused to rule out suspending Parliament to force through a no-deal Brexit.

"I'm not going to take anything off the table. I think it would be absolutely bizarre at this stage in the negotiations for the UK, yet again, to be weakening its own position."

Hunt said that he would not support suspending Parliament.

However, British lawmakers on Tuesday narrowly approved a measure that they hope will make it harder for the prime minister to suspend, or "prorogue," Parliament by requiring ministers to make progress reports on Northern Ireland's collapsed executive, thereby keeping the legislature in session in the run-up to Brexit day.

Crashing out of the EU — with preparation

Both candidates said during the debate that Britain could withstand a no-deal Brexit, if the country "prepared." Hunt said that Britain could get through a hard Brexit with preparation, but added it would not be a "walk in the park."

Johnson said a no-deal Brexit would be "vanishingly inexpensive" if the UK prepares, while admitting it would be costly if badly handled.

Read more: Should non-EU citizens be worried about a hard Brexit?

Some investors and lawmakers in Britain fear an mismanaged exit from the EU would unleash major economic disruption.

Britain's new prime minister is expected to take office on July 24, after a mail-in election by members of the Conservative Party. The winner will then have until October 31 to gain support for a new Brexit deal. 

The current deal failed three times to be ratified in Parliament, and led to the political downfall of outgoing Prime Minister Theresa May. Johnson is hoping to renegotiate the existing exit deal with the EU, which Brussels has said cannot be reopened.

Corbyn backs a second referendum

Meanwhile, opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn shifted his party's position, calling on the next prime minister to call a new Brexit referendum, in which Labour would campaign to stay as a member of the bloc.

In a letter to party members, Corbyn said that whoever succeeds Theresa May "should have the confidence to put their deal, or no-deal, back to the people in a public vote."

"In those circumstances, I want to make it clear that Labour would campaign for Remain against either no-deal or a Tory deal that does not protect the economy and jobs," he said.

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 wmr, jsi/se (Reuters, AP)

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