Boris Johnson appears to have downgraded his promise of support for an independent inquiry into Islamophobia in the Conservative Party.
The frontrunner for the Tory crown said he wanted a probe into all types of discrimination, despite having previously backed calls for an investigation specifically into anti-Muslim prejudice.
His rival, foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt, also faced criticism after claiming the two sides in the Northern Ireland conflict must be treated “the same”.
At a Tory leadership hustings, Mr Johnson said it would be “absolutely folly” to rule out suspending Parliament to force through a no-deal Brexit againast the rule of MPs. He said the controversial measure should remain as “an essential tool in our negotiation”.
Meanwhile, Mr Hunt conceded the winner of the contest could spend the shortest time as prime minister in history, and said he would resign if he failed to deliver Brexit.
Mr Johnson told party members in Bournemouth that he wanted to be the prime minister of a “representative democracy, a great representative democracy in which we believe in our elected representatives to take the right decision”.
“I would rather than confiding in this archaic device to get this thing done at my own behest, I would rather confide in the maturity of common sense of parliamentarians, all of whom are now staring down the barrel of public distrust,” he said.
Mr Hunt told the hustings that he would introduce a “no-deal Bill” in the first Queen’s Speech in the new parliamentary session to ensure the country is “fully” prepared for such an outcome.
And, asked by moderator Hannah Vaughan Jones if he was “concerned by threats it could be the shortest tenure in history”, he replied: “Well, if we get this wrong, it will be.
“And we have got the biggest constitutional crisis in living memory and that is because MPs like me made a promise to the people that we would deliver the outcome of the referendum whatever it was and we failed.”
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Boris Johnson is giving his opening speech at the Tory leadership hustings in Bournemouth.
Mr Johnson has claimed "the hour is darkest before dawn" and said we can "turn this thing around" and leave the EU by 31 October.
He said he wanted to deliver Brexit so he could unite the UK, which he dubbed "the awesome foursome".
Mr Johnson also criticised his rival's suggestion the current Brexit deadline could be delayed.
"Anybody who proposes any further delay is simply going to end up eroding trust in politics, eroding people's confidence in our democratic institutions further," he said.
"And further weakening out great Conservative Party and our mission to lead this country.
"And it simply won't work. Kick the can again and we kick the bucket, my friends that's the sad reality."
The Tory frontrunner has said he believes the chances of a no-deal Brexit are "a million to one".
Asked if he still supports the statement, he replied: "Yes I do, well I mean there's not a bookies, but I do."
He said "several things" have changed since the UK failed to leave by the original 29 March deadline, which had "really catastrophic consequences for trust" in politics.
"You are really seeing a change in mood in Westminster, a realisation that unless we get this thing done, unless we act with maturity and dignity and work together to get Brexit over the line there will be a very severe judgment of history upon us.
"And not just a judgment of history but there will be democratic retribution upon both the Conservative Party and actually the Labour Party as well.
"That's why I think we have a growing opportunity to get this thing done with style, come out on 31 October."
Mr Johnson said he wants to see students taken out of the immigration cap, saying a "higher education economy is one of the glories of the UK's system".
Asked about the details of his pledge to deliver an Australian-style points-based immigration system, he told the hustings: "Family members would have a right of reunion that is understood according to kindred and affinity and all the rest of it, and there are already established procedures for deciding who can come on the basis of family reunion.
"As for students, I think that international students contribute massively to the UK higher education economy - billions and billions of pounds in fees, I mean more than £5bn a year."
Mr Johnson said a "good Brexit" would cement the Union with Scotland.
"A really good Brexit will help to cement the Union because there are all sorts of ways in which post-Brexit we will be able to intensify the Union.
"I would also point out that the SNP will effectively have their guns spiked because once we make a great success of Brexit they will have to argue to the people of Scotland that they want to rejoin the EU, join the euro, join the Schengen area, submit Scotland to every type of EU regulation and lose control, which they will have just gained, of Scottish fishing.
"Is that really a great manifesto for the SNP? Absolutely not.
"We can entrench and protect and enhance the Union by making a success of Brexit and having a sensible approach."
Mr Johnson criticised his rival's pledge to cancel student debts for certain entrepreneurs.
"I think people, a lot of people, would automatically be defining themselves as entrepreneurs," he said to laughter.
"I think the more sensible things to look at are the interest rate, and a reduction of the interest rate, also looking at the cost of maintenance because I think those are very, very high and that people are paying a lot of money back over a long time."
In another move to woo younger voters, Mr Johnson said building new homes is essential but urged caution over using greenfield sites.
"To build the homes that the younger generation need, we can do it on brownfield sites, believe me," he said.
"The way to do it is to have fantastic transport infrastructure, that's the way to get brownfield sites going."
On social care, Mr Johnson said a cross-party approach was the way forward.
He told the hustings: "What I would like to see is an approach that has two principles: first of all that no one should face or fear eviction from their home to pay for the cost of their care.
"And number two, that everybody should have dignity and security in their old age.
"There is a way forward but the only way to do it is if we can take the politics out of it and work together to solve the problem."
Mr Johnson refused to rule out suspending Parliament to force through a no-deal Brexit against the will of MPs.
Asked to categorically rule out proroguing Parliament, he said: "I'm not attracted to the idea of a no-deal exit from the EU but, you know, I think it would be absolutely folly to rule it out. I think it's an essential tool of our negotiation.
"I don't envisage the circumstances in which it will be necessary to prorogue Parliament, nor am I attracted to that expedient."
Jeremy Hunt has now begun his speech.
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