Boris Johnson ruled out a general election alliance with the Brexit Party as he and Jeremy Hunt used the final Tory leadership hustings to dismiss the idea of calling another snap national poll.
The rivals said the public and MPs were united in their disapproval of another vote anytime soon, and reiterated their belief that the next prime minister must first ensure Britain leaves the EU.
Both men told party members in east London that the best way for the Conservatives to get into fighting shape for an election was to deliver Brexit, with Mr Hunt saying it was vital to prove that “we are still a great democracy that does what the people tell us to do”.
When asked what he would do if parliament was unable to pass a deal or back a no-deal exit, Mr Johnson said: “I don’t think the Conservative Party should do deals with any other parties.”
And when pressed further to rule out any deal with Nigel Farage, who one audience member shouted “does not share our values”, Mr Johnson said: “Yes, I rule it out.”
He was less committal on plans for when he might arrange a Queen’s speech should he become prime minister, following a report by Sky News that his team was considering scheduling one to mark the start of a new parliamentary session in early November.
Parliament is usually prorogued for between one and two weeks ahead of a Queen’s speech, meaning MPs would in effect be unavailable to stop a no-deal Brexit immediately before 31 October.
Mr Johnson did not comment when asked about the potential plan, but said he was confident he would be able to negotiate a new deal with Brussels that would prove acceptable to the Commons.
“We have friends in Brussels, plenty of people who will want to negotiate with us throughout the summer,” he said.
“If there is a refusal to compromise, if they won’t change a dot or a comma of this withdrawal agreement, then obviously we have no choice than to come out on different terms and that’s what we’ll do.”
His “do or die” stance on Brexit continued to prove popular, and he received a standing ovation for an eye-catching stunt in which he brandished a kipper in plastic wrapping to illustrate how EU rules had increased business costs.
Mr Hunt also refused to offer a window for when he might organise a Queen’s speech, but said “it would not be right” to prorogue parliament to force through a no-deal Brexit.
He said he was confident he could negotiate a new deal, which both men said would need to ditch the Irish backstop present in the current withdrawal agreement.
The backstop is an insurance policy to prevent a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, and the Irish finance minister has warned the Tory rivals that it cannot be changed.
Mr Johnson said: “The problem with the backstop is that it poses this appalling dilemma for the UK.
“You either accept you are forever in the EU customs union, in regulatory alignment with Brussels, even though you have no say in setting tariffs or regulations, or you have to accept we would have to lose control of Northern Ireland.”
Looking further ahead, both men returned to future spending and domestic policy commitments that they have repeated at hustings events throughout the leadership contest.
On education, Mr Johnson said he wants to boost funding to £4,000 per pupil in primary schools and £5,000 per pupil in secondary schools.
Mr Hunt put business at the top of his priority list, saying he wanted to ensure Britain had the most “pro-business economy in Europe” by becoming “the next Silicon Valley”.
But despite many of his answers to questions from the floor being greeted with warm applause, Mr Hunt remains the firm outsider ahead of the conclusion of the race next week.
He seemed well aware that he appeared unlikely to come out on top when he said “it would be a huge honour” to serve in a government led by his rival, despite Mr Johnson having not said the same of him.