Tory leadership rivals Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt have united in condemning US President Donald Trump for a series of “totally unacceptable” remarks about four congresswomen.
President Trump was widely accused of racism after calling on the women, who are from ethnically diverse backgrounds, to “go back”.
Both Mr Johnson and Mr Hunt condemned the remarks in a final head-to-head debate, but refused to brand them racist.
Mr Hunt said: “I have three half Chinese children and if anyone ever said to them go back to China I would be utterly appalled, it is totally un-British to do that and I hope that would never happen in this country.”
Asked if it was racist, the foreign secretary replied “It is not going to help the situation to use that kind of language”.
Meanwhile, Mr Johnson said: “If you’re the leader of a great multiracial, multicultural society you simply cannot use that kind of language about sending people back to where they came from.
“That went out decades and decades ago and thank heavens for that, it’s totally unacceptable.”
The pair, in a debate hosted by The Sun newspaper, later clashed over their Brexit credentials – with Mr Johnson claiming to be the candidate who “believes in this country”.
The former London mayor said: “I think it’s time we had somebody who campaigned for Brexit, who believes in it, who understands.
“We have had a lot of confusion and drift and dither for three years, it’s time we made a positive case.
“The people of this country are entirely fed up of being told they cannot do x,y or z. It’s time they had a leader who believes in this country, who believes in what we can do and who wants to seize a truly global future.”
Mr Hunt shot back saying Mr Johnson was the candidate to “put a smile on your face”, but he was the man who would be on top of the detail and would be able to renegotiate a deal with Brussels.
In another show of unity, both candidates agreed to rule out a general election before Brexit was delivered.
Mr Johnson said going back to the country would be “the height of folly”, but Mr Hunt accused his former cabinet colleague of risking a poll with his commitment to leaving “come what may” on October 31.
He said: “Boris is guaranteeing something that he knows neither he nor I can truly guarantee because we don’t know what parliament will do.
“I don’t want to betray that trust a second time”, he added.
The result of the contest to succeed Theresa May as prime minister will be announced on July 23, with the winner taking office a day later.
Voting in the postal ballot to choose the next Tory leader began 11 days ago.
It is estimated that more than half of the 160,000 or so Conservative Party members eligible to take part have already returned their ballot papers.