U.K. prime ministerial contenders prepare for only head-to-head debate

The two contenders to replace U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May will square off Tuesday in their only head-to-head debate in the campaign.

The televised debate between front-runner Boris Johnson and Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt will follow numerous events in which the candidates took questions individually from Conservative Party members. They are voting to choose a new party leader who will automatically become prime minister on July 23.

Hunt’s supporters have expressed frustration at the reluctance of Johnson to take part in direct debate, and hope this showdown offers a chance to turn the contest around.

But it’s late in the campaign: Ballot papers have already gone out to the party’s estimated 180,000 members, and many people will already have voted. That means the impact may be limited even if Hunt’s performance is strong.

Polling suggests Johnson, a former London mayor, is far ahead in support among Conservative Party members.

Hunt said on Monday if he becomes prime minister, he would seek to boost poor national productivity by supporting entrepreneurs in a bid to emulate the business culture of the United States. He pledged to “turbo-charge” the economy by cutting taxes on businesses, and boosting investment in infrastructure and education.

“We can only afford to fund our vital public services if we grow the size of the pot and my plan will do exactly that,” Hunt, himself an entrepreneur, said in a statement setting out plans for the economy.

“We have to remember that the Conservative Party should back the wealth creators and entrepreneurs who take risks to create jobs.”

Johnson, meanwhile, has promised to meet the Oct. 31 deadline to take Britain out of the European Union with or without a deal, and says he is the best Conservative to beat off electoral threats from the Labour Party and a new Brexit Party led by veteran eurosceptic Nigel Farage.

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