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Tory leadership race: Candidates face questions on Trump and Brexit

Tory leadership candidates

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Tory leadership contenders have urged Donald Trump not to interfere in UK affairs amid a row over his latest criticism of London Mayor Sadiq Khan.

The US President re-tweeted a message criticising Mr Khan’s record on knife crime referring to “Londonistan”.

Home Secretary Sajid Javid said the president’s attacks on Mr Khan were “unbecoming” of a US leader and “he should stick to domestic politics”.

Michael Gove, Dominic Raab and Rory Stewart also stood up for Mr Khan.

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said he would not have used the same language as Mr Trump although he “agreed 100%” with him about the mayor’s failings on serious crime.

The candidates were asked about Mr Trump’s comments at a private hustings in Parliament – where they were also quizzed by journalists about their Brexit policy and personal beliefs.

Former foreign secretary Boris Johnson skipped the event, having also missed Sunday’s Channel 4 TV debate.

He remains the clear frontrunner in the race after topping the first ballot with 114 votes.

But Mr Johnson’s low visibility in the campaign so far continues to attract criticism from his rivals and their supporters.

Justice Secretary David Gauke, who is supporting Mr Stewart, said the public was “entitled” to expect every candidate to subject themselves to rigorous scrutiny.

“At the moment Boris Johnson is not doing that,” he told BBC News.

He also accused Mr Johnson of making a series of pledges to cut tax or spend more – via his newspaper column – without answering the question “where is the money coming from?”

Mr Johnson has agreed to take part in a BBC TV debate after Tuesday’s ballot while he was expected to attend a hustings organised by the 1922 Committee of Tory backbenchers.

What the candidates said about Trump?

Mr Trump re-ignited his long-running feud with Mr Khan, calling for him to quit in the wake of a weekend of violence in the capital, in which three people were killed.

He re-tweeted a message from the media commentator and broadcaster Katie Hopkins, which referred to the deaths in “Stab City” and said “this is Khan’s Londonistan”.

The candidates hoping to succeed Theresa May were asked about Mr Trump’s comments, which have been criticised by No 10 and Labour.

According to reports of the event, Mr Javid – who was not invited to a state banquet in honour of Mr Trump earlier this month – was the most critical of the US President.

According to the reports, Mr Hunt was the only one who sought to differentiate Mr Trump’s rhetoric from what he said were his legitimate criticism of Mr Khan’s record in office.

Mr Hunt was one of a handful of leading politicians who had private talks with Mr Trump during his state visit earlier this month.

After Tuesday’s hustings, Mr Stewart called on all the candidates to “condemn 100%” Ms Hopkins’ language and the “sentiment” behind it.

In response, former Tory Party chair Baroness Warsi, the first Muslim women to sit in cabinet, said Mr Hunt had personally re-assured her that he “abhorred” Ms Hopkins’ language and found the use of the term Londonistan offensive.

What they said about Brexit

Mr Raab defended his backing for the UK to leave the EU on 31 October with or without a deal – saying the “biggest risk is the paralysing uncertainty” currently afflicting the UK.

Mr Stewart said he believed Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement could be the basis of a “moderate, pragmatic” Brexit despite being rejected by MPs three times.

Media captionMoments you may have missed from the Tory leadership TV debate

He said his new approach to explaining and promoting the deal agreed with the EU could “unlock” up to a dozen Tory MPs, after which he would seek Labour backing.

If the parliamentary deadlock could not be broken, he said his plan B was to get 500 or so members of the public to decide how to proceed in a citizens’ assembly.

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Mr Hunt said the central question about delivering Brexit was “who” was going to be doing the negotiating.

And what they said about each other

Ahead of the hustings, Mr Hunt urged Mr Johnson to show “Churchillian spirit” and turn up.

Mr Raab started his hustings slot by describing the event as an “essential gauntlet” in an apparent dig at his erstwhile rival.

Mr Javid warned against his rivals turning on each other, saying that the only winners of a “vicious” debate would be Labour.

The home secretary conceded he was not the most confident orator in the field.

“I didn’t go to the debating societies at Oxford or other places. But I am trying to communicate in the best way I can.”

Mr Gove, who famously fell out with Mr Johnson after the 2016 referendum, said “Boris could be a good prime minister, but I think I could be a better one.”

Among the more unusual questions fielded, Mr Stewart – a former solider and diplomat – was asked whether he ever worked for MI6, to which he replied no.

And Mr Hunt was asked whether he believed in God, to which he said yes.

Tory leadership race: Candidates face questions on Trump and Brexit}

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