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Johnson v Hunt: Where do they stand?

We now know that Johnson and Hunt are the candidates Conservative MPs have decided to put to members. They have both put forward their policies, and have attended hustings and debates. We have summarised the policies of the candidates below.

On Brexit


Brexit is perhaps the most important issue of the day, and definitely the most divisive. Polling data suggests that the Tory members want a hard Brexit, and the majority of members voted for the Brexit party in the European elections. Thus many commentators and candidates have assumed that the selectorate able to vote in this leadership election are heavily in favour of a hard, or fast, Brexit.

Jeremy Hunt has committed to leaving the EU, with no deal if necessary. However, he has said that he would prefer to leave with a deal. He wants to make amendments to the Withdrawal Agreement, and says that he thinks that it is possible for this to be done before the 31st of October, but has left the door open for an extension. As part of his proposals for new negotiation, he also says that he would send a new negotiating team to Brussels to seek changes to the Irish backstop.

Boris Johnson has committed to leaving the EU on the 31st of October with or without a deal. He has said that the ‘best way to get a good deal is to prepare for no deal’, and wants to remove the entire backstop from the Withdrawal Agreement but retain the Implementation Period. He would seek to replace the backstop with ‘alternative arrangements’. Additionally, he has said that he would withhold the £39bn ‘divorce’ payment that the UK has already negotiated with the EU to pay for projects, pensions and salaries already spent as a member of the EU until the EU agreed to his preferred deal.

This is what they say, but is it all fantasy? Contrary to what seems like political wisdom in some parts, withholding a £39bn payment that has already been negotiated for projects, wages and services that have already been completed and paid for is not a good negotiating strategy. The EU budget is €165.8 billion this year, and the amount Johnson is proposing be withheld would not bankrupt the EU but would instead make clear the bad faith of his negotiating position. Either’s insistence that they would re-open negotiations goes against the EU’s position that the Withdrawal Agreement will not be revisited, and Johnson is the only one who has given an indication of how he intends to bring the EU back to the table. It must be remembered that Johnson’s supporters are statistically more likely to be no deal-Brexiteers.

Taxes


Jeremy Hunt has pledged to slash business taxes to the lowest in Europe, and reduce corporation tax, to turn Britain into a ‘hub of innovation’ after Brexit. He also suggested tax breaks for families who modify their houses or build new ones to house elderly family members, taking inspiration from other European countries who spend less on social care than the UK.

Boris Johnson has pledged raise the 40% tax bracket from £50,000 to £80,000, which he claims will benefit three million people and cost £9.6bn a year. He plans to plans to pay for this by partly gutting reserves set aside by the treasury to mitigate the impact of a possible no-deal Brexit and by increasing employee National Insurance payments.

Both proposals have been relatively controversial. Hunt’s has been criticised as a push to make the UK a post-Brexit tax haven, while Johnson’s has been criticised as a huge tax cut exclusively for the wealthy.

Education


Jeremy Hunt has called for every school to provide mental health support to its students, alongside regulation for social media companies that fail to tackle online bullying. He has also pledged to cut interest rates on university tuition fees and implement a long term plan to provide more funding for schools and teachers, that would include guarantees that every student leaves school with enough qualifications to get a job that pays at least the average salary.

Boris Johnson promised to ensure that schools spend a minimum of £5,000 per pupil, wherever they are in the country. He would seek to reduce the funding gap between schools in cities and rural schools which currently stands at £2,600 per pupil. He said that “It is simply not sustainable that funding per pupil should be £6,800 in parts of London and £4,200 in some other parts of the country”

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