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Tory leadership rivals split on Brexit plans

Tory leadership rivals Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt are at loggerheads over how the UK should leave the European Union (EU).

Both contenders for prime minister claim they can renegotiate a Brexit deal that the EU says is closed.

Mr Johnson said the UK must leave on 31 October “deal or no deal” but Mr Hunt called this a “fake deadline” that could trigger a general election if Parliament rejects a no-deal Brexit.

The winner of the contest will take over from Theresa May on 24 July.

The two men will face more questions from the public on Wednesday in a digital hustings, streamed on the Conservative Party’s Facebook and Twitter accounts.

In an interview with Talk Radio, Mr Johnson insisted he would take the UK out of the EU by Halloween “come what may, do or die” and has challenged his opponent to make the same commitment.

Mr Hunt said he was prepared to leave without a deal, but not if there was a “prospect of a better deal”.

During a phone-in on BBC Radio 2’s Jeremy Vine Show, Mr Hunt agreed with a caller who said the EU was “treating us like dirt”, adding: “I don’t think they’ve shown respect for us at all.”

He has secured the backing of Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson – who supported Sajid Javid and then Michael Gove in previous rounds – because she said he had “put the Union first”.

A no-deal exit would see the UK leave the customs union and single market overnight and start trading with the EU on World Trade Organisation rules.

Opponents say it would cause huge disruption at the borders and be catastrophic to many firms reliant on trade with the continent – supporters say any negative effects would be manageable.

The EU has repeatedly insisted it will not re-open negotiations on the withdrawal agreement drawn up between Brussels and Theresa May – rejected three times by Members of Parliament (MPs).

On Wednesday, a European Commission spokeswoman confirmed that remained the bloc’s position even if the only alternative was a no-deal exit.

Earlier, former Brexit secretary Dominic Raab, who is backing Mr Johnson, said Mr Hunt had shown “weakness” and “naivety” by entertaining the possibility of another extension. –BBC

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