Race to win keys to Downing Street hots up as gap between rivals narrows

2019-06-26 20:56

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LONDON, June 26 (Xinhua) -- Boris Johnson, Britain's former foreign secretary, remains favorite to become the new occupant of 10 Downing Street, but latest odds show the gap between him and his trailing rival has narrowed.

Current Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt has been given new hope of catching up and overtaking Johnson in the race to become Theresa May's successor as Britain's prime minister.

Johnson's lead has started to slip following an escalation in Hunt's campaign, and the fallout from a highly publicized domestic incident at the weekend between Johnson and his girlfriend Carrie Symonds.

"Whether this is a small blip or the first signs of something more catastrophic for the former Foreign Secretary remains to be seen," stated the Daily Telegraph Wednesday.

A YouGov poll carried out just prior to the domestic row story breaking found Conservative Party members backed Johnson by a margin of almost three to one.

At the heart of their respective campaigns is the fate of Brexit, and what will happen on Oct. 31, the deadline set by Brussels for Britain to agree a deal for its withdrawal from the European Union.

Both Johnson and Hunt insist the leave result in the 2016 referendum, exactly three years ago, must be respected.

Johnson has insisted in his latest media interviews that Britain must leave on Oct. 31 even if there is no deal.

Most of Britain's national newspapers zoomed in on a promise Johnson made in a radio interview when he said he would take out of the European Union by the deadline date "come what may, do or die."

Johnson said on his social media account: "If I become PM, we will leave the EU on 31st October, deal or no deal."

And throwing down the challenge to Hunt, Johnson added: "I have asked Jeremy Hunt whether he will also commit to this date, no matter what. We must keep our promises to the British people and deliver Brexit no ifs, no buts, and no second referendum."

Hunt said Johnson's "do or die" deadline could trigger a snap general election that could see Jeremy Corbyn moving into Downing Street as a Labour prime minister. In the process it could wreck Brexit altogether, said Hunt.

Hunt said Wednesday he will keep no deal on the table as an option, but has left open the potential for a short extension if an agreement with the EU is within reach.

"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 would be with a heavy heart because businesses up and down the country would face a lot of destruction," Hunt told the BBC in a television interview.

Brussels has insisted so far that the deal they agreed with outgoing Prime Minister Theresa May is not up for renegotiation by the new prime minister.

The big question for whoever wins is what would happen if, in October, the British parliament votes on whether they will allow a no-deal Brexit.

A no-deal departure from the EU would mean Britain having to trade with EU member states under the World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules.

Johnson's threat of a no-deal Brexit threw the contest for the leadership of the governing Conservative Party into a higher gear.

The two rivals took part in an online hustings Wednesday to give party members a chance to question the pair.

Over the coming weeks Johnson and Hunt will travel the country to take part in a series of hustings in which they will come face-to-face with party members.

Early in July the 160,000 members of the Conservative Party will receive voting papers to chose their candidate for the top job in British politics.

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