Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt will debate head-to-head for the first time in the battle to be prime minister, as protesters gather outside to demonstrate against the choice being made by 0.25% of the population who are members of the Conservative party.
Johnson, the frontrunner in the Tory leadership race, will face Hunt in front of an audience of 200 ITV viewers in Manchester, answering questions via the moderator, Julie Etchingham, and challenging each other during the 90-minute programme.
The audience will be made up of members of the public, even though the decision on who will be the next prime minister will be made by 160,000 members of the Tory party who are overwhelmingly older, male and white.
Hunt’s campaign has accused Johnson of dodging televised debates until most Tory members have submitted their postal ballots, and the foreign secretary’s team regard it as their last major chance to change the minds of those who have not yet decided.
The contenders have already appeared at hustings events where they were interviewed separately in front of Conservative members and took part in a TV debate when five candidates were still in the race.
However, this will be the first time they have faced each other one-on-one, 10 days after ballot papers were sent to Tory members.
Outside the event, campaigners for a people’s vote on Brexit plan to protest against the small number of voters making the choice on behalf of the country.
Pointing to the 0.25% of the country who are Conservative members, they will wear T-shirts saying the 99.75% should have a say on who governs Britain.
They plan to hold a huge mocked-up ballot paper asking: “Who do you want to decide Britain’s Brexit future? Just 160,000 Conservative party members? Or everyone – with a people’s vote.”
Johnson has spent Tuesday so far at events with members and visiting the north of England.
He has been urged by William Hague, the former Tory leader, to use the debate to rule out suspending parliament in order to push through a no-deal Brexit.
At a hustings organised by the Daily Telegraph on Monday, Johnson issued a fresh warning to Tory MPs seeking to block no deal.
“If we don’t get Brexit over the line then we face a haemorrhage of support,” he said, according to the Telegraph. “The risk they run is we will hand, by sheer incompetence, this government to a hardline Marxist.
“I make that point to Dominic Grieve and others who didn’t want to leave the EU. We’ve been very, very negative. We need to be much more robust and confident.”
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