Tory leadership race: Hunt ‘can’t promise Brexit by Christmas’ as Johnson vows Halloween deadline ‘come what may’

The two Tory leadership contenders have differed on their Brexit stances again as the pair were gilled on their departure dates for leaving the European Union.

Jeremy Hunt has said he cannot promise Brexit by Christmas and Boris Johnson has vowed to meet the Halloween deadline “come what may,” as the pair were probed by Andrew Neill.

The Foreign Secretary maintained prime ministers should “only make promises they know they can deliver”.

But in contrast, his opponent Mr Johnson said it was “absolutely insane” to say that Britain is prepared to delay Brexit again.

Expanding on his plan, Mr Hunt insisted it was possible to get a revised deal with Brussels by the end of September, and said if it took “a few extra days” to get it through Parliament he would delay Brexit beyond the October 31 deadline.

But, when pressed during an interview with the BBC’s Andrew Neil, he refused to say whether the UK would have left by Christmas, though claimed “it’s not going to be months”.

Mr Hunt faced a grilling from the BBC’s Andrew Neill (PA)

Mr Hunt has said that he believes he would be able to get a new deal with Brussels, but if that proved impossible, he would prepare for no deal on October 31, making a judgment on the best course to follow at the end of September.

He expressed his confidence in getting a deal by the end of September, telling the BBC: “I believe we can and I, as I say, I think that people like Angela Merkel want to solve this problem.

“If we have a deal, if it’s clear to us and to the Europeans there’s a deal to be done, then of course I would go for that and if it took a little bit – you know, a few extra days – to get it through Parliament.”

He said Parliament would be “willing to sit at weekends, will be willing to sit late, to do this” but that it “may take a few extra days and I would be willing to allow those days”.

Asked whether he would be prepared to delay by days, weeks or months, Mr Hunt replied: “Well it’s not going to be months.”


But pressed on whether the UK would be out by Christmas, he said: “I’m not going to give you those commitments…

“It’s because prime ministers should only make promises they know they can deliver. And there’s another reason why we have to be careful about this 31st of October date.

“It is because Parliament may try and take a no deal Brexit off the table altogether and so I think – my commitment is that I think I’m the best person to get a deal and if we get a deal it will be on or around the 31st of October but I can’t control what Parliament does and that’s why I’m being honest with people about the difficulties.”

Mr Hunt went on to say he expected Brexit to happen before Christmas and, when asked if there was any chance the UK could still go in to 2020 as a member of the EU, he replied: “I don’t believe so, no.”

In a swipe at his rival Boris Johnson, Mr Hunt said he would deliver Brexit “more quickly than the alternative”.

Mr Johnson facing questions (PA)

“If you want to leave the EU quickly, if you want to avoid a general election, which is the risk if you go about this in the wrong way, I’m the person who has the biggest chance of negotiating that deal and getting us out by October 31.”

Mr Johnson, in a separate interview with Neil, repeated his pledge to leave the EU on October 31 “come what may”.

He told the BBC: “I think we’ve got to come out on October 31 and I think it is very odd that those who are saying they would delay even further can’t set another date.

“How much further are we going to wait? We were meant to come out on March 29th. We then were going to come out April 8th. We then delayed it for a further six months. I think this is leading to a huge erosion of trust in politics.”

Boris Johnson said it would be “absolutely insane” to say that Britain is prepared to delay Brexit again (PA)

He claimed there was an “outbreak of common sense” beginning to take place within the Tory party and across Parliament – with people “coming together to get this thing done”.

“I don’t think it will be necessary to do anything like proroguing Parliament,” he insisted, but refused to rule it out.

Mr Johnson did not answer questions about whether he still believed Donald Trump was “stupefyingly ignorant” – in reference to comments he made as London mayor – and came unstuck when grilled on the detail of world trade rules.

Asked how he would handle paragraph 5C of GATT 24, he admitted he did not know what was in it, instead saying: “There’s enough in paragraph 5B to get us the agreement that we want.”


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