CUMBRIAN MP Rory Stewart went head-to-head with Conservative leadership rival Boris Johnson for the first time in a high-profile TV debate.

He also clashed with fellow candidates on issues including Brexit, taxes, the care system and Donald Trump.

Mr Stewart labelled the current care system “a disgrace” and pledged to work with other parties to find a better way to fund it.

Last night’s BBC debate came after Mr Stewart made it through to the final five candidates following a crucial leadership vote.

With Dominic Raab eliminated, the Penrith and the Border MP made it onto the podium alongside Mr Johnson, Jeremy Hunt, Michael Gove and Sajid Javid.

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Brexit dominated the debate - with Mr Stewart challenging rivals’ promises on the Irish backstop and the possibility of a no-deal Brexit.

He also criticised their pledges to cut taxes, saying he would not promise things he couldn’t deliver and would instead invest more money in public services, including the social care system.

On Brexit, candidates set out what they would do if no-deal was agreed by the October 31 deadline - including whether they would still leave.

As other candidates spoke of preparing for a no-deal, just in case, Mr Stewart said Parliament would never agree to it, so it was not a “credible” option.

He said: “We need to leave the European Union as quickly and efficiently and legally as possible.

“If I were lucky enough to be your prime minister, there would not be a no-deal Brexit. It is unnecessary. It is damaging - it is not even credible.”

Mr Stewart was grilled on why he was still trying to push through Theresa May’s failed Brexit deal.

Insisting it would not be possible to negotiate a new deal by October 31, he said the existing Withdrawal Agreement was the only way out.

Flagging up how all the candidates had voted for this deal, he called on them to do so again, saying “let’s get on with it, let’s vote it through, let’s get it done”.

Ruling out a no-deal Brexit entirely, he said: “In the end we’re in a room with a door, and the door is called Parliament, and I am the only person here trying to find the key to the door. Everybody else is staring at the wall shouting ‘Believe in Britain’.”

There was a row about the Northern Ireland border - with Mr Stewart challenging Mr Johnson on his pledges about trade tariffs.