LONDON (AP) — The Latest on British politics and Brexit (all times local):
The two men vying to be Britain’s next leader have traded verbal blows during a televised debate over which of them is more likely to deliver a successful exit from the European Union.
Conservative Party politicians Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt both claimed during the Tuesday night debate that they were best placed to negotiate the U.K. to Brexit day, which was postponed twice and currently is scheduled for Oct. 31.
Johnson says Britain leaving on schedule, with or without a divorce deal with the EU, is a “do or die” issue.
Hunt said he would be prepared to delay the departure for a short time to win approval of a deal on withdrawal terms that many economists say is needed to prevent chaos in transportation and the delivery of imported goods.
Johnson called Hunt, who followed him as Britain’s foreign secretary, “defeatist.”
Hunt accused Johnson of setting a “fake deadline” to further his ambition to be Britain’s next prime minister. He asked if Johnson he would resign if he failed to fulfill his promise to meet the Oct. 31 Brexit deadline.
Hunt said: “It’s not do or die, is it? It’s Boris in No. 10 (Downing St.) that matters.”
About 160,000 Conservative Party members are eligible to vote for the party leader who will succeed Prime Minister Theresa May. The winner will be announced July 23.
In a significant shift, Britain’s main opposition Labour Party says the government should hold a referendum on whether to leave the European Union or remain in the bloc.
Leader Jeremy Corbyn says Labour will campaign to stay in the EU if a referendum is called by Prime Minister Theresa May’s successor. Conservative lawmakers Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt are competing for her job.
Labour’s opponents, and many supporters, have accused the party of dithering over Brexit for fear of alienating voters on opposing sides of the debate. But recent elections suggest Labour is losing support to parties that advocate remaining in the EU.
Corbyn said Tuesday that the new prime minister “should have the confidence to put their deal, or no-deal, back to the people in a public vote.”
The two contenders to replace British Prime Minister Theresa May will be squaring off in their only head-to-head debate in the campaign.
The television debate Tuesday between front-runner Boris Johnson and Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt comes after numerous events around the country in which the candidates took questions individually from Conservative Party members. They are voting to choose a new party leader who will automatically become prime minister.
Hunt’s supporters have expressed frustration at the reluctance of Johnson to take part in direct debate, and hope that this debate offers a chance to turn the contest around.
But it comes late in the campaign: Ballot papers have already gone out to the party’s estimated 180,000 members, and many people will already have voted. That means that the impact may be limited even if Hunt’s performance is strong.