British Conservative leadership hopeful Jeremy Hunt has said Angela Merkel told him the European Union "would be willing to negotiate" on the Brexit deal with a new prime minister.

The Foreign Secretary claimed German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Brussels "would look at any solutions" the UK puts forward to solve the Northern Irish border issue as he tried to emphasise his credentials as a deal-maker in the race to replace Theresa May.

Speaking to Sky News' Sophy Ridge on Sunday, Mr Hunt said he is the right man for the job and, in a thinly-veiled criticism of his rival Boris Johnson, said an "ultra hard-line approach" would be met by "an ultra hard-line response".

Asked if Mr Johnson, his predecessor at the Foreign Office, had done a good job, he said he had made "a very big impact on the British position in the world because he led the Brexit campaign".

But he said he was "quite a Marmite character" and hinted that some other EU foreign ministers "found him difficult to work with".

He said the contest should be about picking "the leader most likely to get us a deal", saying he has set up his own business and has "negotiated big deals in Government", citing the junior doctors' contract while he was Health Secretary and the BBC licence fee when he was Culture Secretary.

"I have that experience and if we can get a deal, that is the only way we can avoid a general election," he added.

Mr Hunt said any deal with the EU needs to have the support of parliament, suggesting he would include in his negotiating team the DUP, representatives of the Eurosceptic caucus the ERG, as well as Scottish and Welsh Conservatives.

On whether he was confident of renegotiating the Withdrawal Agreement, he said: "If you're asking me as someone who has done deals all their life 'is there a deal here?', yes, there is.

"Finding that deal is going to mean approaching the EU with the right kind of person. If we go in with an ultra hard-line approach, we will get an ultra hard-line response.

"Then we'll get to the end of October and nothing will have changed expect we'll be one step closer to a general election."

Asked what he would do differently, he said the controversial "backstop" written into the current Withdrawal Agreement is "not acceptable to parliament" and he would back a new system "based around technology".

Ms Ridge said it was unlikely any such system would be ready by 31 October and pressed the cabinet minister on whether he would be prepared to delay Brexit or leave without a deal on that date.

He said: "If the only way to leave the EU was without a deal, then I would do that because we have to honour that referendum result.

"But I would do so with a heavy heart, because of that risk to business and indeed to the union. I wouldn't do so if there is a prospect of a good deal."

When it was suggested he has flip-flopped on Brexit, having voted remain in 2016, but now backs leaving, he rejected the idea by saying "my position has been completely consistent".

Meanwhile, Sajid Javid, another candidate to be Britain's next prime minister, has said he would offer to cover the cost of finding a post-Brexit border solution with Ireland.

Sajid Javid

The UK Home Secretary said this was something that would unlock fresh negotiations with the European Union.

Speaking on the same programme, Mr Javid said "The key is Ireland".

"I would offer to pay for the new alternative arrangements on the border, it would be in the hundreds of millions.

"I would propose to do that because economically it's right and morally it's right."

Mr Javid, who is one of 11 candidates to replace Theresa May as prime minister and leader of the Conservative Party, also said he would slow the pace of Britain's national debt reduction to free up cash that would be used to invest in education.

Elsewhere, Mr Johnson said in a Sunday newspaper interview that he would refuse to pay Britain's £39bn divorce bill until the EU agrees better withdrawal terms.

The former London mayor also signalled he would scrap the backstop and try to settle the border issue once London and Brussels were negotiating their future relationship.

"Our friends and partners need to understand that the money is going to be retained until such time as we have greater clarity about the way forward," he told The Sunday Times.

"In getting a good deal, money is a great solvent and a great lubricant," Mr Johnson added, in his first newspaper interview since launching his bid to become prime minister.

In response, to Mr Johnson's comments, the European Parliament's Brexit negotiator Guy Verhofstadt said: "Boris Johnson threatens not to pay the Brexit bill. This would not only hurt the UK’s credibility as an international partner, but it is absolutely unacceptable and contradicts what almost every lawyer in the UK thinks about it."

A source close to French President Emmanuel Macron said failure to pay the Brexit bill would be equivalent to a sovereign debt default.

"Not honouring your payment obligations is a failure of international commitments equivalent to a sovereign debt default, whose consequences are well known," the source told Reuters.

Another leadership candidate Michael Gove said he would not delay Brexit until the end of 2020.

However, speaking on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show, Mr Gove said it would be right to delay Brexit beyond 31 October by a few days or weeks if they needed to finalise a deal.

Mr Gove also acknowledged that "drugs wreck lives" and he was "fortunate" not to have gone to prison following his admission of cocaine use.

The Environment Secretary denied allegations of hypocrisy over his drug use.

He said: "I do have a profound sense of regret about it all and I am very, very aware of the damage that drugs do."

Additional reporting Reuters