THE race for No10 turned nasty as Jeremy Hunt branded Boris Johnson “a coward” for ducking out of another TV debate with him.
In a significant ramping up of his assault on his rival, the Foreign Secretary also called on the mop-haired senior Tory to “man up and show the country you can cope with intense scrutiny”.
Mr Hunt is furious with the frontrunner in the Tory leadership contest for repeatedly avoiding public scrutiny.
Boris’s latest media snub is to pull out of a Sky News head to head between the two men on Tuesday night.
Speaking to The Sun, Mr Hunt said: “Every day thousands of our members and Sun readers show up for work and now it’s time for Boris to do the same.
“Whether it’s complacency or cowardice, it’s not a good look for Boris to be ducking debates with me. Because if you want the job, you need to show up for the interview.
“So don’t be a coward Boris – man up and show the country you can cope with the intense scrutiny the most difficult job in the country will involve.”
The withering attack is the most personal yet in the contest, and marks a significant escalation in rhetoric between the two men.
Boris has agreed to only two face to face confrontations with Mr Hunt over the next four weeks until the decision of the 160,000 Tory members is declared on July 22.
I thank The Sun for giving Boris and I the chance to debate one another but I believe it must be brought forward
One is a debate on ITV1 on July 9 and the second is a joust hosted by The Sun in the week beginning July 15.
Mr Hunt heaped praise on The Sun for persuading Boris to take part in a final showdown before the postal vote’s deadline.
But he also called for The Sun’s debate to be brought forward as he fears many members will already have cast their ballots by then.
The challenger added: “I thank The Sun for giving Boris and I the chance to debate one another but I believe it must be brought forward and take place before ballot papers drop on doormats across the country.
“This is the first time in 14 years that our hard working grassroots members have had the chance to elect their leader. And they must see our visions for Britain outlined before they cast their vote.”
Mr Hunt fears he will fail to overhaul Mr Johnson’s significant lead over him among Tory members if he cannot inflict significant public defeats on him.
A poll for the Mail on Sunday gave the former London mayor an 11 point lead over Mr Hunt, with members backing him 45% to 34%.
But Boris’s lead was 27 points before the revelation of his row with girlfriend Carrie Symonds, to which the police were called.
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A spokesman for Mr Johnson refuted Mr Hunt’s claim that he was hiding from scrutiny.
He said: “Boris has already taken part in a debate in front of millions on BBC1, and signed up for head to head debates on ITV and in front of The Sun’s readers.
“That’s not to mention a further 16 hustings where he will be fully scrutinised in front of Tory members”.
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