Boris Johnson today vowed not to ‘bottle’ leaving the EU in October – despite warnings that least a dozen Tories are willing to torpedo his government if he tried to force No Deal.
The would-be PM said the UK had to be out by Halloween ‘come what may’, urging his colleagues to keep their ‘eyes on the prize’.
But the scale of the challenge he faces has been underlined by claims that a large group of MPs would join a no-confidence vote to stop the country crashing out without a deal.
Defence minister Tobias Ellwood said he believed ‘a dozen or so’ Tories are ready to take the ‘nuclear option’ – more than enough to collapse the government.
In contrast other key Brexiteer supporters of Mr Johnson have been urging him to go all-out for No Deal rather than trying to tweak the package Theresa May thrashed out with Brussels.
Boris Johnson (pictured at hustings in Birmingham on Saturday) said the UK had to be out by Halloween ‘come what may’, urging his colleagues to keep their ‘eyes on the prize’
The row comes as Mr Johnson faces mounting calls to explain how he would handle Brexit in the face of huge Parliamentary opposition to No Deal.
Jeremy Hunt today accused Mr Johnson of trying to ‘slink through the back door’ of No10, saying he was a ‘coward’ to avoid a live TV debate with him this week.
Mr Johnson has only conducted a couple of interviews since the start of the campaign, and flatly refused to answer questions at hustings over the weekend about police being called to the flat he shares with girlfriend Carrie Symonds after they had a fiery row.
And pointing to the comments from Mr Ellwood, Mr Hunt demanded to know what the leadership favourite would do if Parliament stopped him from forcing Brexit.
Sturgeon gloats as poll find PM Boris could fuel Scottish independence
Nicola Sturgeon (pictured) said Boris Johnson would be a ‘disaster’
Nicola Sturgeon has gloated that Boris Johnson will be a ‘disaster’ for the Tories – as a poll found Scots could vote for independence.
The SNP leader delivered a withering assessment of the would-be PM, saying he would ‘damage the UK’s reputation’.
The attack came after a Panelbase poll found Mr Johnson taking charge at Downing Street could put the union at risk.
A narrow majority of 51 per cent would currently vote no to independence, according to the research.
But when people were asked for their intentions if Mr Johnson becomes premier, the proportion against would drop to 47 per cent.
Speaking on Sky News’ Sophy Ridge, Ms Sturgeon said: ‘He will be devastating, disastrous for the Conservatives UK-wide.’
She said: ‘Brexit has damaged the UK’s international reputation but close behind that, Boris Johnson’s tenure has damaged the UK’s reputation…
‘I find it quite hard to get my head around that knowing everything they know about him, they are contemplating putting him in No10.’
‘Is he in that situation going to hold an election to try and get a majority for a no-deal Brexit?’ he said.
In his column for the Daily Telegraph today, Mr Johnson attempted to switch attention back to political rather than personal issues.
He wrote: ‘We must leave the EU on Oct 31 come what may. It will honour the referendum result, it will focus the minds of EU negotiators.’
He added: ‘It is absolutely vital that we keep our eyes on the prize. It has been a long and parching march – but the oasis is finally in sight.
‘We are just over four months away from the date on which, by law, we must leave the EU; and this time we are not going to bottle it. We are not going to fail.
‘This time we are not going to shrink in fear from the exit, as we have on the last two occasions.’
He added that he was ‘bursting with impatience’ to ‘shout our (the Conservatives’) message from the rooftops’ as party leader.
‘I have done it before, victoriously, and am, of course, bursting with impatience to do it now, as leader of our party. We can win this argument big time – but first we must leave on October 31,’ he said.
Meanwhile, Mr Ellwood said ‘a dozen or so’ Conservative MPs could support a vote of no confidence in the Government to stop a no-deal Brexit.
‘I believe that absolutely is the case. 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,’ he told BBC1’s Panorama programme.
Stepping up pressure on his rival, Mr Hunt insisted that while he has no interest in debating Mr Johnson’s private life, he wants to challenge him on television over his commitment to taking the UK out of the EU by the end of October.
In an article in The Times, Mr Hunt said: ‘A new prime minister needs the legitimacy of having made his arguments publicly and having them subjected to scrutiny.
‘Only then can you walk through the front door of No 10 with your head held high instead of slinking through the back door, which is what Boris appears to want.’
He added: ‘Don’t be a coward Boris, man up and show the nation you can cope with the intense scrutiny the most difficult job in the country will involve.’
Jeremy Hunt (pictured giving an interview in London today) accused Mr Johnson of trying to ‘slink through the back door’ of No10, saying he was a ‘coward’ to avoid a live TV debate with him this week
Defence minister Tobias Ellwood said he believed ‘a dozen or so’ Tories are ready to take the ‘nuclear option’ – more than enough to collapse the government
A Panelbase poll found Mr Johnson taking charge at Downing Street could put the union at risk as Scots would be more likely to vote in favour of independence
Mr Hunt pointedly said yesterday that he thought a candidate for PM ‘should answer questions on everything’.
At the hustings in Birmingham on Saturday, Mr Johnson repeatedly refused to say what went on at the south London flat in the early hours of Friday morning, saying the party faithful did not want ‘to hear about that kind of thing’.
Mr Johnson’s campaign for Number 10 was rocked by the revelations that officers were called to the home he shares with partner Ms Symonds by a neighbour who claimed to have been ‘frightened and concerned’ after hearing shouting, ‘a loud scream’ and banging coming from the property.
A poll carried out after the reports emerged suggested Mr Johnson’s support among Tory voters had dropped by more than half while among the general electorate it indicated he had slipped into second place behind Mr Hunt.
When asked at the hustings about the incident, Mr Johnson said people ‘are entitled to ask about me and my determination, my character and what I want to do for the country’.
But he would not elaborate on the police visit, preferring to talk about his time as mayor of London instead.
Tory grandee Sir Malcolm Rifkind rejected a suggestion that Mr Johnson should be allowed to draw a distinction between his private and public life and said his refusal to explain the situation with even a short comment was a ‘lack of judgment’.
On Saturday night, the neighbour who rang the Metropolitan Police went public after suggestions that his recording of the row had been leaked to the Guardian with political intent.
Tom Penn said the allegations were ‘bizarre and fictitious’, explaining in a statement to the paper that he dialled 999 after hearing shouting coming from his neighbour’s flat.