LONDON — The two finalists in the race to lead Britain’s governing Conservative Party — and become the country’s new prime minister — made their first formal pitches to party members Saturday.
Ex-foreign secretary and former London mayor Boris Johnson, the runaway favourite of Tory lawmakers, faced off with Jeremy Hunt, the current foreign secretary, at a Conservative conference in central England’s Birmingham.
Opening his address with a focus on delivering Britain’s stalled exit from the European Union, Johnson told the audience, “We need to get Brexit done” and be prepared to leave the EU without a withdrawal deal in place.
“I am here to tell you that in all confidence we can turn this thing around,” he said. “I am utterly convinced that with the right energy and the right commitment, common sense will prevail. But just in case it does not, we must prepare to come out anyway.”
Johnson has won backing from the Conservative Party’s die-hard Brexiteers by insisting the U.K. must leave the bloc on the rescheduled date of Oct. 31, with or without a divorce agreement with the EU to smooth the way.
The politician refused to answer questions about a police visit early Friday to the London home he shares with partner Carrie Symonds after a neighbour reported an altercation.
The Guardian newspaper said neighbours reported hearing screaming, shouting and banging inside the home. The responding officers found all the occupants “safe and well” and no legal offences were committed, police said.
Johnson declined to comment on the incident, which dominated news headlines in Britain on Saturday. He said the public could judge his character and ambition by his track record as London mayor and his plans for the country.
Saturday’s “hustings” is the first of more than a dozen such party meetings set to take place across Britain in coming days.
Johnson and Hunt are the final two from a field of 10 contenders that was winnowed down in a series of votes by party lawmakers. About 160,000 party members across Britain will decide who wins in a by-mail vote.
The winner of the runoff, due to be announced the week of July 22, will become the new Conservative leader and replace Theresa May as Britain’s next prime minister.