Tory leadership debate: Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt condemn Trump tweets but fail to call them racist

'I simply can't understand how a leader of that country can come to say it,' Mr Johnson says

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
Monday 15 July 2019 20:52 BST
Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt condemn Trump's tweets, but refuse to call him racist

Conservative leadership contenders Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt have condemned Donald Trump's attack on a group of congresswomen - but neither would go as far as to call the comments racist.

It comes after Mr Trump prompted widespread fury and accusations of racism at the weekend for suggesting certain politicians should "go back" to the "broken and crime infested places from which they came".

In their strongest criticism of the US president to date, the leadership contenders agreed with Theresa May that Mr Trump's remarks were "completely unacceptable".

Mr Trump did not specify who he was referring to, but the attack was widely interpreted as being aimed at congresswoman of colour, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib and Ayanna Pressley, who have all be critical of Mr Trump's immigration policies in recent days.

Speaking at a debate hosted by The Sun, Mr Johnson, the clear frontrunner in the contest, which concludes next week, was asked if he agreed with the prime minister.

"If you are the leader of a great multiracial, multicultural society you simply cannot use that kind of language about sending people back to where they came from," he said. "That went out decades and decades ago and thank heavens for that so it's totally unacceptable and I agree with the prime minister."

But he was pressed on whether the comments were racist. "I simply can't understand how a leader of that country can come to say it," he said.

Pressed again, he replied: "You can take from what I said what I think about President Trump's words."

Asked the same question, Mr Hunt replied: "I have three half-Chinese children, and they are British citizens born on the NHS, and if anyone ever said to them 'go back to China', I would be utterly appalled," he said.

"And I would say something else, it is totally un-British to do that and so I hope that would never happen in this country."

Challenged on whether the comments were "racist", he replied: "I think that, look I'm foreign secretary, this is a president of a country which happens to be our closest ally and so it is not going to help the situation to use that kind of language about the president of the United States."

During the debate, both the contenders vying to replace Ms May also ruled out a snap general election before delivering Brexit and Mr Johnson added: "We will have an election at some stage in 2022."

Mr Johnson, however, was unable to commit to bringing down net immigration levels as he refused to "get into a some numbers game", adding: "What I think we will have is control, which is what the people voted for and it's high time we got it".

Taking a more hardline stance, Mr Hunt said it would be "betraying the spirit of that Brexit referendum" in 2016 if the government failed to find a way of bringing down the overall numbers of immigration.

He said: "The way that we do it, though, is what I did in the NHS, which is by increasing the number of doctors and nurses that we train in this country so we don't need to bring in so many from other countries.

"So, it's boosting the education and skills levels of our own people that's the right way to do it."

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