Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt unveil new pledges in leadership race

Boris Johnson and Jeremy HuntImage copyright Reuters/PA

Tory leadership rivals Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt have unveiled pledges on immigration and education.

Frontrunner Mr Johnson has promised to deliver an Australian-style points-based immigration system if he becomes prime minister.

And Foreign Secretary Mr Hunt said he would cancel the tuition fee debts of young entrepreneurs who start businesses and employ people.

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

In the Conservative Party digital hustings, broadcast on the party’s Facebook page and on Twitter on Wednesday evening, Mr Johnson said he was “open to talent, open to immigration” but he said it “should be controlled”.

He called for an Australian-style-points-based system, considering factors including whether an immigrant has a firm job offer before arrival and their ability to speak English.

Mr Johnson said he would also block the ability to claim benefits immediately when someone arrives in the UK.

“We must be much more open to high-skilled immigration such as scientists, but we must also assure the public that, as we leave the EU, we have control over the number of unskilled immigrants coming into the country,” he said.

This would restore public faith and democratic control in the immigration system, while being “tougher on those who abuse our hospitality”, he added.

The Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill is currently at report stage and contains plans to end the existing automatic preference for EU citizens.

However, the bill does not set out what the new immigration system will look like from 2021, and a consultation to shape this is not due to report back to Parliament until the end of this year.

‘Turbo-charge our economy’

Under Mr Hunt’s new proposal, anyone who creates a new business which employs more than 10 people for five years would have their university tuition fee debts written off.

Mr Hunt, who has stressed his background as an entrepreneur, said he wanted to give young people the confidence to go into business for themselves.

“If we are to turbo-charge our economy and take advantage of Brexit, we need to back the young entrepreneurs who take risks and create jobs,” he said.

“I started my own business, I still use the lessons that experience taught me – focus, drive and the art of negotiation – every single day.

“I want more young people to have the confidence to take the decision to start their own business, so we create wealth and start thriving as a country again.”

The ringmaster or the safe-ish pair of hands?

Smart? Intelligent? Surely, yes we would all want a clever politician in charge, someone who grasps complexity and is willing to put in the hours to solve the country’s problems.

But without resorting to the insult that the inhabitants of Westminster would have been on stage and screen if only they’d been more aesthetically blessed, politics also has an element of performance about it.

It is a very serious form of showbiz if you like. Its most senior figures become famous, even if often for all the wrong reasons.

Political parties want their leaders to have “cut through”, to use the terrible jargon, not just to communicate clearly, but to make people want to listen.

Read more from Laura

The Institute for Fiscal Studies has estimated that Mr Hunt’s proposals, including a corporation tax cut and an increase in defence spending, would cost a total of between £37-£68bn.

It concluded the foreign secretary’s plans would leave no scope to relieve the pressure on other spending departments without tax rises or risking higher borrowing.

The IFS also analysed Mr Johnson’s tax plan, which includes increasing the £50,000 threshold for the higher rate of income tax, and concluded it would cost “many billions” and benefit the wealthy most.

Meanwhile, Mr Hunt spoke for the first time about the death of his sister in a “terrible accident” when he was only two years old.

“I was too young to ever remember it but I do know it affected my parents,” he told ITV’s Peston.

“I wouldn’t claim this is something that had a big emotional affect on me personally.”

Compare the candidates’ policies and careers

Select a topic and a candidate to find out more


– Would leave the EU with no deal, but it’s not his preferred option. – Wants changes to the Irish backstop and proposes sending a new negotiating team to Brussels. – Wants to make changes to the Withdrawal Agreement and thinks it’s possible to get them done by 31 October, but has not ruled out an extension.

– Wants to leave on 31 October, the deadline for Brexit set by the EU, with or without a deal. – Says he wants to leave on the basis of a new withdrawal agreement negotiated with the EU, with the backstop removed and replaced with “alternative arrangements”. – If this is not possible, he says he would ask the EU to agree to a “standstill period” during which the UK could negotiate a free trade deal with the bloc. – Failing this, he says the UK must be prepared to leave on World Trade Organisation (WTO) terms if required, and the country would “get ready for that outcome”. – Says he would demonstrate “creative ambiguity” over when the UK will pay the £39bn ‘divorce’ payment it is due to give the EU as part of the negotiated deal. He has also said the money should be retained until there is “greater clarity about the way forward”.


– As an entrepreneur, he wants to turn Britain into the next Silicon Valley, a “hub of innovation”. – Pledged to slash business taxes to the lowest in Europe to attract firms to Britain after Brexit and reduce corporation tax. – Wants to boost defence spending by £15bn over the next five years.

– Pledges to cut income tax for people earning more than £50,000 by raising the 40% tax threshold to £80,000. – Plans to pay for the reported £9.6bn annual cost of the cut in part from a pot set aside by the Treasury for a possible no-deal Brexit, and in part by increasing employee National Insurance payments. – However he says his tax proposals will begin by “lifting thresholds for those on lowest pay”. – Pledges to “find the money” to recruit an extra 20,000 police officers over an as-yet unspecified timetable. – Promises to speed up the delivery of ‘full fibre’ internet connection, with the super-fast service available to all by 2025, eight years earlier than currently planned.


– Mental health support in every school and a crackdown on social media companies that fail to regulate their content. – A cut in interest rate paid on tuition fees. – Long term plan to provide more funding for the teaching profession in return for a guarantee that no one leaves the education system without a “rigorous qualification” sufficient to work up to at least the average salary.

– Promises to raise spending on secondary school pupils to £5,000 each. – Called the funding gap between some schools in cities compared to those in rural areas a “disturbing reality”. – Has previously said money spent on the EU could be put into the NHS. – Says more should be spent on social care, according to a cross-party “national consensus”.


– The foreign secretary campaigned to remain in the EU during the 2016 referendum, but has since been reborn as a Brexiteer. – He even suggested, to widespread criticism, that the EU was like the Soviet Union. However, he has said his party would be committing “political suicide” if it tried to push through a no-deal Brexit. – An MP for South West Surrey since 2005, Mr Hunt was made culture secretary under the coalition government in 2010 and oversaw the 2012 London Olympics before becoming health secretary. – In 2018, he became the longest-serving health minister, and arguably one of the most controversial, since the NHS was created, completing six years in the role. During his tenure, he clashed with unions over contracts for junior doctors, who took part in a series of walkouts in 2015.

– The 55-year Eton and Oxford-educated former political journalist has coveted the top job for many years, but was beaten to No 10 by his contemporary David Cameron. – After eight years as mayor of London, he returned to Parliament as MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip in 2016. – A leading Brexiteer, Mr Johnson had been at odds with Theresa May’s Brexit vision for some time before he eventually quit as foreign secretary in protest last year. – Polls suggest he is a popular figure with members of the wider Conservative party.

Each candidate is vying for the votes of the 160,000 or so Conservative Party members who will vote for the next party leader and therefore prime minister.

The rivals used the digital hustings to set out some of their plans:

On Brexit

Mr Hunt said if the UK gets to October without the prospect of deal, “we will leave without a deal”.

Mr Johnson also repeated his pledge to get the UK out of the EU on 31 October, but he thinks the chances of a no-deal Brexit happening are a “million to one”.

On an election

Mr Hunt said it was essential the Conservatives had delivered Brexit before a general election, otherwise the party “will be thrashed”.

Asked about proroguing Parliament, Mr Johnson said: “It would be absolutely crazy for any of us to think of going to the country and calling a general election before we get Brexit done.”

When pushed, he added: “I’m not attracted to archaic devices like proroguing.”

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Media captionJeremy Hunt: ‘The reduction in police numbers went too far’

On trade rules

Mr Hunt dismissed rival Mr Johnson’s claims that a mechanism known as Gatt 24 could be used to prevent tariffs if there was a no-deal Brexit.

He said: “I think we’ve got to knock this Gatt 24 thing on the head. You can only get an agreement not to introduce tariffs if both sides agree to that.”

On EU citizens’ rights

Mr Hunt said he would give full citizens’ rights to the three million EU nationals living in the UK, even if the UK left without a deal.

Mr Johnson said he was “absolutely in favour” of protecting the rights of EU citizens in the UK.


The foreign secretary said he would back both the third runway at Heathrow and the HS2 high-speed rail link.

Mr Johnson said it had to be recognised that there was “huge pressure” on the South East, so more infrastructure was needed.

Media playback is unsupported on your device

Media captionBoris Johnson: ‘Too many people cannot get the housing they need’


Mr Johnson said the NHS would be “free to everybody at the point of use” under his premiership.

He ruled out a pay-for-access NHS, even as a result of a post-Brexit trade deal with the US.

Westminster’s public spending watchdog, the public accounts committee, said NHS recruitment and school funding must be the first priorities of the new prime minister, warning that Brexit had been overshadowing over issues.

Committee chairwoman Meg Hillier said education funding was a “crisis” and described NHS staffing shortages as “unsustainable”.

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