TV debates must still go ahead even if Boris Johnson pulls out, Jeremy Hunt insists
Jeremy Hunt has called on broadcasters not to cancel their Tory leadership debates even if Boris Johnson is refusing to take part in them.
The Foreign Secretary claimed it was unfair to “deprive” him of the chance to make his case on why he should be the next Prime Minister because of his rival’s “shyness”.
In an open letter to TV and radio companies, Mr Hunt said it was their “duty” to allow him to answer the public’s questions on his plan for running the country.
It comes after Mr Johnson pulled out of a Sky News debate on Tuesday, and is not taking part in any more until after ballot papers have been sent to party members.
Mr Hunt accused his fellow candidate of being “disrespectful” to the Tory grassroots with a deliberate plot to “run down the clock so that by the time any debate happens, the votes are already being counted”.
In his letter to broadcasters, he said: “Despite your best efforts to organise a debate, at this time of writing there is not one single head to head debate between the two candidates running to be Prime Minister before voting opens."
Mr Hunt added: “This is wrong, and disrespectful to our Party members who have had to wait 14 years to be able to elect a new leader democratically, and also deprives the general public of the opportunity to get to know the person who becomes their new Prime Minister.”
And he urged stations to press ahead with their planned events, saying: “He may still prove unwilling to subject himself to this scrutiny, but I do not believe it is fair or appropriate to deprive the other candidate of the chance to make their case on account of his shyness.”
Mr Johnson and Mr Hunt are set to take part in a series of hustings for Conservative members around the country, but so far the only televised head-to-head debate both sides have agreed to will take place on ITV on July 9.
As well as turning down the Sky News debate this week, Mr Johnson also did not take place in an event for candidates on Channel 4 News earlier this month, who left an empty podium to represent him, although he did appear in a BBC debate a few days later.
A source close to Mr Johnson told PoliticsHome: “Boris will be on the airwaves telling the country he is the only candidate who will deliver brexit on October 31, with or without a deal - and proving why he is the man to beat Jeremy Corbyn.”