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Media captionMoments you may have missed from the Tory leadership TV debate

Contenders to replace Theresa May as Conservative leader have clashed over delivering Brexit during a TV debate.

The MPs argued over whether a new deal could be renegotiated with the EU, and the prospect of a no-deal Brexit.

Boris Johnson came under fire for not taking part in the Channel 4 debate but defended his stance, suggesting it would “be slightly cacophonous”.

His leadership bid has been backed by Health Secretary Matt Hancock, who dropped out of the race on Friday.

Some of the sharpest exchanges came over whether Parliament should be shut down – prorogued – in order to push through a no-deal Brexit by 31 October – something four of the five candidates argued against.

The UK had been due to leave the EU on 29 March, but EU leaders agreed to delay the date to October after MPs repeatedly rejected Theresa May’s Brexit deal.

International Development Secretary Rory Stewart said proroguing Parliament was a “deeply disturbing” option and Home Secretary Sajid Javid warned “you don’t deliver democracy by trashing our democracy”.

However ex-Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab refused to rule it out, saying “every time one of these candidates take an option away… we weaken our chances of getting the best deal.”

Who won the debate?

Analysis by BBC political correspondent Ben Wright

No stand-out winner and a debate that won’t trouble the absent front-runner Boris Johnson.

His team thought there was nothing to be gained from pitching up for this blue-on-blue skirmish which was mostly good natured but repeatedly raised questions the candidates struggled to answer.

How can the next prime minister renegotiate a deal with the EU? How can it be done by October? How could the UK leave without a deal if MPs refuse?

At one end of the debate, Dominic Raab was rounded on for saying he would be prepared to try and suspend parliament if it was the only way to get the UK out without a deal at the end of October.

In the opposite corner, Rory Stewart was the only one who said a renegotiation with the EU in the next four months was a fantasy promise.

At some point this week one of the five will break out and become the challenger to Boris Johnson for the ballot of Tory members.

No-deal Brexit?

The candidates at the debate before a studio audience in east London also argued over whether a no-deal Brexit should be considered.

Mr Javid said no deal was the “last thing” he wanted, but added: “You do plan for no deal precisely because you want a deal.”

Mr Raab said Britain would be able to “manage those risks” associated with leaving the EU without a deal.

However, Mr Stewart said “I think a no-deal Brexit is a complete nonsense,” adding “it would be deeply damaging for our economy.”

The candidates were united in condemnation of the Labour leader with Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt accusing Jeremy Corbyn of being “against aspiration”.

Environment Secretary Michael Gove argued that he was the candidate Mr Corbyn would be most scared of facing at Prime Minister’s Questions.

The UK’s next prime minister

‘Where’s Boris?’

Mr Johnson, the front-runner in the leadership race, was represented at the debate by an empty lectern.

And Mr Hunt attacked his failure to appear.

“Where’s Boris?” he asked, adding “if his team won’t allow him out with five fairly friendly colleagues, how is he going to deal with 27 European countries?”

Mr Stewart also made a pointed dig at his absent colleague, saying he hoped “one of us” – referring to the MPs who had attended the debate – becomes prime minister.

Speaking to Radio 4’s World at One on Friday, Mr Johnson said he was “pretty bewildered” by claims he was dodging scrutiny and said the public had had “quite a lot of blue-on-blue action, frankly, over the last three years”.

He said the best time to take part was on Tuesday after the second ballot and would be at the BBC debate on Tuesday, hosted by Emily Maitlis.

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Media captionMichael Gove tells Today says he’ll be a “unifying figure”

Health Secretary Matt Hancock – who withdrew from the leadership race after the first ballot – has backed Mr Johnson “as the best candidate to unite the Conservative Party” as has Esther McVey, who was eliminated in the first round.

Writing in the Times, Mr Hancock said Mr Johnson had a “unique personality”, adding: “I have confidence Boris will be a One Nation prime minister because that’s how he ran London – consistently – for eight years.”

Mr Gove told BBC Radio 4’s Today he was “naturally disappointed” that Mr Hancock had chosen to endorse his rival rather than himself.

While Mr Johnson remained the frontrunner, Mr Gove said “we need to make sure he is tested” and he believed he could make it to the final two as a “strong alternative” who was equipped to “be prime minister from day one”.

Compare candidates’ policies

Select a topic and a candidate to find out more


– Has said he would consider a further delay to Brexit to achieve a better deal.
– Plans to negotiate a “fullstop” to the Irish border backstop plan. He wants a free trade agreement, similar to the deal between Canada and the EU.
– Would support a no-deal Brexit if he couldn’t get a better deal from Brussels.

– Would leave the EU with no deal, but it’s not his preferred option.
– Wants changes to the Irish backstop and proposes sending a new negotiating team to Brussels.
– Wants to make changes to the Withdrawal Agreement and thinks it’s possible to get them done by 31 October, but has not ruled out an extension.

– Would focus on making changes to the backstop. Would commission UK border force to work on solving the Northern Ireland border problem, paid for by the UK.
– Says he cannot envisage circumstances in which he would want to have another extension to the UK’s exit date and the country must be prepared for a no-deal Brexit.

– Wants to leave on 31 October, the deadline for Brexit set by the EU, with or without a deal. He admits a no-deal exit will cause “some disruption” but says the “way to get a good deal is to prepare for no deal”.
– Wants to remove the backstop from any deal and replace it with “alternative arrangements”.
– Says he would withhold the £39bn “divorce” payment the UK is due to give the EU as part of the negotiated deal. He says the money will be retained until there is “greater clarity about the way forward”.

– Wants to re-open the withdrawal agreement for renegotiation in order to “overhaul the backstop”.
– Says a new deal would include “the vast majority” of the deal Theresa May negotiated, but would replace the Irish backstop with “alternative arrangements” involving “advanced customs and trade measures” and checks away from the border.
– Willing to leave on WTO rules, claiming it is “far better than leaving with a fatally flawed deal”, and will not rule out proroguing Parliament (essentially shutting it down) ahead of the 31 October deadline to prevent it blocking a no-deal Brexit

– Believes a no-deal Brexit would be “catastrophic” for the UK and is “undeliverable” and “unnecessary”.
– He said it was unrealistic to believe the UK could get a new Brexit deal agreed by the EU and Parliament by the 31 October deadline.


– Says he wants to replace VAT after Brexit with a lower, simpler sales tax.
– Wants to create the “most pro-business” tax regime in the world and put business at the heart of the revival of Britain.
– Says he would not use the tax and benefits system to give the already wealthy another tax cut.
– Says he would scrap the High Speed rail 2 project.

– As an entrepreneur, he wants to turn Britain into the next Silicon Valley, a “hub of innovation”.
– Pledged to slash business taxes to the lowest in Europe to attract firms to Britain after Brexit and reduce corporation tax.

– Has promised to break from the austerity of the past nine years by slowing the pace of debt reduction.
– Says this would free up about £25bn a year for spending priorities, including education.
– Other money would be spent on local government and efforts to tackle crime, including an increase in the number of police officers by 20,000.

– Pledges to cut income tax for people earning more than £50,000 by raising the 40% tax threshold to £80,000.
– Says it will benefit three million people and would cost £9.6bn a year.
– Plans to pay for the cut partly from a pot set aside by the Treasury for a possible no-deal Brexit, and partly by increasing employee National Insurance payments.

– Wants to cut the basic rate of income tax from 20% to 15%. He suggests the basic rate falling by a penny a year.
– Would equal a tax cut for the majority of UK workers. HMRC says there are currently 26.3m basic rate tax payers, but IFS says it costs about £5bn for every 1p cut in the rate of income tax.
– Wants to raise the point that people start to pay national insurance to be the same as income tax, £12,501 a year.
– This is expected to cost £10bn a year.

– Criticises other candidates for offering “cheap electoral bribes” to win support.
– Says rather than being “straight” with people, his opponents have pledged “eye-watering” tax cuts worth £84bn.


– Says he wants to ensure the NHS is “fully-funded, properly funded” and that funding is protected under law.
– Says he will spend £1bn extra on schools if he becomes prime minister.

– Mental health support in every school and a crackdown on social media companies that fail to regulate their content.
– A cut in interest rate paid on tuition fees.
– Long term plan to provide more funding for the teaching profession in return for a guarantee that no one leaves the education system without a “rigorous qualification” sufficient to work up to at least the average salary.

– Has suggested slowing down the rate of debt reduction, to release money for education.
– Wants to see a “multi-year, multi-billion-pound boost” to spending on schools to “change the life chances of so many young people”.

– Promises to raise spending on secondary school pupils to £5,000 each.
– Called the funding gap between some schools in cities compared to those in rural areas a “disturbing reality”.
– Has previously said money spent on the EU could be put into the NHS.

– Wants review of spending in Whitehall, with a “special commission” to look at public sector procurement, especially in the NHS.
– Says he would “recycle roughly half” of the savings made by the spending review into frontline services, such as teachers and nurses.

– Pledges to invest more into education, especially for those in “mid-life”.
– Vows to put a long-term plan in place to tackle the issue of social care in the UK.
– Says people should not have to pay hospital car parking charges to visit a sick relative or wait four weeks for a GP appointment.

The TV debate also saw politicians being asked about their priorities apart from Brexit.

Mr Javid chose funding education and further education colleges, saying: “We have cut back too much in that space.”

Mr Raab said he wanted to improve state schools and offer more choices for young apprenticeships, while Mr Gove said children would be his top priority and emphasised the importance of protecting the environment for the future.

Mr Hunt told the audience “every Conservative has two desires: cut taxes and spend more on public services.” He also said he would focus on literacy and the social care system.

Mr Stewart said his central priority would be fixing adult social care, describing the issue as “the great unfinished revolution”.

Biggest weakness?

Asked about their weaknesses, Mr Gove said he was impatient, while Mr Raab said he was “a restless soul” who “always wanted to make things better”.

Mr Javid admitted to being stubborn while Mr Stewart said there were “many things he didn’t know about the world”. However, he added that “we need leaders who listen” and criticised “macho posturing”.

Mr Hunt joked that his biggest weakness was “getting my wife’s nationality wrong” – but on a more serious note, said in his battle with junior doctors as health secretary, he could have been “better at communicating” what he was trying to do.

The candidates will now go on to take part in further ballots until only two remain.

The final pair will be put to a vote of the 160,000 members of the Conservative Party from 22 June. The winner is expected to be announced about four weeks later.

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