Jeremy Hunt: I am only major candidate from outside Boris Johnson’s Government

He was the runner-up to Mr Johnson for the top job in the 2019 ballot

Former health secretary Jeremy Hunt launched his Tory leadership campaign with a pitch based on his decision to stay on the backbench while Boris Johnson was at the helm of the Government.

Mr Hunt, who was the runner-up to Mr Johnson for the top job in the 2019 ballot, differentiated himself from a crowded field of contenders by saying he had not “been defending the indefensible”.

Speaking to The Sunday Telegraph, he said: “We have to be honest that over the last year, we lost the trust of many swathes of people who voted Conservative in 2019.

“I am the only major candidate who has not served in Boris Johnson’s Government. I called out what was going wrong long before any of the other major contenders and I have not been defending the indefensible.

“So by choosing me, the Conservative Party is sending a signal to those voters that we have listened to your concerns and we have changed.

“That is the most important thing we need to do now. It is to restore trust.”

Mr Hunt, who was also foreign secretary under David Cameron and Theresa May, addressed potential controversy around his decision to back Remain in 2016 and claimed he would be tempted to vote Leave if he could decide again.

He said given Brexit was not completed in 2019, he understood how his position had undermined his bid at the time, but felt confident he could embrace “Brexit freedoms” now, and also promised to back the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill.

Meanwhile, Mr Hunt went a step further than those who have made their support of the Government’s controversial Rwanda policy clear in their bids, by stating he intends to expand the scheme.

He told the paper he would support finding additional countries to deport migrants to.

He also pledged to slash corporation tax, as did another former health secretary, Sajid Javid, who also declared his bid while speaking to the paper.

Mr Hunt and Mr Javid both said they would not only scrap the former chancellor’s plans to raise corporation tax from 19% to 25% in April, but reduce the rate to 15%.

The leadership contenders’ timescales for the change are different, with Mr Hunt slashing the tax to 15p in his first autumn Budget, while Mr Javid would set a “glide path”.

In addition to cutting corporation tax, Mr Hunt would remove business rates for five years for the communities most in need.

Scotland and Northern Ireland would get money to match the policy.

“What matters is wealth creation, which means that people don’t feel that they need to leave a Bolton or a Bolsover because they can get better jobs in Manchester or London. They can actually stay there,” Mr Hunt said.

“That means helping them have opportunities at home that makes talented people want to stay, not go.”

Mr Hunt and Mr Javid were entering the fray after Chancellor Nadhim Zahawi and Transport Secretary Grant Shapps also declared their bids on Saturday.

Attorney General Suella Braverman, ex-minister Kemi Badenoch, senior Tory Tom Tugendhat and trade minister Penny Mordaunt all earlier launched campaigns, and Foreign Secretary Liz Truss is also widely expected to stand.

Published: by Radio NewsHub