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The day the Conservative leadership race came to the Kent Event Centre in Detling

By Paul Francis

Concerns that a no deal Brexit could lead to gridlock and place Kent's road network under stràin have been downplayed by the two contenders vying to become the next Conservative party leader.

Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt were taking part in a leadership hustings at the Kent Event Centre in Detling which drew an estimated audience of 700 party members.

Both candidates acknowledged that Kent faced challenges in the event of the UK not having a deal iñ place but insisted that contingency measures originally expected to be used in March remained in place.

Helen Grant outside the showground welcoming Boris (13714038)
Helen Grant outside the showground welcoming Boris (13714038)

Mr Johnson said that the Port of Dover was “fantastically well-prepared” but acknowledged that there was a case for “major improvements” to the road network such as dualling the A2.

“Shouldn't we be doing some vital road improvements here in the Garden of England? What about dualling the A2, for instance?”

Mr Hunt also expressed confidence in the Brexit contingency plans under Operation Brock: "I am confident that we will have smooth passage of traffic through ports - I may regret saying that - and I know you have a problem with M20."

The rival candidates made familiar commitments if they were elected. Mr Johnson told the audience that he was the candidate who could bring the Conservative Party together.

"My experience is people just want to get this (Brexit) done - people can see that we won't recover as a party for years if we don’t. If I have one criticism it is that we haven't been quite dynamic enough over the last three years. Politics has changed and hundreds of people have drifted away from the party. MPs understand that."

Jeremy Hunt meeting people at the hustings event
Jeremy Hunt meeting people at the hustings event

Here is how the events unfolded

He said he could unite the party and get Brexit “over the line” so the government could focus on other issues such as education and the health service.

One of the biggest cheers he received during his questioning was a commitment to protect greenfield and greenbelt land from development, saying that there was enough brown field sites available. "The idea that green field or green belt land needs to be sacrificed to build affordable homes is a nonsense.”

Mr Hunt gave a more sober presentation and depicted himself as the leader who could turbocharge the economy. But he also said the Conservative Party needed to show it was a compassionate party on issues such as social care.

Asked what will he do to improve adult social care and particularly end-of-life care, he said there would be more money for councils - and admitted cuts under austerity went further than they should have. He also admitted that cuts in police budgets had also gone too far.

“We do need to help councils with funding and I think that was an area we went further under austerity than we expected."

He rejected the idea of bringing Nigel Farage “ into the fold” saying that the best way to tackle the rise of the Brexit party was to “ get Brexit done.”

“Nigel Farage wants a Brexit deal straight away and I think it would be infinitely better for businesses, for our farmers to negotiate a deal.

The big issue is Brexit and the big risk is that If we approach it in a headstrong way we will end up with an election.”

While both candidates received a warm reception, it was Boris Johnson who enjoyed a more enthusiastic reaction from an audience that appeared to be more supportive of his candidacy than Mr Hunt.

Mr Johnson had made the most of his time in the county having spent the afternoon in Dover.

He first visited Dover Seafront and the port to meet Dover Harbour Board staff and management including chief executive Doug Bannister.

Joined by Dover and Deal MP Charlie Elphicke he walked the length of the new Western Docks pier.

There he was able to view the Dover Western Docks Revival development and learn about the new Saga liner Spirit of Discovery, which has sailed out of Dover last night for its first major cruise.

It had been named at the port by Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall just last Friday.

On his leaving the pier he was greeted by local well-wishers and chatted to a cross-Channel swmiming relay team who had just had a practice session.

Boris Johnson in Dover before the hustings event in Maidstone
Boris Johnson in Dover before the hustings event in Maidstone

KentOnline asked Mr Johnson if, should he becomes Prime Minister, whether his government would cover the cost of Brexit contingency plans if there was a no deal departure.

He said: "Of course, we will make sure that Kent is ready. We will do everything to help Kent and the Port of Dover.

"But it's wonderful to come here and talk to the people who run the port and to see their can-do optimism and determination to get this thing delivered.

"They know they can do it.

"Yes of course we will have to make preparations, we will have to socialise the key issues whether it's customs forms or the transit convention so people understand what's expected of them.

"But once people have got ready I have no doubt we can do it."

Quotes of the night

“There has certainly been an attempt to politicise this.To take the career prospects of Sir Kim, and turn them into an issue in the Conservative party leadership contest… I don’t think that should happen” - Boris Johnson on the resignation of the UK ambassador to America.

“Whatever people feel about this issue, I do not in all sincerity, with Brexit hanging over us, think this is the one to put at the top of our standard” - Boris Johnson on the idea of a new vote on hunting.

“I hear an awful lot of pessimism and gloom about our party but I think we can turn it around and come back” - Boris Johnson

“I think there is something inherently unfair about inheritance tax, given that you're paying tax on money you have already paid tax on” - Jeremy Hunt answering a question on whether he would scrap the tax altogether.

“I discovered that the mayor of Maidstone gave the death penalty to Charles the first and I am hoping you will be a bit more generous to the runner-up in this contest because I want Boris in my cabinet” - Jeremy Hunt

“We can't be the party of aspiration if the most aspirational people are not supporting us” - Jeremy Hunt on the need to attract more young people to the party

“My wife wanted to buy an electric car but we didn't because there were not enough charging points” - Jeremy Hunt

“We would park an economic jumbo jet on Europe's doorstep and in any trade negotiations they will need us as much as we need them” Jeremy Hunt

Head to our politics page for expert analysis and all the latest news from your politicians and councils.

How is Brexit going to affect Kent? For all the latest news, views and analysis visit our dedicated page here.

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