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‘Don’t hide away’: Hunt challenges Johnson to more TV debates

Jeremy Hunt has challenged Boris Johnson to get involved in more televised debates – and sooner, saying "if you want the top job you've got to turn up for the interview".

The Tory leadership hopeful said it would make a "mockery" of the contest if the two contenders did not appear in a debate before voting begins next month.

Some 160,000 Conservative Party members will be able to vote via postal ballot before the new prime minister is announced in late July.

Tory leadership contest: How will party members choose?

The remaining contenders will audition in front of the Conservative grassroots by taking part in 16 hustings events across the UK.

In a letter addressed to Mr Johnson, the current foreign secretary said he was "concerned" Mr Johnson had only committed to one TV debate.

He continued it would do the country a "disservice" if the leadership hopefuls "hid away" until voting was over.

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"So my challenge to you is this: let's have live televised debates right at the start of this contest, and specifically at least two in the next two weeks before members receive their ballot papers.

"I will debate you anytime anywhere on live TV."

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The final two candidates are expected to take part in a head-to-head ITV debate on 9 July hosted by Julie Etchingham.

Sky News also is hosting a debate shortly, moderated by Kay Burley, which Mr Hunt has agreed to take part in – but which Mr Johnson has so far refused to commit.

Conservative leadership debate – be in the audience

Conservative leadership debate – be in the audience

Sky News is planning to host a live leadership debate between the final two contenders to replace Theresa May as Conservative leader, and you could be in the audience.

"If the party want him to go out to battle against Nigel Farage, Jeremy Corbyn, 27 EU countries, then surely it's not such a big deal to go out against a friendly foreign secretary," Mr Hunt said.

He continued: "This is the biggest job in the country, the most important position in the land.

"If you want the top job you've got to turn up for the interview."

Mr Hunt and Mr Johnson will be taking part in 16 hustings events in every region across the UK in a bid to win over Tory members.

The first will be held in Birmingham today and will see the candidates taking questions from members and putting forward their cases.

However Mr Hunt argued that hustings do not provide the same "rigorous scrutiny" as appearing on news programmes.

In an earlier debate on Channel 4, an empty podium was reserved for Mr Johnson after the former foreign secretary chose not to attend.

Tory leadership: Can Jeremy Hunt possibly beat Boris Johnson?

Tory leadership: Can Jeremy Hunt possibly beat Boris Johnson?

If the foreign secretary is seen as a less fearsome opponent than Michael Gove, how should he take the fight to the frontrunner?

Mr Johnson was present for a later debate hosted by the BBC which was fielded by Emily Maitlis.

A recent survey by the ConservativeHome website, polling Tory party members, found Mr Johnson remained the clear frontrunner.

He was the preferred next leader by 62% of those asked, compared to 11% for Mr Gove.

In a head-to-head choice between the pair, Mr Johnson beat Mr Hunt by 72% to 26%.

Earlier on Friday, police were called out to the home of Mr Johnson and his partner Carrie Symonds after neighbours reportedly heard a loud altercation involving screaming.

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