Sat, Jun 22, 2019 - Page 7 News List

Johnson faces Hunt in British PM battle

AFP, LONDON

A combination of two undated photos shows British Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs Jeremy Hunt, left, and former London mayor Boris Johnson outside 10 Downing Street in London.

Photo: AP

Former London mayor Boris Johnson is to face will face British Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs Jeremy Hunt in a run-off to become Britain’s next prime minister after a final ballot of lawmakers on Thursday, with the winner tasked with guiding the nation through Brexit.

In the fifth ballot of Conservative Party MPs, Johnson, a former secretary of state for foreign and Commonwealth affairs, won 160 of the 313 votes, while Hunt earned 77.

Johnson said he was “deeply honored” to have such emphatic backing from his colleagues, having won more than half the votes.

“I look forward to getting out across the UK and to set out my plan to deliver Brexit, unite our country, and create a brighter future for all of us,” he tweeted.

British Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Michael Gove, who with Johnson had led the successful 2016 referendum campaign to leave the EU, was narrowly eliminated after winning 75 votes.

The center-right party’s 160,000 grassroots members will now pick their new leader from the final two, who will then take over from British Prime Minister Theresa May late next month.

Johnson and Hunt have promised to take Britain out of the EU as quickly as possible, with the current exit date — after two delays — set for Oct. 31.

Both say they want to renegotiate the deal May has already struck with Brussels — which parliament has rejected three times — but are prepared to walk away if necessary.

However, the EU has repeatedly said it will not change the text and the tough talk of “no deal,” particularly from Johnson, has sparked frustration across the bloc.

As the result was announced in the House of Commons, May attended her final EU summit in Brussels, where the bloc’s leaders told her successors what to expect.

“Some of my colleagues have lost their patience,” Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said.

Hunt has suggested he might delay Brexit briefly if a deal with Brussels was close, and Johnson has refused to guarantee leaving on Oct. 31.

However, Varadkar said there was “enormous hostility” to a delay, saying it might only be acceptable to facilitate a snap election or even a second Brexit referendum.

Johnson was the frontrunner from the start and despite his history of gaffes, has barely put a foot wrong in the campaign.

Critics say this is because he has limited his public and media appearances, ducking one of two live television debates.

Johnson and Hunt must now face the scrutiny of members at 16 hustings around Britain.

The pair will have their first televised head-to-head debate on ITV on July 9.

Both men have been accused of failing to explain how they will break the Brexit deadlock in just a few short months.

Business leaders are deeply alarmed by any talk of “no deal,” which the Bank of England on Thursday said was a rising risk.

Johnson is a divisive figure, accused of populist rhetoric and a lack of attention to detail that led to an underwhelming two years as Britain’s foreign minister.

However, Johnson has wooed Conservative lawmakers with a promise that only he has the big personality to break the Brexit deadlock and, if necessary, win a snap election.

The smooth-talking Hunt is a more traditional foreign minister, although his supporters insist that beneath his easy manner is a tough negotiator.

Responding to the result, Hunt tweeted: “I do not doubt the responsibility on my shoulders — to show my party how we deliver Brexit and not an election, but also a turbo-charged economy and a country that walks tall in the world.”

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