Boris Johnson hints at 'forthcoming' snap election during debate
Boris Johnson has dropped a huge hint that he plans to call a snap election if he becomes prime minister in a fortnight.
The former Foreign Secretary predicted that a poll is "forthcoming" as he clashed with Jeremy Hunt in the first head-to-head debate of the Tory leadership contest.
During angry exchanges, Johnson also refused to criticise Donald Trump for his attacks on Theresa May - and failed to guarantee that Sir Kim Darroch, the UK's ambassador to Washington, will keep his job if he enters Number 10.
And he gave the strongest hint yet that he would be willing to suspend parliament to force through Brexit by 31 October by insisting that he was "not going to take anything off the table".
The bookies' favourite to succeed May has repeatedly insisted that he has no immediate plans to go to the country if he becomes PM.
But insisting that the Tories must get on with delivering Brexit by Hallowe'en or face electoral disaster, Johnson said: "People can see that we are fatally losing trust of the electorate, and they can see that we asked people three years ago whether they wanted to leave the EU, they returned an overwhelming verdict that they wanted to come out. Parliament has failed to do that for three years.
"If we now fail again, if we fail again, I am afraid we will not win back the hundreds of thousands of voters who are currently deserting us for other parties, and that is how to lose the forthcoming election."
Both men were asked whether they were willing to suspend - or "prorogue" - Parliament to make sure MPs could not block a no-deal Brexit.
Hunt said: "Well I think when that has happened in the past and Parliament was shut down against its will we actually had a civil war. And I think it would be a rather curious thing to do if this is about taking back control to Parliament, to actually shut it down. So my answer is no."
But Johnson said: "Well I am not going to take anything off the table any more than I am going to take no-deal off the table, and I think it is absolutely bizarre at this stage in the negotiations for the UK yet again to be weakening its position."
On the furious diplomatic row which has erupted after Sir Kim's Darroch's diplomatic cables criticising the "inept" Trump administration, Hunt repeated his criticism of the US president, who has responded by condemning Theresa May and mocking the UK ambassador.
Giving Sir Kim his backing, he said: "If I am the prime minister the ambassador in Washington stays because it is our decision."
Invited to make the same pledge, Johnson said: "It is vital that our civil service is not politicised by ministers leaking what they say. Who ever leaked that deserves to be eviscerated… I’m not going to be so presumptious as to believe I am going to be in a position to take the decision.
"What I will say, is that I and I alone will decide who takes important and politically sensitive jobs, such as the UK ambassador to the US."
Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd, who is backing Hunt, said: "Jeremy won the debate by once again clearly explaining why he is the leader most likely to get a deal with the European Union.
"And he is the only candidate who has set out a detailed plan to cope with the economic challenges of no deal if that’s what it comes to.
"Jeremy is a deal maker and has a track record of delivery. He has my vote and I urge all members to back him."