Jeremy Hunt has turned up his trolling of Boris Johnson after his Tory leadership rival refused to take part in a televised debate this evening as the favourite for Number 10 taunted his opponent and finally took to the campaign trail.
Both men had been invited to participate in a debate hosted by Sky News but Mr Johnson opted to duck the event, leading to it being cancelled and prompting Mr Hunt to label him a ‘coward’.
The Foreign Secretary doubled down on his goading of Mr Johnson this afternoon as he labelled him ‘BoJoNoShow’ and committed to holding his own Q&A tonight on Twitter at 8pm.
A row between Mr Johnson and his girlfriend Carrie Symonds last Friday which prompted a neighbour to call the police rocked his campaign to succeed Theresa May as he faced intense pressure to explain what had happened.
But the former foreign secretary, who has repeatedly refused to comment on the row, bounced back today with a ‘media blitz’ which saw him take part in two radio phone ins before venturing out to meet voters in the south east of England.
Mr Johnson’s supporters have grown irritable at an apparent strategy of keeping him away from the public and the press since he secured his place in the final two.
In a sign that the concerns had been heard, Team Johnson underwent an overhaul today as Iain Duncan Smith, the Tory former leader, was made campaign manager in an apparent sidelining of James Wharton, the former Tory MP, who had been running the show.
Tory Eurosceptics who backed Mr Johnson said the decision to unleash the front runner on the British public and the appointment of Mr Duncan Smith were linked.
Boris unleashed: Mr Johnson was let out on the campaign trail today as he visited the Royal Horticultural Society garden at Wisley. His supporters believe he has been poorly advised in apparently being told to keep his head down in the race so far
Mr Johnson had earlier travelled to Richmond in south west London where he met supporters and talked to voters. His supporters want to see the Tory favourite out and about a lot more in the coming weeks
Mr Johnson appeared re-energised when he arrived at the RHS garden at Wisley after participating in two bruising radio interviews this morning in which he was grilled about his private life
Mr Hunt doubled down on his criticism of Mr Johnson as he labelled him ‘BoJoNoShow’ and committed to holding a Q&A on Twitter tonight
Team Johnson insisted Mr Duncan Smith would be working closely with Mr Wharton in the coming weeks.
But supporters of Mr Johnson believe the former cabinet minister has been handed a more prominent role in order to get the best out of his chosen candidate.
One Tory MP who backed Mr Johnson told MailOnline: ‘It is a very positive move. He is obviously a Brexiteer which is really important.
‘I think that Boris’s strong suit is he is committed to taking us out of the European Union and has been repeating the October 31 deadline constantly.
‘I think Iain Duncan Smith will be helpful in delivering the support of the Brexit wing of the party.
‘James is a very able guy but IDS has got the stature.’
The MP said Mr Duncan Smith’s appointment and Mr Johnson getting out and about were related.
They said: ‘That’s part of the plan. There has been a strong feeling that he has been not served well in being told to keep his head down.’
Team Johnson had wanted to face Mr Hunt in the final two because they believed he would be an easier and more docile opponent than Michael Gove who finished third.
But Mr Hunt has proved himself to be a game challenger and today continued attacking Mr Johnson for failing to face him in tonight’s now-cancelled TV debate.
The self-described ‘underdog’ tweeted this afternoon: ‘Tonight I was meant to be debating Boris Johnson on Sky, answering questions about our plans for Britain.
‘Sadly, Boris has pulled out – which I don’t believe is fair on you, the public. So from 8pm I will be answering as many of your questions as poss – tweet me using #BoJoNoShow.’
However, the Foreign Secretary’s attempts to provoke Mr Johnson into committing to greater scrutiny do not appear to be working as he said this morning that it did not matter what Mr Hunt said, he would not respond.
Mr Johnson said he would refrain from going tit for tat with Mr Hunt or the Foreign Secretary’s allies who described him as a ‘bottler’ because doing doing so would harm the Conservative Party.
The former foreign secretary was all smiles as he met members of the public – exactly what his supporters believe he should be doing as he tries to win the keys for 10 Downing Street
Mr Johnson (pictured today in front of a fountain at Wisley gardens) had been accused of behaving like a ‘submarine’ in the early days of the Tory leadership campaign
Asked on LBC if he was a ‘coward’ as Mr Hunt had claimed, Mr Johnson 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].’
However, Mr Johnson did spell out why he believes he is a superior candidate to Mr Hunt during an interview with TalkRadio.
He said: ‘Well, I didn’t want to cast any aspersions on my opponent. All I would say is that I think I have three key merits: I fought for Brexit. I believe in it.
‘Unlike any other candidate in this election, I can deliver it unlike any other candidate in this election.
‘I can also formulate a great, one nation, modern conservative agenda and show how it can unite the whole country unlike any other candidate.
‘And, and you look at what we did in London and, uh, I believe that I’m the only candidate who can actually, uh, get ready in due course to defeat. Jeremy Corbyn.’
Jeremy Hunt (pictured today leaving Number 10 after a Cabinet meeting) has already called Mr Johnson a ‘coward’ after his rival snubbed a Sky News debate which had been due to take place this evening
Dominic Raab, the defeated Tory leadership challenger, joined Boris Johnson on the campaign trail in Oxshott in Surrey this afternoon
After skipping the Sky debate, Mr Johnson appeared to taunt his rival as he campaigned first in Richmond in south west London and then at the Royal Horticultural Society garden at Wisley.
The walkabout in Richmond saw Mr Johnson engage with voters in the street as he met up with his supporters.
Then at Wisley he was all smiles as he greeted visitors in the picturesque surroundings, giving them the thumbs up as he outlined his vision for post-Brexit Britain.
He later ventured Oxshott in Surrey where he was joined on the campaign trail by beaten Tory leadership challenger Dominic Raab.
The former Brexit secretary has already formally endorsed Mr Johnson for the top job and his support is expected to win over hardline Eurosceptics within the Conservative Party.
Boris Johnson admits he did know about THAT photo of him and Carrie Symonds
Boris Johnson and his girlfriend Carrie Symonds were spotted in the countryside in a photo which emerged yesterday
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.’