Tory leadership: Boris Johnson slammed for dodging questions in fiery TV debate

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Boris Johnson was attacked for refusing to answer questions as the two Tory leadership contenders traded attacks in a bad-tempered head-to-head debate.

After Mr Hunt defended the UK ambassador in Washington in a growing row with Donald Trump’s White House, Mr Johnson refused to say whether he would keep diplomat Sir Kim Darroch in post.

Julie Etchingham with Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt. (Photo by Matt Frost/ITV via Getty Images)

Julie Etchingham with Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt. (Photo by Matt Frost/ITV via Getty Images)

Mr Hunt also questioned Mr Johnson’s leadership after he refused to say if he would resign rather than break his “do or die” commitment to deliver Brexit on 31 October.

The frontrunner to become Prime Minister hit back, calling Mr Hunt a “defeatist” and insisting only his leadership could “get back our mojo”.

The two men went into last night’s ITV debate with the Foreign Secretary having condemned Mr Trump for an astonishing twitter attack on the UK Ambassador over leaked diplomatic cables.

In tweets yesterday, Mr Trump called ambassador Sir Kim Darroch “a very stupid guy” and “wacky”, and claimed Theresa May had “failed” in Brexit talks.

READ MORE: Trump blasts UK Ambassador after leak

Mr Hunt committed to keep the ambassador in post until his retirement, which is expected at Christmas, But Mr Johnson did not.

The former London Mayor continued to refuse to criticise the US President, saying “he was dragged into a British political debate, I don’t think that was necessarily the right thing to do...[but] our relationship with the US is of fantastic importance”.

Struggling to hide their mutual contempt, both men failed to give an answer when asked to name qualities they admired in one another.

Mr Johnson praised Mr Hunt’s “ability to change his mind” on Brexit, while Mr Hunt said sarcastically: “I really admire Boris’s ability to answer the question.

“I think he has this great ability – you ask him a question, he puts a smile on your face, and you forget what the question was.

“It’s a brilliant quality for a politician, maybe not a prime minister though.”

Earlier, Mr Hunt said: “Because Boris never answers the question, we’ve absolutely no idea what a Boris premiership would be like.”

On Brexit, Mr Johnson attacked Mr Hunt’s willingness to delay leaving the EU if a deal is in sight on 31 October as “the same old failed can-kicking approach”.

READ MORE: Opinion: Not all private school pupils are mini Boris Johnsons

Repeating his threat to withhold the UK’s £39bn Brexit divorce payment, Mr Johnson said it should be “suspended in creative ambiguity above the talks”.

Mr Johnson claimed a no-deal Brexit would be “vanishingly inexpensive if you prepare” and suggested that an “outbreak of realism” among MPs meant parliament would not seek to block a no-deal scenario.

In tense exchanges, the former London Mayor refused to say whether he would resign if he failed to deliver Brexit as promised. “I don’t want to hold out to the EU the prospect that they might encourage my resignation, if they refuse a deal,” Mr Johnson said.

Mr Hunt hit back, saying: “It’s do or die for the country, but not for the Prime Minister who doesn’t put his neck on the line. That’s not leadership... it’s not do or die, it’s just Boris Johnson in No 10 that matters.”

Mr Johnson dismissed his rival as a “stickler for detail” and a “defeatist who was on the other side of the argument” in the EU referendum.

He drew laughs from the audience for his repeated interruptions, heckling Mr Hunt over the Brexit deadline: “Christmas any good?”

Later Mr Hunt claimed his rival was “peddling optimism”.

“Being prime minister is that you tell people what they need to hear, not what they want to hear,” Mr Hunt said.

Mr Johnson replied: “I think we need some optimism quite frankly. We have had a belly-full of defeatism.”