Voting is finally underway in the Tory leadership contest. So should Britain’s next prime minister be Boris Johnson or Jeremy Hunt? Boris is the clear frontrunner but could Jeremy Hunt’s impressive campaign mean that another political upset is on the cards?
In some areas, the pair are in complete agreement: they both oppose a second referendum on Scottish Independence, want to reduce Britain’s greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050 and have pledged to tackle the North-South divide.
But what of the policy differences? Here’s a round up of where each candidate stands:
Boris has pledged that Britain will leave the EU by 31 October ‘come what may, do or die’, and has not ruled out proroguing Parliament in order to achieve this. His Brexit plan is to first seek to negotiate a new deal with the EU which replaced the Irish backstop with alternative arrangements. Boris has threatened to withhold the £39 billion divorce bill until a new deal is agreed. If no deal is agreed, Boris would ask the EU for a ‘standstill period’ to negotiate a free trade deal. He argues that, under an WTO article known as GATT 24, the UK would be able to trade with the EU tariff free for up to ten years until a deal can be thrashed out.
Like Boris, Hunt wants an alternative Brexit deal that changes or replaces the backstop. To achieve this, he has said that he would talk with EU leaders throughout the summer and recruit a new negotiating team of experienced international trade experts. Hunt takes a softer line than Boris on the divorce bill, saying he would pay only as much of it as is ‘legally required’. And on no deal, Hunt has pledged to begin preparations from ‘day one’. This includes a no-deal cabinet taskforce, a national logistics committee, a no-deal Brexit budget and a no-deal relief programme. Unlike Boris, Hunt has ruled out proroguing Parliament and he has said he would be prepared to extend the October 31st deadline if the negotiations are close to completion at that point (he has said he will make a decision on this at the end of September).
Boris is prepared to open the coffers if he becomes prime minister, pledging many spending commitments including providing more money for public sector workers, increasing the National Living Wage and recruiting an extra 20,000 police officers. Parking his tank on Corbyn’s lawn, Boris has also hinted that he would hit the tech giants with a new tax. At the same time, he would cut business rates for the high street, raise the higher rate tax threshold as well as the thresholds for the 40p rate of income tax and national insurance, and establish Singapore-style tax-free zones at UK ports. He (now) supports Heathrow’s third runway, wants every home to have full-fibre broadband by 2025, and has expressed support for a bridge connecting Northern Ireland and Scotland (but he would subject HS2 to further review). Like Jeremy Hunt, Boris would spend 0.7 per cent of GDP on Foreign Aid.
Forever touting his credentials as an entrepreneur, Hunt wants to turn the UK into the ‘the next Silicon Valley’. Hunt would cut corporation tax, scrap business rates for 90 per cent of high street shops and increase the tax-free annual investment allowance from £1 million to £5 million. Hunt backs Heathrow’s third runway and, unlike Boris, unequivocally backs HS2. Pitching at both young and old, Hunt has promised to keep free TV licences for the over-75s while announcing a new ‘Right to Own’ scheme to help young people onto the property ladder. Hunt also wants to increase defence spending by £15 billion over the next five years. And like Boris, he wants to raise the point at which workers start paying National Insurance.
Styling himself as the champion of ‘Oppidan Britain’ (a reference to non-scholarship students at Eton), Boris wants to reverse George Osborne’s cuts to education funding and give England’s schools budget a boost of £4.6 billion per year. Boris wants to raise per-pupil spending in primary and secondary schools, pledging at least £4,000 in funding per pupil in the former, and £5,000 per pupil for the latter. Previously, he has said the Tories must ‘address’ the question of student debt and that he would look at cutting interest rates on student loans.
A former English teacher in Japan, Hunt has made abolishing illiteracy a central part of his leadership campaign and has pledged more funding to accomplish this (although he has not specified how much). As part of his ‘five-point plan’ for young people, he has also committed to providing mental health support in every school. In terms of higher education, Hunt has pledged to abolish tuition fees for graduates who start a business and employ more than ten people for five years. He has also vowed to reduce interest rates on all student loans.
Health and Social Care
During the EU referendum campaign in 2016, Boris famously promised £350 million a week for the NHS. Boris has affirmed that under his leadership the NHS would remain ‘free to everybody at the point of use’ and called for more money to be invested in social care. Health secretary Matt Hancock, who backs Boris, has claimed that Boris would also give public sector workers a pay rise. Attacking the ‘nanny state’, Boris has also announced that he would freeze ‘sin taxes’ on foods high in salt, fat and sugar.
Unlike Boris, the former health secretary – who backed the introduction of a sugar tax – has said that as prime minister he would target manufacturers so that they reduce sugar content in foods. He has promised more council funding for social care and has said he would like to introduce an opt-out insurance system – similar to the pension system – to fund it. Hunt also wants to offer tax breaks to families building ‘granny flats’ or taking on caring duties. As well as committing to providing mental health support in every school as part of his ‘five-point plan’, Hunt has also called for a crackdown on social media companies that fail to regulate content, and is committed to the target of having pollution-free cities in ten years.
Boris would like the UK to be ‘much more open’ to high-skilled migrants, do away with the net migration target and adopt an Australian-style points-based system. Under his proposal – which he would instruct the Migration Advisory Committee to investigate – migrants would have to hold an offer of employment and be able to speak English before coming to the UK, and would not be able to claim benefits until they have completed a period of work.
Hunt has said that Britain cannot become ‘Little England’ and ‘pull down the shutters’ after Brexit, claiming that, because his wife is Chinese, he has benefitted ‘first hand’ from immigration. Like Boris, he has pledged to scrap the target of reducing net migration to below 100,000, and he has also called for a review of the policy that prevents migrants with less than £30,000 coming to the UK.
Boris has backed gay marriage, created a Violence Against Women and Girls board as London mayor and campaigned against FGM. He is yet to make clear his views on fox-hunting (when asked yesterday he refused to comment, saying that it’s ‘not top of my intray’), but a key donor for his leadership campaign, Johan Christofferson, is former master of the hunt for the Isle of Wight.
Hunt’s liberal credentials have been questioned several times during this campaign. First was the revelation that he believes that the legal term limit for women to have an abortion should be halved from 24 to 12 weeks. Then, yesterday, he announced that he would bring back fox hunting (although he later claimed that there wouldn’t be a majority in Parliament to do this). His support for gay marriage and LGBT lessons in schools might placate some liberal Conservatives, but his record is far from woke.