Boris Johnson’s campaign chief brands Hunt a ‘pushover’

Hunt vows Brexit WON’T derail the Peace Process at Tory hustings in Northern Ireland – as battle turns nasty with Boris Johnson’s campaign chief branding him a ‘pushover’ who will be ‘laughed at’ by the EU

  • Iain Duncan Smith ramped up Tory tensions by branding Jeremy Hunt ‘pushover’
  • Claims of dirty tricks over cold-calling of Tory members by Johnson campaign 
  • Allies of Boris Johnson mooted axing swathe of Cabinet jobs and departments 
  • Idea has drawn furious response from backers of Mr Hunt including Amber Rudd 
  • The Tory leader candidates have faced off at hustings staged in Northern Ireland

Jeremy Hunt today vowed he will not allow Brexit to derail the Peace process as he faced the latest Tory hustings in Northern Ireland. 

The Foreign Secretary said the Good Friday Agreement was seen around the world as a ‘shining example of what is possible’.

He said if he became PM he would ‘personally put in the time’ to get Stormont back up and running – and would ensure leaving the EU does not get in the way. He argued that ‘all sides’ wanted to avoid a hard border, but the Irish border backstop thrashed out between Theresa May and the EU ‘has to change’. 

For his part, Boris Johnson said the ‘Union will come first’ if he gets the keys to No10. He said ‘under no circumstances’ would there be a hard border. But he added: ‘We should not be terrified of a No Deal Brexit.’

The comments came as the Tory leadership battle turned nasty, with Mr Johnson’s campaign chief branding Mr Hunt Hunt a ‘pushover’.

Iain Duncan Smith jibed that the EU would just ‘laugh’ at Mr Hunt if he threatened to leave with No Deal after warning the consequences would be disastrous.

But ex-Cabinet minister Patrick McLoughlin said the attack showed that Mr Johnson’s team were ‘rattled’, adding: ‘Language like this is no way to unite the party or the country.’

Meanwhile, the race is embroiled in a ‘dirty tricks’ row amid claims the front runner’s campaign has been ‘cold calling’ party members. 

Former MP Ben Howlett said he had been contacted and questioned how they obtained his details – saying he will complain to the Information Commissioner. A serving MP has also lodged a formal complaint with party chairman Brandon Lewis about the potential data protection breach. 

At hustings in Belfast today, Jeremy Hunt said the Good Friday Agreement was seen around the world as a ‘shining example of what is possible’

Allies of Boris Johnson (pictured in Belfast today) sparked fury by threatening to scrap a swathe of Cabinet jobs and departments to save billions of pounds

Iain Duncan Smith jibed that the EU would just ‘laugh’ at Mr Hunt if he threatened to leave with No Deal after warning the consequences would be disastrous

The leadership rivals pair are visiting Belfast as they seek to win over party members.

Mr Hunt kicked off the session, and was quizzed on how to resolve the Irish border issue and remove the controversial backstop.

He said: ‘People look at the Peace Process here as a shining example of what is possible.’ 

Mr Hunt also tried to play down claims that he has been trying to ‘out-Brexit Boris’ by toughening his stance. 

Row over Johnson’s ‘threat to scrap swathe of Cabinet jobs’ 

Boris Johnson’s allies sparked fury today by threatening to scrap a swathe of Cabinet jobs and departments to save billions of pounds.

The Tory front runner’s backers suggested ministers who were not on their side could be brutally axed as part of a fundamental overhaul of Whitehall. 

They claimed the Work and Pensions department could be merged with the Treasury, while Trade, Justice, Business and International Development are also marked for the chop.

Sources on Mr Johnson’s campaign tried to pour cold water on the ideas, reported in the Daily Telegraph, describing them as ‘nonsense’. 

But they drew an angry response from Amber Rudd, a supporter of Mr Hunt, who branded them ‘unworkable’. 

He said yesterday that unless a deal is in the offing by the end of September he will walk away from talks with the EU. 

‘I think there is a difference between our positions, but it is not as great as some people say,’ Mr Hunt said.  

‘I do recognise that we are never going to have a deal to leave the EU with the backstop. So it has to change or it has to go,’ he said. 

Challenged on how he would break the deadlock with the EU, Mr Hunt said the problem with the backstop was that it would ‘trap’ the UK into following EU customs tariffs until the EU gave its permission to leave. 

‘For a Brexit vote that was about bringing back sovereignty that is not acceptable,’ he said. 

‘I was one of the people who argued against accepting the backstop in the Cabinet, but I think it is important the Prime Minister has a loyal Foreign Secretary so I kept those discussions private. 

‘But that has to change and we have to find a different solution.’ 

Mr Johnson told Tory members in Belfast there will ‘under no circumstances’ be a hard border on the island, saying the issue will be resolved in a free trade deal after Brexit. 

He said: ‘Of course we need to sort out the problems of the Northern Irish border, where those problems should be sorted out in the context of the free trade deal that we are going to do when we have left on October 31. 

Mr Hunt arrived for the hustings in Belfast amid rising tensions with Mr Johnson and his team

Mr Hunt said the Peace Process was a ‘shining example’ around the world and he would not do anything to put it at risk

‘I think it’s absolutely vital here in Northern Ireland to stress two things. ‘Number one: that we will under no circumstances have a hard border. There will be no physical checks or infrastructure at the border in Northern Ireland. 

‘And number two: we will make sure we have an exit from the EU, a Brexit, that allows the whole UK to come out entire and undivided and we keep our union absolutely intact.’ 

Boris says he identifies with ‘Jedi Knights’ in Star Wars 

Boris Johnson was left stuttering today after being asked what Star Wars character he most identifies with.

Mr Johnson had already admitted he did not know any Game of Thrones characters when he was confronted with the poser. 

And he then struggled to remember the name of Luke Skywalker. 

Waving his arms around as if wielding one of the famous weapons from the franchise, Mr Johnson said: ‘I identify very much with the guy with the light sabre… 

‘The Jedi Knights! Yes.’ 

Mr Johnson said the backstop showed the ‘incoherence’ at the heart of the UK’s strategy up to now. 

‘The union comes first but I believe we should not be faced with that choice and the solution must be for the whole of the UK to come out in its entirety from the EU and to find the solutions that are needed for frictionless trade across the border in the context of the free trade deal,’ he said. 

‘I think the Withdrawal Agreement, as it currently stands, is a dead letter. ‘What the backstop really represents is the incoherence at the heart of the strategy we have been pursuing over the last few years. 

‘We’ve been wanting to come out of the EU supposedly whilst actually being prepared to stay in the customs union and full regulatory enlightenment, which is tantamount to coming out of the EU but being run by the EU.’ 

Mr Johnson also dismissed fears over the impact of No Deal Brexit, saying the UK should not be ‘terrified of coming out on WTO terms’.

‘I think a lot of the negativity about a WTO Brexit has been wildly over-done.

People say that there won’t be any clean drinking water, and the planes won’t fly, and there won’t be milk solids and glucose and whey to make Mars bars. 

‘Do you really believe that? It is total nonsense. 

‘I prophesy very confidently that we will have a successful Brexit, the planes will fly, there will be clean drinking water, and there will be whey for the Mars bars, because where there’s a will, there’s a whey.’

Mr Hunt has said he believes there is ‘technology there now’ to provide a solution, while Mr Johnson has suggested the backstop issue could be solved during the implementation period.

Speaking on Sky News today, Mr Duncan Smith said: ‘If you do not have a clear point at which you leave the table then you become a pushover for them to put on you their view of life, and if they think you are scared they know in your heart you won’t make that decision to leave on the 31st.’ 

He added: ‘I would laugh if I was the EU and Jeremy Hunt came over and said we really hate the idea of leaving without a deal, we’re really scared of what happens, but look here we are serious about negotiating. 

‘They’d be laughing behind their hands.’ 

Mr Hunt told Sky News last night that German Chancellor Angela Merkel is willing to look at new Brexit proposals put forward by the next prime minister.

He said: ‘I’ve had a conversation with Angela Merkel and… (she said) ‘of course we will look at any proposals made by a new UK prime minister’, because she wants to solve this problem.

‘And providing we’re sensible, and I think the approach that I’ve laid out is a sensible approach and a fair approach, and I think that it’s in Germany’s interests as well.

‘What she has said is she will look at the package and I think she will look at it with an open mind.’

Former MP Ben Howlett revealed on Twitter that he had been ‘cold called’ by the Johnson campaign and would be complaining to the ICO

Jeremy Hunt swiped that Mr Johnson was hiding in the back of the plane they both took to Belfast today 

Mr Johnson, who rejected an invitation to take part in the interview, told party members during a ‘telephone town hall’ event last night that he was the ‘right guy now to deliver for our party’.

‘We need someone who believes in Brexit and can deliver it,’ he said.

Mr Howlett revealed on Twitter that he had been cold called by the Johnson campaign. 

‘Dirty tricks’ claims over cold-calling of members in Tory leadership battle  

The Tory leadership race is embroiled in a ‘dirty tricks’ row today amid claims Boris Johnson’s campaign has been ‘cold calling’ party members. 

Former MP Ben Howlett said he had been contacted and questioned how they obtained his details. 

A serving MP has also lodged a formal complaint with party chairman Brandon Lewis about the potential data protection breach. 

He said: ‘More serious point following random call from team @BorisJohnson HQ – where did he get my data from given #GDPR and that I have never opted in or consented to my data being used – a complaint to the information commissioner @ICONews is in order methinks.’

Tory MP David Morris has written to Conservative Party chairman Brandon Lewis urging an investigation into the activity.

‘This is a very serious matter and I would like to know how Boris Johnson’s team are apparently cold calling members with a data base that seems to be procured,’ he wrote. 

‘If Mr Howlett is stating that he does not know how his data has been leaked it must be assumed that Mr Johnson’s team have a leaked data base.’ 

He said: ‘More serious point following random call from team @BorisJohnson HQ – where did he get my data from given #GDPR and that I have never opted in or consented to my data being used – a complaint to the information commissioner @ICONews is in order methinks.’

Tory MP David Morris has written to Conservative Party chairman Brandon Lewis urging an investigation into the activity.

‘This is a very serious matter and I would like to know how Boris Johnson’s team are apparently cold calling members with a data base that seems to be procured,’ he wrote. 

‘If Mr Howlett is stating that he does not know how his data has been leaked it must be assumed that Mr Johnson’s team have a leaked data base.’ 

Meanwhile, there is another spat between Mr Hunt and Mr Johnson over TV debates. 

Mr Hunt said the timing of a BBC showdown between the pair was an ‘absolute joke’ – suggesting Mr Johnson had forced a delay.

‘Just been invited by BBC’s @franunsworth to live TV debate against Boris on 16 July – AFTER around 90% of members have voted,’ Mr Hunt tweeted. 

‘Absolute joke to give the appearance of a debate whilst knowing it can have ZERO influence on campaign. Also v disrespectful to members & the public.’ 

He added: ‘Other broadcasters had the courage to empty chair no shows. What happened to scrutiny without fear or favour at the BBC? 

‘Many Beeb journalists will be deeply uncomfortable at this caving to Lynton Crosby. Come on BBC – this is for OUR PRIME MINISTER!’ 

Meanwhile, former party leader William Hague, who served as leader of the opposition between 1997 and 2001, wrote in the Daily Telegraph both candidates had ‘great merits’, but added that he believed Mr Hunt would make the better Prime Minister.

The idea drew an angry response from Amber Rudd, a supporter of Mr Hunt, who branded them ‘unworkable’.

Boost for Hunt as he wins backing of William Hague – with ex-Tory leader warning the Tories could ‘DIE’ if Johnson becomes PM

Jeremy Hunt was boosted today by backing from former Tory leader William Hague – who warned the party could ‘die’ if Boris Johnson becomes PM. 

Lord Hague said ‘logic’ was drawing him to vote for the Foreign Secretary as he had a more thought-out plan for delivering Brexit.

The peer insisted the result of Mr Johnson trying to force his will on Parliament would likely be a Corbyn government, which would be the worst possible outcome. 

The intervention came as allies of Mr Hunt claim that he has the momentum as the contest cranks up a gear. 

Ballot papers will be issued to Conservative Party members from later this week, with hustings coming thick and fast – and a critical TV debate happening next Tuesday.

Lord Hague, who was Tory leader between 1997 and 2001, said he and other members were facing a ‘decision made more difficult by the knowledge that if we collectively get this wrong there will probably be no further time to correct it’.

Lord Hague (pictured on ITV’s Peston show this summer) said ‘logic’ was drawing him to vote for the Foreign Secretary as he had a more thought-out plan for delivering Brexit

 

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