Thu, Jul 11, 2019 - Page 6 News List

UK leadership hopefuls clash over Brexit plans

AFP, LONDON

Conservative Party leadership contenders Boris Johnson, left, and Jeremy Hunt debate on Tuesday in Salford, Britain.

Photo: Reuters / Matt Frost / ITV

Boris Johnson on Tuesday stood accused of having nothing to offer Britain but “blind optimism” as he and his rival for prime minister clashed over Brexit in a bad-tempered TV debate.

Johnson is the runaway frontrunner to replace British Prime Minister Theresa May later this month, wooing voters with a promise to take Britain out of the EU on Oct. 31, whatever happens.

However, in their first and only head-to-head debate, his rival, British Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs Jeremy Hunt, accused him of not being honest about the risks of leaving the bloc without a deal with Brussels.

“If we want to make a success of Brexit it’s not about blind optimism, it’s about understanding the details that will get us the deal that’s right for country,” Hunt said.

Johnson retorted that “we’ve had a bellyful of defeatism,” saying he would help Britain “get back our mojo” and “off the hamster wheel of doom.”

Ballots have already been sent to the 160,000 members of the Conservative Party who are to decide the winner, with the result to be announced on July 23.

A YouGov survey this weekend suggested that 74 percent of Tory members backed Johnson, but during the hour-long ITV program, Hunt showed he would not give up without a fight.

He repeatedly interrupted and challenged Johnson, accusing him of failing to answer questions, including on whether he would resign if Brexit does not happen as promised.

Johnson gave a characteristically flippant reply.

“I don’t want to hold out to the EU the prospect that they might encourage my resignation by refusing to agree a deal,” he said.

Both men insist they can renegotiate the divorce terms that May agreed with Brussels, but parliament repeatedly rejected, forcing her to delay Brexit twice.

The EU said it would not reopen the text, and both Hunt and Johnson say they would leave the bloc with no deal if necessary.

Johnson said he would use the £39 billion (US$48.64 billion) allocated to settle Britain’s dues after four decades of EU membership to mitigate the impact, saying that with planning, a “no deal” exit would be “vanishingly inexpensive.”

He laid into Hunt for refusing to rule out a further Brexit delay, while leaving open the option of suspending parliament if lawmakers try to stop a “no deal” Brexit.

Lawmakers had earlier on Tuesday voted to demand the government give them fortnightly updates about power-sharing in Northern Ireland between October and December, a device intended to thwart any suspension.

Johnson said that without a real threat of walking away, the EU “won’t take us seriously.”

Meanwhile, British Ambassador to the US Kim Darroch yesterday announced his resignation after a leak this weekend of unflattering diplomatic cables penned by Darroch triggered a wave of angry tweets from US President Donald Trump.

“The current situation is making it impossible for me to carry out my role as I would like,” Darroch wrote in his resignation letter. “I believe in the current circumstances the responsible course is to allow the appointment of a new ambassador.”

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