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Rory Stewart denies social media stunt during TV debate as Tory votes come thick and fast

Stewart removed his tie mid-debate but denied it was pre-planned.

Source: BBC News/YouTube

THE TORY LEADERSHIP votes will continue today with more voting tomorrow if required. 

The race heated up last night with another vote seeing Dominic Raab eliminated and a loud and fractious debate live on the BBC.   

In the debate, frontrunner Boris Johnson managed to avoid any trademark gaffes and emerged largely unscathed after an onslaught from his four remaining rivals.

Rory Stewart, who has moved from outsider in the race to shape the narrative in the past couple of days, trended on Twitter during the broadcast when he removed his tie on air. 

The Conservative Party’s 313 MPs will vote once again today to remove the candidate with the least support.

Johnson grabbed more votes than his three nearest challengers combined in yesterday’s second-round and the only question appears to be who will eventually join him in the final two to face the party’s 160,000 members.

Johnson had ducked out of the first TV debate on Sunday and has carefully stage-managed his media engagements in a contest that remains his to lose.

Yesterday, he cast himself as the one politician able to bring Britain successfully out of the European Union and therefore deliver the Brexit that UK voters called for three years ago.

“We must come out on October 31 because otherwise I’m afraid we face a catastrophic loss of confidence in politics,” said Johnson in the hour-long BBC question-and-answer session with voters.

“I think the British people are thoroughly fed up.”

But neither he nor the others raised their hands when asked by the BBC to do so if they could “guarantee” that Brexit will happen by 31 October.

Britain Conservatives Johnson remains the man to beat in the contest. Source: Vudi Xhymshiti/PA Images

Frantic search for leader

The debate did little to alter a growing sense that Johnson would need to make an error of monumental proportions not to win at this stage.

The Guardian newspaper called Johnson’s performance “sober and sensible”.

“Still the clear front-runner, still almost certainly the next PM,” it wrote.

Stewart has been attempting to cast himself as the “Stop Boris” candidate but admitted after the debate that he could have done better. 

“I didn’t find that format really worked for me and I am going to have to learn how to flourish in a strange format of alternative reality,” he told Newsnight. 

Asked why he did removed his tie, the candidate joked that it was down to the high stools the candidates were placed on.  

“Well I thought maybe if I could take my tie off we could get back to a bit of reality. I was beginning to feel on those strange BBC white bar stools, that we were moving off into an alternate reality,” he told Newsnight.

This morning he denied that it was planned in advance as a social media moment.

“That’s too cunning by half, that’s brilliantly cunning but that was not my cunning plan. No honestly I did not think I would trend on Twitter by taking off my tie,” he told BBC Radio 5.    

Back in the debate, Stewart fired the most direct barbs at Johnson by arguing that “no-deal is not a credible threat”.

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Both Hunt and Gove repeated that a further delay may be required if a Brexit deal was within reach.

“If we were nearly there, then I would take a bit longer,” Hunt said.

But Javid said it was “fundamental” to get out by the new deadline no matter what.

Johnson has warned throughout that he is prepared to take Britain out of the European Union without an agreement — as long as it is done by the 31 October deadline.

But he has also called this tough talk a negotiating tactic designed to scare Brussels and force it to compromise on the nagging issue of the Irish border.

EU leaders have long ruled out re-opening the binding part of the agreement they all signed with May last year.

Only Stewart is openly trying to salvage May’s pact in the hope of pushing it through Britain’s splintered parliament at the fourth attempt.

The Daily Telegraph suggested that Stewart and Johnson had moved closer to a face-to-face showdown “after emerging as the big winners” from yesterday’s vote and debate.

There are currently five candidates left that will be whittled down to just two after votes  today and tomorrow. 

The finalists will face the ruling party’s grassroots members in a vote next month to decide who wins.

© – AFP 2019 with reporting by Rónán Duffy

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