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'Where is Boris?' Five of six Tory candidates face off in debate

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'Where is Boris?' Five of six Tory candidates face off in debate
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Reuters
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Five candidates for Prime Minister faced off in the first debate of a Tory leadership contest launched when Theresa May stepped down on June 7.

One candidate was notably absent.

Leadership favourite and ex-foreign secretary Boris Johnson refused Channel 4’s invitation to join the debate.

The broadcaster put an empty podium in the centre of the debate floor to show his absence.

Journalist Krishnan Guru-Murthy opened the debate highlighting that all the candidates for Tory leadership are men. He referenced Johnson’s empty podium and said the candidate was “welcome to take his place at any point in the program”.

Twenty-five minutes into the debate, candidate and foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt was the first to critique Johnson's absence.

“Where is Boris? If his team won’t allow him out with five fairly friendly colleagues, how is he going to deal with 27 European countries?"

The main debate questions were posed by members of a live studio audience.

Brexit

Most of the debate focused on the Conservative plan for Brexit and though all candidates support leaving the European Union, there were differing opinions on a no-deal Brexit and how to proceed on the issue.

International development secretary Rory Stewart said no deal was not an option.

“I think a no deal Brexit is a complete nonsense,” Stewart said.

READ: Who are the contenders for UK PM and what are their views on Brexit?

READ: Brexit: should Boris Johnson and the Tories get real on no deal?

Many candidates expressed vehement opinions about suspending parliament, turning on former Brexit secretary Dominic Raab who said it would not be “illegal” to do so.

“You don’t deliver democracy by trashing democracy. We are not selecting a dictator of our democracy. We are selecting a prime minister of our democracy,” home secretary Sajid Javid said about the option of proroguing Parliament.

Raab insisted that the United Kingdom must leave at the end of October, stating that it was a mistake to take no deal off the table.

Stewart called suspending parliament "undemocratic" and said "Parliament is not a building. Parliament is our democratic representatives and they will meet regardless of what the prime minister wants".

Stewart also said the debate had turned into a competition of "machismo" and said the candidates were not "going to get a different deal out of Europe".

Environment secretary Michael Gove said that he would be able to get a different deal from the EU.

"I have shown in government that my conviction can carry me through. And I’ve taken on impossible odds," Gove said.

Hunt said that a no-deal Brexit was Nigel Farage's first choice, but shouldn't be the first choice of Conservatives. He said that the UK also needs a Brexit that will work for the 48% who voted to Remain.

The candidates also spoke about uniting the country with Sajid Javid bringing up the third anniversary of the murder of MP Jo Cox.

Javid said he wasn't from the party's "central casting" and when asked a question about his background as British-Pakistani he said, "I think we have become the most successful multiracial democracy in the world. I think the country is ready for anyone to be prime minister as long as they have the talent to do the job".

On the issues

One questioner said Brexit was a "massive distraction" and asked about what the most important issue apart from Brexit would be.

Raab talked about creating wider choices and paving the way for young apprenticeships. Hunt talked about turbocharging the economy to become the world's "next Silicon Valley". He also talked about the social care system, stating that older people should die with dignity and respect.

Gove said "children" would be his priority, mentioning climate and poverty and leaving future generations a better world. Stewart mentioned robotics and artificial intelligence eliminating jobs in the future but said his number one priority would be social care.

Javid said public services were his priority and that he relied on them to get where he is now.

Weakness?

Often the candidates came across as eager job candidates. Each had to answer the question what is your greatest weakness.

Gove talked about impatience and was asked about his previous cocaine use to which he said he had learned from his mistake. Jeremy Hunt defended Gove saying that every candidate had done something they did not want their parents to find out about. He said they should not be "trivialising" the debate.

Raab spoke about being restless; Stewart talked about acknowledging his own ignorance on issues; Javid and Hunt said they were stubborn.

During the "weakness" section of the debate, Guru-Murthy asked some provoking questions including whether or not Javid being left out of the Trump state dinner was because he wasn't a "big enough figure", to which Gove responded, "Saj does not need Donald Trump to tell him he is a big figure".

The last question was on mental health to which the candidates agreed the government needs to do more including focusing on prevention.

Many experts commenting in the direct aftermath of the debate said there wasn't a clear leader.

The second round of voting will take place on Tuesday.

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