5 things we learned from Tory leader hustings – from fox hunting to Royal Yachts
There was a ring of steel – or, we should say, hay bales – for Thursday’s night’s Johnson-Hunt showdown.
Boris Johnson faced Jeremy Hunt at a farming showground in Kent for the 12th of 16 hustings in the Tory leadership race.
Boy, was there a queue to get in. There was no chance of protesters as everyone’s ID was checked at the other end of a field.
But what with the repetitive messages, the dwindling offers of news and the stifling heat of the massive hall, you could forgive us for being a little fatigued.
And since Twitter crashed for about an hour midway through, you’d have been forgiven for not following it properly. either.
Despite all the bluster, though, there were some glimpses of information we learned. Here they are…
1. Boris Johnson blamed anyone but himself over the US Ambassador
Boris Johnson revealed he’d phoned Sir Kim Darroch as he shamelessly tried to dodge responsibility for the Ambassador’s resignation.
He told a Tory hustings in Kent: “I rang Kim yesterday and said how much I regretted his resignation.”
Sir Kim quit hours after Mr Johnson failed to promise he could keep his job. Yet Mr Johnson denied he was responsible for the Ambassador's departure – and accused political rivals of “politicising” it.
He claimed Sir Kim was “the victim of a very unpleasant stunt” by the leaker adding: “Whoever leaked that those diptels deserves to be hunted down and prosecuted.”
Mr Johnson claimed he would stand up to President Trump as Prime Minister,
saying: “I will stand up for our fantastic diplomats across the world “I just don’t think their careers should be used as political footballs.”
But he said he had to protect the Special Relationship – the “single most important strategic fact of the 20th Century.”
And recalling comments in 2015, when he branded Trump “clearly out of his mind”, he admitted: “That was then.”
2. He said we need to ask the Queen if she wants a Royal Yacht
Yes, the Royal Yacht was briefly brought back on the agenda for some reason only the most diehard can understand.
Boris Johnson has said “we need to work out” if the Queen wants a new Royal Yacht to boost UK standing after Brexit .
The Tory leadership frontrunner stopped short of backing Tory calls for a new yacht, stressing he would not “embarrass” the monarch by “imposing a yacht on her”.
He added the decision was "up to others above me". But he left the door open to backing the project in future.
The Royal Yacht Britannia took her final voyage in 1997 after 44 years’ service travelling more than a million miles.
Some Tory MPs have campaigned for a replacement at a reputed cost of more than £100million but with little success.
Mr Johnson was asked if he’d back a new Royal Yacht Britannia for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee in 2022.
A Tory member at a hustings in Maidstone, Kent, claimed it would be “a post-Brexit weapon in our foreign policy”.
He replied: “I think the crucial thing is that it should be something that Her Majesty herself actually wants – and I’ve not established that.
“I don’t think we should embarrass her, let me put it that way, by imposing a yacht on her.”
He then told the audience: “I think we need to discover somehow, tactfully. Perhaps you have some contacts!
“I think we would need to work out whether it is something that would actually be welcome.”
3. He didn’t rule out bringing back fox hunting – but it’s definitely not a priority
Boris Johnson rebuffed calls to promise Tory MPs a free vote on scrapping the fox hunting ban.
But the Prime Ministerial hopeful did not rule it out in future.
He told the Tory hustings in Kent: “Whatever people think about this issue I do not in all sincerity, with Brexit hanging over us, with the need to get our party back in shape, to beat Jeremy Corbyn … I do not think this is the one to put at the top of our standard.”
It comes after Jeremy Hunt prompted outrage and soon backtracked after saying he’d give MPs a free vote on repealing the ban.
4. He hinted at banning live animal exports – but didn’t promise that either
Boris Johnson hinted he could ban live animal exports after Brexit – but did not give a guarantee.
He called the industry a “really terrible business for these animals” who suffer “great stress and confusion”.
But he stopped short of giving a guarantee, saying: “We would be able to do that.”
He said the current agreement with the EU makes it “impossible to vary our laws.”
5. And meanwhile… Jeremy Hunt said he 'would like to do something' over a call to SCRAP Inheritance Tax
We didn’t feature him much in this piece because he’s unlikely to become PM.
But it’s worth noting that Jeremy Hunt said he “would like to do something about” cutting or scrapping Inheritance Tax – which would largely benefit wealthier estates.
The Tory leadership contender said it was not his first priority – but he planned “big tax reforms” in future.
Conservatives have already hiked the inheritance tax threshold in a tax cut for families with £1million estates.
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