Tory leadership rivals Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt clash over Brexit plans

Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt have clashed over their plans for delivering Brexit as a former head of the civil service warned against making "straight jacket" promises to leave on Halloween.

In an open letter, Mr Johnson challenged his rival to commit to taking Britain out of the EU on October 31 "come what may", warning not doing so would have "devastating" consequences for the Conservative Party and the country.

However, Mr Hunt hit back, calling it a "fake deadline" which – if adhered to – could lead to a general election which would hand power to Labour and derail Brexit altogether.

Mr Johnson's apparent hardening of his stance on guaranteeing Brexit "with or without a deal" came as former civil service chief Bob Kerslake called the October 31 pledge "a complete hostage to fortune".

In comments reported by The Independent, the former Whitehall mandarin warned Parliament will not countenance leaving the EU without a deal.

"It is always a good maxim in politics not to enter a room unless you know that you can get out of it," the peer told the Chamberlain lecture in London on Tuesday.

"Boris Johnson has not only entered the room but he has put on the straight jacket, padlocked the door and started the tap running."

Mr Johnson used a series of broadcast interviews on Tuesday to set out his plans for Brexit, insisting that the shock of the European election results would force both the Tories and Labour to acknowledge that the current impasse could not continue.

In a BBC interview, Mr Hunt suggested Mr Johnson would find it difficult to get a new deal with Brussels as he would struggle to win the trust of fellow EU leaders.

"The judgment is who is the person we trust as prime minister to go to Brussels and bring back that deal," he said.

"It's about the personality of our prime minister. If you choose someone where there's no trust, there's going to be no negotiation, no deal."

Mr Hunt has pledged to leave no deal on the table as an option, but has left open the potential for a short extension if an agreement with Brussels is in reach.

"I think that 31 October come hell or high water is a fake deadline, because it's more likely to trip us into a general election before we've delivered Brexit, and that would hand the keys to Jeremy Corbyn and then we'd have no Brexit at all," he told the BBC.

"I will leave the European Union without a deal. But I'm not going to do that if there's a prospect of a better deal and if I did it it would be with a heavy heart because businesses up and down the country would face a lot of destruction."

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Retransmitted correcting byline to Yui Mok Conservative party leadership contender Boris Johnson leaving his office in Westminster, London.
Conservative party leadership contender Boris Johnson leaving his office in Westminster, London.
A blimp depicting Boris Johnson is launched in Parliament Square, London, ahead of a pro-European Union a march organised by March for Change.
A Pro EU demonstrator is seen wearing Conservative Party leadership contender Boris Johnson's face mask while holding a placard, during the �No to Boris. Yes to Europe� march in central London. (Photo by Dinendra Haria / SOPA Images/Sipa USA)
A stilts-walker wearing a giant Nigel Farage's head pulling two puppets, the Conservative leadership candidates Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt, during the �No to Boris. Yes to Europe� march in central London. (Photo by Dinendra Haria / SOPA Images/Sipa USA)
Conservative Party leadership candidate Boris Johnson jumps down from a trailer during a visit to King & Co tree nursery, in Braintree, Essex, ahead of the Tory leadership hustings in Colchester, Essex.
Conservative Party leadership candidate Boris Johnson in a fork lift truck during a visit to King & Co tree nursery, in Braintree, Essex, ahead of the Tory leadership hustings in Colchester, Essex.
Conservative Party leadership candidate Boris Johnson during a Tory leadership hustings in London.
Supporters of Conservative leadership candidate Boris Johnson before a Tory leadership hustings in London.
Conservative Party leadership candidate Boris Johnson during a visit to Wetherspoons Metropolitan Bar in London with Tim Martin, Chairman of JD Wetherspoon.
Conservative Party leadership candidate Boris Johnson during a visit to Wetherspoons Metropolitan Bar in London with Tim Martin, Chairman of JD Wetherspoon.
Conservative Party leadership candidate Boris Johnson during a visit to Wetherspoons Metropolitan Bar in London with Tim Martin, Chairman of JD Wetherspoon.
Conservative Party leadership candidate Boris Johnson during a visit to construction work for the expansion of Terminal Two at Manchester Airport.
Conservative Party leadership candidate Boris Johnson during a visit to construction work for the expansion of Terminal Two at Manchester Airport.
Conservative Party leadership candidate Boris Johnson during a visit to construction work for the expansion of Terminal Two at Manchester Airport.
Conservative party leadership candidate Boris Johnson watches as a sheep is prepared for shearing during a visit to Nosterfield farm near Ripon in North Yorkshire, ahead of the latest hustings in York later.
Conservative party leadership candidate Boris Johnson holds up a string of sausages around his neck during a visit to Heck Foods Ltd. headquarters near Bedale in North Yorkshire ahead of the latest hustings in York later.
Conservative party leadership candidate Boris Johnson sits in a chair in a clothing shop during a visit to Guisborough, North Yorkshire.
Conservative party leadership candidate Boris Johnson makes sausages during a visit to Heck Foods Ltd. headquarters near Bedale in North Yorkshire ahead of the latest hustings in York later.
Conservative party leadership contender Boris Johnson during a Tory leadership hustings at Darlington Hippodrome.
Conservative party leadership candidate Boris Johnson makes sausages during a visit to Heck Foods Ltd. headquarters near Bedale in North Yorkshire ahead of the latest hustings in York later.
Conservative party leadership candidate Boris Johnson during a visit to Guisborough, North Yorkshire.
Conservative party leadership contender Boris Johnson arriving at a Tory leadership hustings in York.
Conservative party leadership candidate Boris Johnson during a visit to Nosterfield farm near Ripon in North Yorkshire, ahead of the latest hustings in York later.
Conservative party leadership candidate Boris Johnson poses for a selfie with a steelworker during a visit to Guisborough, North Yorkshire.
Conservative leadership candidate Boris Johnson looks through binoculars on the bridge of the Isle of Wight ferry as it sets sail from Portsmouth.
Conservative party leadership contender Boris Johnson poses for a photo at the Wight Shipyard Company at Venture Quay during a visit to the Isle of Wight.
Conservative party leadership contender Boris Johnson arrives for a Tory leadership hustings in Crooklands in Cumbria.
Conservative party leadership contender Boris Johnson addresses party members at the Oaktree Arena in Highbridge, Somerset.
Conservative party leadership contender Boris Johnson thumbs up as he leaves an event after addressing party members at the Oaktree Arena in Highbridge, Somerset.
Conservative party leadership contender Boris Johnson speaking during a Tory leadership hustings at Carlisle Racecourse.
Conservative party leadership contender Boris Johnson speaking during a Tory leadership hustings at Carlisle Racecourse.
Conservative party leadership contender Boris Johnson speaking in Exeter during a Tory leadership hustings.
Conservative party leadership contender Boris Johnson sits in a boat under construction at the Venture Quay boatyard during a visit to the Isle of Wight.
Conservative party leadership contender Boris Johnson arrives to speak at a Tory leadership hustings at Carlisle Racecourse.
Conservative leadership candidate Boris Johnson looks out from the bridge of the Isle of Wight ferry St Faith, as it sets sail from Portsmouth.
Conservative party leadership contender Boris Johnson speaking at a campaign event in Wombourne in the West Midlands.
Conservative party leadership candidate Boris Johnson (left) and Dominic Rabb in The Victoria public house in Oxshott, Surrey.
Supporters during Conservative party leadership contender Boris Johnson's leadership hustings in Crooklands in Cumbria.
Conservative party leadership contender Boris Johnson's father Stanley Johnson (left) watching his son speak in Exeter during a Tory leadership hustings.
Conservative party leadership contender Boris Johnson at a campaign event in Wombourne in the West Midlands.
Campaigners from Our Future, Our Choice (OFOC) flood Lord North Street in Westminster, London, where Boris Johnson's campaign headquarters is , with 2000 rubber ducks.
Conservative party leadership contender Boris Johnson with a supporter at a Tory leadership hustings in Crooklands in Cumbria.
Conservative party leadership contender Boris Johnson speaking at a Tory leadership hustings in Crooklands in Cumbria.
Conservative party leadership contender Boris Johnson at a campaign event at the Lion Quays Hotel in Oswestry, Shropshire.
Conservative party leadership candidate Boris Johnson has a drink in the Munch and Wiggles cafe in Oxshott, Surrey.
Conservative party leadership candidate Boris Johnson (left) and Dominic Rabb in The Victoria public house in Oxshott, Surrey.
Conservative party leadership candidate Boris Johnson (centre) and Dominic Rabb (right) talk to staff in the Surrey Hills Butchers in Oxshott, Surrey.
Conservative party leadership candidate Boris Johnson (left) and Dominic Rabb in The Victoria public house in Oxshott, Surrey.
Conservative party leadership candidate Boris Johnson (right) interacts with local business people in the Munch and Wiggles cafe in Oxshott, Surrey.
Conservative party leadership candidate Boris Johnson (second left) weighs some produce in the Surrey Hills Butchers in Oxshott, Surrey.
Conservative party leadership candidate Boris Johnson (right) interacts with local business people in the Munch and Wiggles cafe in Oxshott, Surrey.
Conservative party leadership candidate Boris Johnson (right) interacts with local business people in the Munch and Wiggles cafe in Oxshott, Surrey.
Conservative party leadership candidate Boris Johnson (left) and Dominic Rabb, in The Victoria public house in Oxshott, Surrey.
RETRANSMISSION adding name of Hayley Monckton. Conservative party leadership candidate Boris Johnson (centre) walks with David Alexander (left, Director of Estates at the RHS) and Hayley Monckton (front right, Director of Communications at the RHS) while touring the RHS (Royal Horticultural Society) garden at Wisley, in Surrey.
Conservative party leadership candidate Boris Johnson during a tour of the RHS (Royal Horticultural Society) garden at Wisley, in Surrey.
Conservative party leadership candidate Boris Johnson talks to a visitor as he tours the RHS (Royal Horticultural Society) garden at Wisley, in Surrey.
Conservative party leadership candidate Boris Johnson talks to visitors during a tour of the RHS (Royal Horticultural Society) garden at Wisley, in Surrey.
Conservative party leadership candidate Boris Johnson during a tour of the RHS (Royal Horticultural Society) garden at Wisley, in Surrey.
Conservative party leadership candidate Boris Johnson (centre) gestures to visitors as his staff members walk up the steps, during a tour of the RHS (Royal Horticultural Society) garden at Wisley, in Surrey.
Boris Johnson pictured during a live phone in with LBC presenter Nick Ferrari, at their studios in central London. Picture date: Tuesday June 25, 2019. Photo credit should read: Matt Crossick/Empics
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Mr Johnson's Brexit plans also came under attack from International Trade Secretary Liam Fox, who slapped down the former foreign secretary over his claim Britain could use international trade rules to continue tariff-free trade with the EU in the event of no-deal.

Mr Johnson has argued that a provision under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade – known as Gatt 24 – could be used to avoid tariffs under World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules for up to 10 years.

But Dr Fox, a Brexiteer who is backing Mr Hunt for the Tory leadership, said that would require the agreement of the EU, which Brussels had made clear would not be forthcoming.

He said it was essential that the public debate on the issue was conducted "on the basis of fact rather than supposition".

Dr Fox's warning came after a day in which Mr Johnson sought to get his campaign back on track with a media blitz in which he vowed to take Britain out of the EU by the end of October "do or die".

However, he continued to refuse to answer questions about his personal life following a late-night row last week with his partner, Carrie Symonds, which saw police called to their south London home.

The two remaining contenders to succeed Theresa May will face more questions on Wednesday in a digital hustings.

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