The two finalists in the race to lead the UK’s governing Conservative Party — and become the country’s new prime minister — on Saturday made their first formal pitches to party members, vowing to be the right man to deliver Brexit.
Former British secretary of state for foreign and Commonwealth affairs and ex-London mayor Boris Johnson, the runaway favorite of Conservative lawmakers, faced off with British Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs Jeremy Hunt at a party conference in central England’s Birmingham.
Opening his address with a focus on delivering the UK’s stalled exit from the EU, Johnson told the audience that “we need to get Brexit done” and be prepared to leave the EU without a withdrawal deal in place.
“I am here to tell you that in all confidence we can turn this thing around,” he said. “I am utterly convinced that with the right energy and the right commitment, common sense will prevail. But just in case it does not, we must prepare to come out anyway.”
Johnson has won backing from the Conservative Party’s die-hard Brexiteers by insisting the UK must leave the bloc on the rescheduled date of Oct. 31, with or without a divorce agreement with the EU to smooth the way.
Johnson and Hunt said they would succeed in seeing the UK out of the EU, a challenge that defeated British Prime Minister Theresa May.
She earlier this month quit as Conservative leader after repeatedly failing to win the British parliament’s backing for her Brexit deal and is to leave 10 Downing Street when her successor is selected.
Hunt pitched himself as the better negotiator, saying that “catastrophe awaits” if the wrong leader is sent to Brussels for talks with EU leaders.
“If we send the wrong person, there’s going to be no negotiation, no trust, no deal, and if parliament stops that, maybe no Brexit,” he said.
“Send the right person, and there’s a deal to be done,” he added.
For the party conference in Birmingham, both contenders were given time to make a short speech before answering questions from the host and audience members.
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