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Conservative leadership race – live: Boris Johnson dodges hustings despite ridicule from Jeremy Hunt for ducking TV debate

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
@ashcowburn,Zamira Rahim@ZamiraRahim
Monday 17 June 2019 07:04
comments
Jeremy Hunt taunts Boris Johnson for hiding from media and demands he face rivals in TV debates

Boris Johnson is skipping Conservative leadership hustings with political journalists on Monday morning, hours after refusing to attend Channel 4’s televised debate.

His rival candidates are all participating in the event, which began at 11.10am, but the frontrunner's team claim he is too busy doing debate preparation to attend.

Channel 4 marked the Mr Johnson’s absence from Sunday’s debate with an empty podium.

During the event, Rory Stewart, one of the contenders vying to replace Theresa May, claimed up to 100 Conservative MPs would vote with him to stop Boris Johnson carrying out a no-deal Brexit – but ruled out joining with Labour to topple his government.

The Tory leadership outsider refused to echo senior Tories Philip Hammond and Ken Clarke who could potentially back a vote-of-no-confidence, saying: “I'm not going to take down a Conservative government.”

Questioned by The Independent at hustings in Westminster, Mr Stewart said: “We can stop a no-deal Brexit much more easily than that.

“I, and nearly 100 of my colleagues, would vote to prevent a no-deal Brexit without having to bring down a Conservative government.”

Mr Stewart also ruled out backing a Final Say referendum on Brexit, telling journalists it would be “catastrophic and divisive”.

This liveblog has now closed - but you view the day's events in Westminster below

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The hustings the Conservative leadership contenders - in front of dozens of journalists at Westminster - is due to begin shortly. Each candidate will make a pitch for the leadership, before facing 10-15 minutes of questions. 

The event is not being filmed, but we will bring you the best lines from each of the five out of six candidates. Boris Johnson has confirmed he will not be attending, 

Ashley Cowburn17 June 2019 11:05
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Rory Stewart has now kicked off his pitch for the leadership - he says the key point of this campaign is to take questions. 

The cabinet minister says he is trying to get a withdrawal deal through the House of Commons - and he would use a citizens' assembly as a plan B. 

He says his relationship with colleagues "is different" to Theresa May's. 

"I believe I can unlock some Conservative colleagues," to pass the deal he says, claiming he'll have a mandate from Tory members.

He also admits he will have to reach out to Labour MPs in Leave-supporting areas, such as Wigan MP Lisa Nandy. 

Ashley Cowburn17 June 2019 11:19
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Asked if there was a second referendum how he would vote, Rory Stewart says his entire political project is get a sensible, moderate deal through.

He says a second referendum would be "catastrophic and divisive".

"No-one on the Remain side has thought it through," he adds. "Second referendum, really bad idea."

Asked whether he was confident of getting 33 votes in the second round of the contest tomorrow, he replies: "I don't really know."

"This is a two-horse race, and we know one of the horses: Boris. Who is likely to beat Boris?" he says. 

Ashley Cowburn17 June 2019 11:26
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Rory Stewart says he would not consider holding a general election before 2022 - "It would be really dumb thing to do".

"We've got to win the next election on action, and not words." 

Asked by The Independent whether he would vote down the government in a motion of no confidence in a last resort to avoid a no-deal scenario, he says he is going to stop a no-deal Brexit without bringing down the government.

He believes dozens of his colleagues would vote to prevent leaving the bloc without a deal, rather than having to vote in a no confidence motion. 

Stewart also confirms he did not work for MI6, in case anyone was wondering.

Ashley Cowburn17 June 2019 11:32
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Home secretary Sajid Javid has now arrived, he says it is "really good to be here". He says he is very concerned about the challenges ahead, and a credible plan to deliver Brexit to keep Jeremy Corbyn out of Downing Street. 

On welfare - specifically universal credit - he says he wouldn't make any fundamental change, but he would reform the system to give more dignity to claimants.

"I think the appeals process needs to be overhauled - it needs to be independent," he says.

Asked how confidence he is on getting the required numbers to pass the second ballot on Tuesday, he says he is "extremely confident". 

He also says the party should see the contest as an "opportunity" and it should not turn into a vicious debate.

Ashley Cowburn17 June 2019 11:44
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Sajid Javid says he would vote Leave if there were to be a second referendum - "we cannot keep having this debate," he says. 

"We need to leave, and we leave properly," he adds. 

Javid adds he did see a tweet from President Trump criticising the London mayor Sadiq Khan. "He should stick to domestic issues."

The home secretary urges him to stop intervening in British politics, when asked about the tweet by a journalist.

He adds that monthly press conferences are a "brilliant idea".

Ashley Cowburn17 June 2019 11:49
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The home secretary declines to say he would endorse a candidate if he falls at the next round, adding he is in it to win the race. But he does say he would accept a job in the cabinet.

Asked whether he would trust Boris Johnson to win the country, he replies: " Yes". 

Pressed on violence in the capital and crime over the weekend, Mr Javid says he wants to so everything he can to reduce blood on the streets. "I brought back stop and search - the year I've been home secretary - we have seen a 20 per cent of the homicide rate in London," he says.

Ashley Cowburn17 June 2019 11:57
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Foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt is now up - he says he can be trusted to go to Brussels and come back with a deal. 

He claims it is possible to renegotiate the deal - despite the repeated insistence from Brussels it will not. 

On a second referendum, he says he is a Unionist to its core. "I would never do anything" to break up the union, he says. 

Hunt says if he was given a binary choice between no Brexit and no deal, he says no deal, as the democratic risks of not delivering Brexit are more severe than the economic risks. 

Universal credit is the right way forward, Hunt adds when asked about welfare. But he refuses to say whether it has driven people to use food banks. "The principle is right," he claims. 

Ashley Cowburn17 June 2019 12:06
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Hunt warns a snap general election could result in the "total and utter devastation of the Conservative Party". 

Pressed on the language used by Donald Trump at the weekend, the foreign secretary says he wouldn't use those words himself. 

On the sentiment, about dealing with knife crime, though, he adds he would "150%" agree with the US president - raising a few eyebrows. 

Ashley Cowburn17 June 2019 12:09
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Asked whether Boris Johnson is to blame for the continued incarceration of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe in Iran, Hunt replies: "I'm not going to comment on that - everyone makes mistakes."

Has Brexit damaged Britain's standing in the world?

"The fact of Brexit - that we voted to leave the EU - has not. The way we've gone about Brexit - Brexit paralysis - has."

Asked how disappointed he was to be so far behind Boris Johnson last week in the first round of voting, he says: "I was delighted to come second to Boris last week."

Ashley Cowburn17 June 2019 12:13

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