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Tory hustings: Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt warn of Brexit failure | Politics News

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Boris Johnson has said would it be “folly” to rule out suspending parliament to force through a no-deal Brexit, as leadership rival Jeremy Hunt warned that the winner of the contest could serve the shortest premiership in history if they fail to take Britain out of the EU.

Facing more questions from Conservative members at the third hustings event of the election campaign, both men warned that the party faced a backlash from which it would never recover if they failed to deliver on the 2016 referendum result by the agreed deadline of 31 October.

Mr Johnson, the front runner in the race to succeed Theresa May, refused to rule out proroguing parliament in order to take Britain out of the bloc without an agreement, telling the audience at Bournemouth Pavilion Theatre: “There are a lot of things on the table – it’s a big table.”

Boris Johnson at the Tory party hustings in Bournemouth
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Mr Johnson is the favourite to become prime minister

But he said he was confident that he would not have to use the “archaic” tactic to get Brexit through, and said MPs on both sides of the Commons would eventually have to rubber-stamp a deal with Brussels to avoid a “fatal” backlash at the next general election.

His confidence in securing a deal that would be approved by parliament was echoed by Mr Hunt, who said he would be willing to “fall on his sword” if he did not deliver Brexit.

The walkabout saw him with his wife ahead of private hustings in the area.
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Mr Hunt went on a walkabout in Bournemouth ahead of the hustings event

The foreign secretary said: “The quickest way to get out of the EU is to negotiate a deal that can get through parliament and that is what this entrepreneur, this negotiator, is going to do for our party and for our country.

“We are one of the oldest democracies in the world and in this country we do what the people tell us and we are going to deliver Brexit.”

Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt spoke at a hustings event in Bournemouth
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Tory leadership contenders Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt spoke at a hustings event in Bournemouth

Mr Hunt said he would introduce a “no-deal bill” in the first Queen’s Speech of the new parliamentary session to ensure the country was prepared, notably with a “big expansion of container capacity” at ports.

He also said he would introduce a new budget and law to ensure every child leaves school able to read and write, with funding pledges and education plans proving to be two of the bigger non-Brexit talking points of the hustings.

Mr Johnson said he wanted to spend £5bn to improve education in Britain, telling party members that “every kid should have the basic tools of self-improvement”.

His rival said his spending plans – which included a commitment to rail project HS2 and digging up “quite a lot of our roads to put fibre optic cable to every front door” – were funded by a plan to “keep reducing debt as a proportion of GDP over the economic cycle”, which current headroom standing at “about £26bn a year”.

Both men spoke of their desire to solve the social care crisis, with Mr Hunt acknowledging that government cuts to the sector – and policing – had gone too far, while Mr Johnson said a cross-party approach was the way forward.

It proved to be just about the only olive branch offered to opposition parties on the night, with the candidates taking ample opportunity to criticise Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, the Brexit Party, and the SNP.

Mr Johnson said a “good Brexit” would cement the union with Scotland, leaving the SNP with “their guns spiked”, while his successor as foreign secretary said he would not include the Brexit Party in talks with the EU.

“Nigel Farage doesn’t want a deal, he wants a WTO Brexit straight away,” said Mr Hunt.

Nigel Farage delivers a letter to Downing Street
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Mr Hunt ruled out including Nigel Farage in talks with the EU, despite the Brexit Party leader’s recent demand

Ahead of the hustings, both men had attempted to shift the conversation away from Brexit somewhat by detailing two domestic policy pledges – one on immigration and one on student debt.

Mr Johnson said he wanted to introduce an Australian-style points-based immigration system, which he said would ensure people “come when there’s a need of someone of their skills to come to this country and come in a way that is democratically controlled”.

He told the hustings that students and family members would not be included.

Leaflets in support of Boris Johnson at Tory hustings
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Support for Mr Johnson remains high among Tory members

Mr Hunt said he wanted to cancel student debts for certain entrepreneurs – a plan scoffed at by Mr Johnson, who joked that a “a lot of people would automatically be defining themselves as entrepreneurs”.

Mr Hunt hit back during his part of the hustings, saying: “You have to employ 10 people for five years, and if we’re flooded with people doing that then that’s brilliant for our country.”

The hustings came after the two leadership candidates spent the day campaigning separately on the south coast, with visits to the Isle of Wight, Portsmouth and Bournemouth.

The next hustings event takes place in Exeter on Friday morning.

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