Boris Johnson has admitted he did know about a picture of him and Carrie Symonds which emerged yesterday as he conceded his private life is of interest to voters but again refused to discuss the row with his girlfriend which rocked his campaign.
The former foreign secretary tried to get back on track this morning as he embarked on a ‘media blitz’ with two radio phone-ins in an apparent response to critics who have accused him of hiding away from scrutiny.
But he was left squirming as he was grilled about his love life and refused to answer repeated questioning about when a photograph of him and Ms Symonds was actually taken.
Mr Johnson said: ‘Of course things may be of interest, yes of course, I readily accept that and I understand newspapers are of course going to want to print and to speculate what they choose.’
However, he would not divulge any details of last Friday’s row which led to the police being called as he said ‘the minute you say one thing’ about a loved one they would be forced into the public domain and ‘that is not fair’.
Meanwhile, Mr Johnson refused to say exactly when a photograph of him and Ms Symonds was taken as he appeared to suggest that he knew of its existence.
Asked directly if he knew the photo was going to be put out, he told LBC’s Nick Ferrari: ‘Of course I knew that there was a picture like that in existence.’
But he would not say exactly when it was taken: ‘It’s not a state secret, it just happens to be something that I don’t want to get into.’
It was suggested to Mr Johnson that the photo was in fact not recent to which he replied: ‘I am not going to comment on the… providence of some photo that newspapers decided to put on their front pages.’
Mr Johnson then said in a separate TalkRadio interview that he did not get angry easily amid reports that the row with Ms Symonds had been heated.
‘I’m a pretty even tempered kind of guy,’ he said, adding: ‘I don’t easily get angry.’
He also categorically ruled out delaying Brexit beyond October 31 as he told TalkRadio that Britain will leave the EU ‘come what may’ and ‘do or die’.
The comments are likely to assuage the concerns of Tory Brexiteers who were spooked after Mr Johnson previously failed to guarantee to stick to the deadline when he would only say last week that leaving by Halloween was ’eminently feasible’.
Boris Johnson was put under pressure to answer questions about his private life during his appearance on LBC with Nick Ferrari this morning but he refused
That photo: Mr Johnson and Ms Symonds broke cover in a photo – published exclusively by MailOnline – that showed them looking happy and were holding hands in the Sussex countryside on Sunday
Mr Johnson took to the campaign trail this afternoon as he visited Richmond in south west London. Team Boris has faced criticism for seemingly keeping the former mayor of London away from the public and the press during the race for Number 10
It came as:
- Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick said she personally looked at drug admissions made by the contenders for the Conservative Party leadership but decided there would not be enough evidence to bring charges.
- The UK’s car industry has warned a No Deal Brexit in October could add billions of pounds in tariffs and cause border disruption, crippling the sector.
- Mr Hunt is expected to follow in Mr Johnson’s footsteps with an interview with BBC Political Editor Laura Kuennsberg broadcast tonight at 10pm.
- Mr Johnson dismissed claims that Steve Bannon, Donald Trump’s former strategist, is involved in his campaign as ‘codswallop’.
- Theresa May has been warned he plan to extend paternity leave is too expensive and she is under pressure to ban high-earning fathers from the policy.
- The new Tory leader will be announced on July 23, the party has confirmed.
- Mr Johnson’s odds of victory shortened from 1/6 to 1/5 while Mr Hunt’s went the other way, from 4/1 to 7/2.
The bruising radio encounters came as Mr Johnson battled to get his campaign back on track after facing calls from his rivals and Tory donors to explain the argument with Ms Symonds.
Boris Johnson rules out further Brexit delay
The Tory leadership frontrunner has categorically ruled out extending Article 50 again as he said the UK will leave the EU on October 31 – ‘do or die’.
Speaking to TalkRadio Mr Johnson said his ‘Plan A’ would be to renegotiate a better deal with the EU but that he also had a ‘Plan B, C and D’.
He said: ‘We will of course be putting our plan into action so we are ready to come out on October 31. Come what may. Do or die.’
He continued: ‘Plan B and C and D. We get the deal we want of the type I have described. Plan B is to get a standstill agreement, a GATT 24 paragraph 5b, type agreement.
‘If the EU won’t do that and you have to come out on WTO terms then Plan C would be to get ready for that outcome and obviously we are going to do that and it is very, very important that we do.’
Mr Johnson was asked if he meant there would be no further Brexit delay and he said: ‘No.’
His decision to skip a proposed Sky News debate which had been due to take place this evening prompted sources close to Jeremy Hunt, his opponent for the top job, to label him a ‘bottler’.
Mr Hunt today labelled Mr Johnson ‘BoJoNoShow’ over his decision to skip the debate amid claims the latter has been poorly advised to keep a low profile during the campaign so far – against his normally outgoing nature.
Amber Rudd, a leading supporter of Mr Hunt, criticised the so-called ‘submarine’ tactic and said it was a ‘mistake’.
The leading supporter of Mr Hunt said of Mr Johnson: ‘He is a great communicator, that is one of the things that people appreciate about Boris, so let’s see more of him so we can understand what his plan is.’
Team Johnson will have hoped that his first broadcast television interview with the BBC last night would have squashed scrutiny of his love life.
But he risked infuriating his supporters, MPs and Tory members as he told the BBC he would never discuss his ‘loved ones’ because it was ‘not fair’ to drag them into politics.
Jeremy Hunt (pictured today leaving Cabinet) has described Mr Johnson as a ‘coward’ for ducking a proposed leadership debate on Sky News
Boris rejects claims of Bannon influence over his campaign
Boris Johnson has rejected claims that Steve Bannon, a controversial former strategist to Donald Trump, has been helping him in his Tory leadership campaign.
Mr Johnson said the claims were the ‘biggest load of codswallop I have ever heard’.
Mr Johnson said he had met Mr Bannon once before at the White House when the former was still foreign secretary.
He confirmed to LBC that it was ‘perfectly true’ Mr Bannon had messaged him last year when Mr Trump came for his first visit to see about meeting up.
But Mr Johnson replied and said a meeting was ‘not possible’ because he was ‘otherwise occupied’.
Mr Johnson is due to travel to the south east of England for a series of events this afternoon as he looks to counter jibes from critics that he has been hiding in a bunker since making the final two in the Tory leadership race.
His itinerary for the day reportedly includes a visit to a horticultural society, an afternoon tea and an address to Tory members.
Team Johnson want to shift the focus of the campaign away from his personal life and back onto Brexit which they view as his strong suit.
One Tory MP who backed Mr Johnson in the leadership ballot told The Telegraph that the campaign so far had been like ‘watching a car crash’.
‘He is getting bad advice,’ they said.
Accusations of hiding away from scrutiny were only likely to increase today after it was claimed members of Mr Johnson’s team had raised concerns about media access to a series of 16 hustings events taking place over the next month.
Hunt ‘coward’ jibe won’t draw a response, says Boris
Jeremy Hunt called Boris Johnson a ‘coward’ after his leadership rival decided to snub a Sky News debate which had been due to take place this evening.
Meanwhile, sources close to Mr Hunt labelled Mr Johnson a ‘bottler’.
But Mr Johnson would not rise to the insults during his appearance on LBC this morning.
Asked if he was a ‘coward’, the former foreign secretary replied: ‘I have a maxim in life and in politics which is, I think, nicked from Ronald Reagan, the famous 11th commandment, never speak ill of a fellow Conservative.
‘There is no provocation that any opponent can level at me that will lead me to respond, to dignify that kind of [remark].’
Brandon Lewis, the chairman of the Conservative Party, reportedly insisted the events in front of Tory members had to be live streamed but members of Mr Johnson’s inner circle allegedly opposed the plan.
Mr Johnson’s team has rejected the suggestion, according to The Guardian.
Asked about the row with Miss Symonds last night, Mr Johnson said: ‘I would love to tell you about all sorts of things but I’ve made it a rule over many, many years… I do not talk about stuff involving my family, my loved ones.
‘And there’s a very good reason for that. That is that, if you do, you drag them into things that, really, is… not fair on them.’
Asked whether his bid for power meant he had a duty to accept greater scrutiny, he replied: ‘I totally get that. But my key point though is that the minute you start talking about your family or your loved ones, you involve them in a debate that is simply unfair on them.’
Boris vows to resolve thorny issue of Irish backstop
The former foreign secretary said he believed he could persuade the EU to remove the backstop protocol from any deal between the bloc and Britain because of his threat to see through a No Deal divorce and to withhold the £39billion Brexit bill.
He told LBC there were other solutions which could be used instead of the backstop which is designed to stop the return of a hard border if the two sides cannot agree a deal.
‘The most important thing is to sort out the problem that so many MPs spotted in the Withdrawal Agreement… the proposals for the Northern Irish backstop,’ he said.
‘Number one, you do not have any kind of hard border, the United Kingdom will not impose checks in Northern Ireland, absolutely not.
‘A brilliant report yesterday, Greg Hands and Nicky Morgan and others, there are other techniques you can use to check for rules of origin to counteract smuggling and contraband.’
Mr Johnson also told the BBC he would use ‘creative ambiguity about when and how’ the £39billion Brexit bill would be paid in order to secure a better deal from the EU.
Ms Rudd, the Work and Pensions Secretary, said Mr Johnson needed to bring more to the table than just ‘enthusiasm’ as she urged him to set out in detail his renegotiation plans.
The Work and Pensions Secretary told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘Boris needs to go further with explaining how he would do it. What happens on October 31 if despite his great powers of persuasion he has not managed to break this deadlock?
‘We need to understand what the facts are underneath this.’
She added: ‘Enthusiasm and optimism is not sufficient.’
Mr Johnson’s campaign to succeed Mrs May was rocked on Friday when it emerged neighbours had called the police after hearing 31-year-old Miss Symonds scream ‘get off me’ and ‘get out of my flat’ during a midnight row.
Police left, saying there were ‘no offences or concerns’. But neighbours, who admit they are politically opposed to the Mr Johnson and Brexit, released a recording of the row to The Guardian newspaper.
What happens now?Tory leadership rivals face three weeks of hustings in front of the party faithful
Jeremy Hunt and Boris Johnson face four weeks of campaign events where they will set out their stall to the 160,000 Conservative members who will decide who enters No10.
The party has organised 16 hustings events across the country – with the first having taken place in Birmingham over the weekend.
There are also a series of head-to-head TV debates mooted. Mr Johnson has refused to sign up to a Sky News show tomorrow, but is expected to take part in an ITV special on July 9. A new leader will be announced on the week of July 22.
June 26: Digital Hustings
June 27: South (Central)
June 28: South West
June 29: Lakes & Borders
June 29: North West
July 4: Yorkshire & Humber
July 5: North East
July 5: Scotland
July 6: East Midlands
July 6: Wales
July 11: South East
July 12: Gloucestershire
July 13 Cambridgeshire
July 13: Essex
July 17: London
TBC: Northern Ireland
July 23: New leader announced
Political rivals have called on Mr Johnson to come clean about the incident, with Liam Fox saying he needed to avoid the issue becoming a ‘distraction’.
Leading Tory donor John Griffin, who has given the party £4million, piled on the pressure yesterday, saying: ‘We deserve an explanation about that row.’
Some allies also believe Mr Johnson, 55, should offer an explanation for the row in which he was heard shouting ‘get off my f***ing laptop’ and neighbours reported the sound of smashing crockery.
But former cabinet minister Priti Patel said: ‘He’s never talked about his private life and he never will.’
However, eyebrows were raised yesterday at the emergence of pictures showing Mr Johnson and Miss Symonds gazing into each other’s eyes at the weekend after apparently making up. His aides denied the pictures were staged, but there was widespread speculation that they had been released by someone close to the couple.
Asked by the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg whether he was ‘trying to have it both ways’, he replied: ‘I just do not go into this stuff, and there’s a good reason for it. But I think what people want to know is, what is going on with this guy, does he, when it comes to trust, when it comes to character, all those things, does he deliver what he says he’s going to deliver? And that is the key thing.’
Yesterday, allies of Mr Johnson backed his decision to remain silent over the domestic row that threatened to destabilise his leadership bid. Miss Patel said he had a ‘right to a private life’.
Backbencher Nadine Dorries, who spoke to the couple about what happened, tweeted: ‘I am totally stunned at the level of harassment they have had to endure.
‘Hate mail, Left-wing protests outside their flat, eavesdroppers. The stress is immense, more than most could endure. They are together, strong and united.’
Jacob Rees-Mogg attacked the ‘Corbynista curtain-twitchers’ who recorded the couple’s row and passed it to The Guardian.
However, privately, senior figures told the Mail they despaired at how the issue was being handled. One ally said: ‘We just need a better f****** line to take.’ A minister in his camp said: ‘You just can’t get away with not addressing it.’
Boris dodges question of cocaine use
The former foreign secretary has previously suggested he may have taken cocaine but has also denied it.
He once claimed he had sneezed at the wrong moment when presented with what may have been the drug.
Today he was pushed on the issue again as he was asked whether he had ever taken any Class A drugs and he replied: ‘I have given the answer to that question.’
He continued: ‘As has been extensively and I think documented ad nausea, I have confessed on prime time BBC, at the age of 19 to attempting.’
Asked if he had inhaled the white powder, he replied: ‘That particular event or non-event of more than 30 years ago has been extensively documented.’
A prominent supporter added: ‘We can’t talk about it because Boris won’t talk about it.’
Another MP said: ‘There isn’t a person in this place who hasn’t had a row with their partner, but he has to deal with it. He’s getting a lot of sympathy… but that doesn’t mean he can’t address it.’
Zac Goldsmith, a member of Mr Johnson’s team, criticised Mr Hunt for ‘personal attacks’, adding: ‘It’s hard to believe party members will be impressed either.’
Mr Hunt has said he was ‘not interested’ in his rival’s private life. But he has accused Mr Johnson of being a ‘coward’ for dodging media appearances and accused him of trying to ‘slink through the back door’ of No 10. Until last night, Mr Johnson had not given any media interviews since he reached the final two in the leadership contest on Thursday. Mr Hunt’s camp say he has been questioned 32 times.
Critics of Mr Johnson also tried to make political capital out of the row. Former leadership candidate Rory Stewart said: ‘Boris thinks it’s possible to have both his wife and his mistress.’
Mr Johnson also faced renewed criticism after pulling out of tonight’s Sky News debate, having already ditched a Channel 4 debate. Sky invited both contenders to take part in a 90-minute head-to-head. Mr Hunt agreed but the broadcaster postponed the event yesterday until July 1 because Mr Johnson refused to attend.
A spokesman for Mr Hunt said: ‘Whoever wants to be prime minister must face up now to the intense scrutiny that comes with the job. Anything less is disrespectful to our members.’
One Hunt ally said: ‘Bottler Boris and his complacent campaign have shown they can’t trust their candidate to turn up and perform.’
David Lidington, Theresa May’s effective deputy, said it was ‘wrong’ for Mr Johnson to ‘duck debates’, adding: ‘We’re choosing not just a party leader, we’re choosing a prime minister.’
Forget the row – they’ll still marry, say friends
By Sam Greenhill, Arthur Martin and Jim Norton
Boris Johnson and his girlfriend are preparing to get married, friends insisted yesterday.
Far from being on the verge of splitting up after their blazing row, the couple are just waiting for the right moment to wed, the friends said.
They spoke as photos emerged of the pair relaxing in a Sussex garden over the weekend, presenting an apparently serene image of love and tranquillity.
The pictures were in stark contrast to last Friday’s reports of smashing plates, cries of ‘Get off me’ and police arriving at Carrie Symonds’ Camberwell flat.
Critics suggested that the photographs, which showed the couple apparently deep in conversation in a verdant garden with rolling green hills in the background, were staged to quell claims their relationship was in crisis.
But allies of the pair said it showed they were genuinely ‘loved up’. Nimco Ali, who is very close to Miss Symonds, 31, and accompanied her to the launch of Mr Johnson’s leadership campaign, said on the subject of marriage: ‘That’s the expectation. They are happy and good for each other. Carrie is an amazing woman,’ she added, speaking to the Evening Standard. ‘Kind, decent and genuinely wants to make the world a better place.’
Another confidante told MailOnline, which yesterday obtained the photos taken in an unknown garden over the weekend: ‘The truth is that they love each other very much and want to get married as soon as the time is right. Boris only has eyes for Carrie and she is totally smitten with him.’
Last night, Mr Johnson was confronted over the pictures in a TV interview and asked whether he was ‘trying to have it both ways’. He again refused to address the issue publicly, insisting: ‘I just do not go into this stuff.’
His relationship with Miss Symonds has been the focus of attention since details of their row emerged on Friday night.
Neighbours Eve Leigh, 34, and Tom Penn, 30, who allegedly heard her yelling ‘Get off me’ and ‘Get out of my flat’ later handed their tape recording of the row to The Guardian newspaper.
The couple were later unmasked as ardent Left-wingers who had openly boasted of their dislike for Mr Johnson. He and Miss Symonds were forced to flee their south London home after anarchists set up camp on their doorstep.
Yesterday it was said to be Miss Symonds, a former PR worker for the Conservative Party, who was the driving force behind the new images of their relationship.
An onlooker was quoted as saying: ‘They looked really relaxed and happy. They sat there for ages chatting and holding hands.’
Mr Johnson was said to have been resistant to the idea of appearing in public with his girlfriend to debunk suggestions they were about to split – suggesting Miss Symonds might have persuaded him to change his mind.
Some speculated the photos were old, saying Mr Johnson’s hair looked noticeably longer than in recent days. But a source in the Johnson Tory leadership campaign confirmed the photographs were genuine, and taken on Sunday.
Mr Johnson’s divorce from his second wife Marina has not yet been finalised. If he makes Miss Symonds his third wife, he could become the first prime minister to wed while serving in Downing Street for 250 years.
There was a growing backlash against the neighbours who recorded the row. Brexiteer MP Jacob Rees-Mogg, who is backing Mr Johnson, branded the couple ‘Corbynista curtain twitchers’.
Tory MP Nadine Dorries said she had spoken to Mr Johnson and his partner. ‘They are shocked and upset that their neighbours taped their private conversation for The Guardian,’ she said. Miss Ali added: ‘They don’t deserve this from creepy neighbours. People in love row once in a while.’
His plan to end the Brexit impasse? Positive energy
By Jason Groves, Political Editor for the Daily Mail
Boris Johnson warned Britain to ‘prepare for a No Deal Brexit’ last night in the hope of winning concessions from the EU.
But as he revealed his Brexit blueprint, he was warned he faces a mutiny from Tory Remainers which could force him from office within months.
In the most detailed explanation of his plans so far, Mr Johnson told the BBC that Theresa May’s Brexit deal was ‘dead’ – but insisted his ‘positive energy’, coupled with the threat of No Deal and the withholding of the £39billion divorce payment could persuade the EU to back down in key areas.
Mr Johnson warned Britain to ‘prepare for a No Deal Brexit’ last night in the hope of winning concessions from the EU
The Tory leadership frontrunner said he would engage in ‘creative ambiguity about when and how’ the divorce payment is made.
He insisted a new deal could be struck in time to take Britain out on October 31. And he said the EU would agree to a Brexit transition even in the event of No Deal – something Brussels has strenuously denied.
But he said it was ‘common sense’ to ‘prepare confidently and seriously for a No Deal outcome’, as this was the best way of securing concessions from the EU.
Earlier former Tory chancellor Kenneth Clarke warned that he would be willing to join forces with Labour to vote down the Government if a new prime minister tries to take Britain out of the EU without a deal.
Defence minister Tobias Ellwood added that a dozen Tory MPs were prepared to deploy the nuclear option – easily enough to defeat the Government, which has a working majority of just four.
Meanwhile in the Commons, Theresa May warned elements of Mr Johnson’s Brexit plan were unworkable, saying it would be impossible to have a Brexit transition if Britain leaves without a deal on October 31.
And the Attorney General Geoffrey Cox undermined another element of Mr Johnson’s plan by warning that it may be impossible to continue with tariff-free trade with the EU in the event of No Deal.
Mr Clarke issued a public warning to Mr Johnson, saying he was ‘talking nonsense’ about Brexit. He acknowledged a vote of no confidence ‘might trigger an election, it might trigger a change of government without an election under the law we now have’.
But he added: ‘I am not going to vote in favour of a government that says it is going to pursue policies which are totally incompatible with everything the Conservative Party has stood for under all those prime ministers for the decades that I have been in Parliament.’
Mr Johnson’s leadership rival Jeremy Hunt has called him a ‘bottler’ for skipping a TV debate with him tonight
And Mr Ellwood said it was ‘absolutely the case’ some Tory MPs, including ministers, were prepared to risk defeating the Government to prevent No Deal.
He told the BBC’s Panorama: ‘I think a dozen or so members of Parliament would be on our side, would be voting against supporting a No Deal and that would include ministers as well as backbenchers.’
Mr Johnson continued to insist yesterday that he would not ‘bottle’ Brexit.
In a video message posted his campaign, he said it would be possible to negotiate a free trade deal during the ‘implementation period’ that would follow the UK’s departure.
He said: ‘You reserve the payment of the £39billion. That is in the context of the Free Trade Agreement, that we’ll negotiate in the implementation period, after we’ve come out on October 31.’
Tory MP Johnny Mercer, who is backing Mr Johnson’s leadership bid, dismissed the idea that Tory MPs would ever vote to bring down the Government.
He added: ‘MPs will say now that they will do a number of things. But when reality bites and they see they would bring about a Marxist Corbyn government they will back down and we will grit our teeth and get this No Deal done, if it is necessary.’