Tory leadership candidates clash over Brexit in chaotic televised debate

The five candidates vying to be Britain’s next Prime Minister clashed over Brexit on Tuesday in a chaotic BBC debate that saw the would-be leaders interrupt and bellow over one another.

Boris Johnson, Sajid Javid, Jeremy Hunt and Michael Gove all insisted they could deliver Brexit by going back to the EU to renegotiate.

Mr Johnson, who stormed to victory in the second round of voting in the race to lead the Conservative Party, said leaving the EU on the 31 October is ‘eminently feasible’ - an apparent row-back from his previous categorical guarantee to leave on that date.

In a heated exchange, Rory Stewart said that attempting to secure changes to the Withdrawal Agreement would be a “waste of time”, accusing his fellow candidates of being dishonest with voters.

Host Emily Maitlis, Boris Johnson, Jeremy Hunt, Michael Gove, Sajid Javid and Rory Stewart during the BBC TV debate at BBC Broadcasting House in London featuring the contestants for the leadership of the Conservative Party. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Tuesday June 18, 2019. See PA story POLITICS Tories. Photo credit should read: Jeff Overs/BBC/PA Wire NOTE TO EDITORS: Not for use more than 21 days after issue. You may use this picture without charge only for the purpose of publicising or reporting on current BBC programming, personnel or other BBC output or activity within 21 days of issue. Any use after that time MUST be cleared through BBC Picture Publicity. Please credit the image to the BBC and any named photographer or independent programme maker, as described in the caption.
Host Emily Maitlis, Boris Johnson, Jeremy Hunt, Michael Gove, Sajid Javid and Rory Stewart during the BBC TV debate (PA Images)
For use in UK, Ireland or Benelux countries only. BBC handout photo of (left to right) Boris Johnson, Jeremy Hunt, Michael Gove, Rory Stewart and Sajid Javid during the BBC TV debate featuring the contestants for the leadership of the Conservative Party.
Boris Johnson took part after skipping a previous debate (PA Images)

In return, Mr Gove dubbed Mr Stewart’s plan to try and force Theresa May’s deal through the House of Commons “cold porridge”.

He said: “We’ve run into that door three times already, Rory. We’ve got to have a different route out.”

The hostile atmosphere during the discussion sparked reactions from MPs such as Labour’s Jess Phillips, who tweeted a scathing response.

Mr Stewart also caused confusion on Twitter by removing his tie midway through the televised debate.

In another hostile exchange, the five men clashed bitterly over the issue of taxation.

Mr Johnson doubled down on his previous controversial pledge to cut taxes for higher earners.

The former foreign secretary said he would lift the National Insurance threshold for the low-paid but there should be a “debate” about the higher income tax rate.

“It does seem to be very odd that in the Conservative Party people should seriously question whether it is right to try to lift nurses and heads of maths departments and police inspectors out of the top rate of tax,” he said.

Conservative leadership contest: second ballot result. See story POLITICS Tories. Infographic from PA Graphics
Conservative leadership contest: second ballot result.

The idea was dismissed as “wrong” by Mr Gove, who called himself the candidate “most committed to working people”.

Mr Hunt said: “What people accused the Conservatives of is they say we are the party of the rich.

“We must never fall into the trap of doing tax cuts for the rich and confirming that prejudice.”

Mr Stewart said that now “is not the time” to cut taxes.

Another notable moment saw Mr Johnson challenged over his comparison of veiled Muslim women to “letterboxes”.

He said: “In so far as my words have given offence over the last 20 or 30 years when I have been a journalist and people have taken those words out of my articles and escalated them, of course I am sorry for the offence they have caused.”

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