THE stage is set for the only live televised head-to-head confrontation between Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt this evening when they will be quizzed by a studio audience on ITV.

Hosted by Julie Etchingham, the hourlong event will see both candidates make opening and closing statements; each will answer viewers’ questions and debate directly with one other.

It is the live showdown that Mr Hunt, the underdog, has been calling for but, crucially perhaps, it is taking place after ballots opened last Friday. One theory is that by 8pm tonight when the live event begins many if not most of the 160,000 members of the Conservative “selectorate” will have already posted their vote.

As the candidates engaged in a hustings event hosted by the Daily Telegraph last night, a ComRes poll suggested Mr Johnson would deliver a 40-seat majority for the Conservatives at a general election if he became leader while a Hunt premiership would leave Labour with the largest number of MPs but still 63 MPs short of a Commons majority.

Today, the Foreign Secretary set out his five-point business plan:

*slashing taxes on companies to drive a radical increase in investment, including reducing the rate of corporation tax from 19 per cent to 12.5 and to lift the Annual Investment Allowance to £5 million per year;

*a “neo-Victorian” programme of infrastructure investment and modernisation, which would include completing HS2, the Northern Powerhouse Rail project and expanding Heathrow Airport;

*equipping Britain with the “skills to seize the opportunities of the future,” including ending the scourge of illiteracy and reversing the per pupil funding cuts of recent years south of the border;

*embedding a risk-taking, entrepreneurial culture to match the very best of the US with a review of all the technical and regulatory barriers to entrepreneurial culture, including a commitment to waiving the tuition fees of any graduate, who starts a successful business from scratch and

*refocusing Whitehall with an “unapologetically and ambitiously pro-growth drive across government” post-Brexit.

Mr Hunt urged his party to remember its role as the party of wealth creators as he claimed his plan would unleash new business investment to increase labour productivity and deliver a £27 billion boost to the economy.

“I’m the man with the plan to turbocharge our economy,” declared the Secretary of State.

“We can only afford to fund our vital public services if we grow the size of the pot and my plan will do exactly that. We have to remember that the Conservative Party should back the wealth creators and entrepreneurs who take risks to create jobs.”

Meanwhile, Mr Johnson pledged to get the UK "match-fit for no-deal" to ensure Britain could leave the EU on October 31 "come what may".

The frontrunner said there would be "no second chances" as he stressed that Hallowe’en was a real deadline and "not a fake one"; a comment aimed at his rival.

The former London Mayor also used his regular Daily Telegraph column to argue the case for increasing access to apprenticeships.

He recalled his trip last week to Govan, writing: “There were three young men and three young women - all from the Glasgow area - and they were working on the BAE Systems shipyard at Govan on the banks of the Clyde…assembling…HMS Glasgow, a Type 26 frigate.

“As I talked to them I could tell that they loved their jobs. They were either engineers or designers or electricians. They were smiley and friendly and happy and motivated and I could see why.”

Mr Johnson added: "We need to make sure that we not only properly fund all manner of technical and vocational education - from further education colleges to apprenticeships - and if I am lucky enough to be elected, we will.

“We need finally to do what we always promise we will - to elevate practical and technical qualifications, so that we recognise their immense value to society and to the individual.”