Boris Johnson today bowed to pressure and agreed to take part in a live televised Tory leadership debate after being accused of being a coward and hiding by rivals as the race to replace Theresa May turned nasty.
But the former foreign secretary has snubbed the first planned multi-candidate programme, due to be broadcast on Channel 4 on Sunday, saying he will instead appear in a second event the BBC on Tuesday.
The move means he will will face a less crowded field of opponents. It takes place almost immediately after the next round of leadership votes, in which several of the six remaining candidates are expected to fail to meet the 33 vote target to progress to round three.
Mr Johnson’s announcement, made to the BBC, came after he was taunted by Jeremy Hunt over his failure to commit to going head-to-head with other challengers for the Tory leadership.
Mr Hunt claimed that his rival had to be a ‘little bit braver’ amid anger at Mr Johnson’s ‘submarine’ strategy of avoiding scrutiny during the campaign.
It came as Matt Hancock pulled out of the leadership contest – amid squabbling over who should take on runaway favourite Mr
The Health Secretary dramatically quit admitting the party was not going to elect him as leader – sparking speculation he could line up behind Jeremy Hunt or Sajid Javid.
Speaking on The World At One today on Radio 4 Mr Johnson said he wanted a ‘sensible grown-up debate’ and claimed he had always been ‘keen’ to appear on television.
Saying he was ‘bewildered’ by attacks on him over the debates he added: ‘My own observation is that in the past when you’ve had loads of candidates, it can be slightly cacophonous and I think the public have had quite a lot of blue-on-blue action frankly over the last three years.
Boris Johnson (pictured today) is now the only candidate who has not agreed to the Channel 4 debate show, fuelling accusations that he is limiting his media appearances to avoid scrutiny
‘We don’t necessarily need a lot more of that and so what I think the best solution would be, would be to have a debate on what we all have to offer the country and the best time to do that I think would be after the second ballot on Tuesday and the best forum is the proposed BBC debate.
Stop calling me a c**t, says Jeremy Hunt in plea to broadcasters
Tory leadership hopeful Jeremy Hunt has told broadcasters to ‘grow up’ and refrain from pronouncing his surname using its rhyming expletive.
The Foreign Secretary’s name has been mistakenly replaced with the c-word by journalists on both television and radio on numerous occasions.
In an interview with the Telegraph on their Brexit podcast, he said he was often called ‘Jeremy C**t’ at school.
‘I’m used to it. I had this when I was at school. Personally I think people should just grow up and get over the fact that my last name rhymes with a rather unpleasant word,’ he said.
Recently, BBC presenter Victoria Derbyshire, addressing Tory MP Steve Brine during her own weekday news and current affairs programme on Tuesday, said: ‘You say the man you are backing, Jeremy C**t… I’m so sorry, Jeremy Hunt’.
She issued a swift apology on air, saying: ‘I’ve never said that before in my life. It’s normally men who say that so I really, really want to apologise.’
It occurred during a four-way debate over who should take over the leadership of the Conservative party.
However, her mistake comes after presenters on Sky News, Channel 4, Channel 5 and the BBC have all fallen foul to the error.
‘I think that’s a good idea.’
In the wide-ranging interview on the World at One, Mr Johnson committed to leaving the EU by October 31 – and said it would be ‘bizarre’ for the Government to suggest it would delay again, even if a deal was close.
‘It would be absolutely bizarre to signal at this stage that the UK Government was willing once again to run up the white flag and delay again.
‘My commitment is to honour the will of the people and take this country out on October 31 and to get this thing done.’
He claimed it was ‘perfectly realistic’ to renegotiate the withdrawal deal that has been defeated by MPs three times.
‘There is a clear way that the now effectively defunct Withdrawal Agreement can be disaggregated – the good bits of it can be taken out.
On Irish border checks, he said: ‘The obvious way to do it is to make sure that you have checks on anybody who breaks the law as you would expect but you do it away from the border.’
As the bitter TV debate row broke out this morning, footage emerged of the former foreign secretary backing ‘essential’ live TV debates in a 2018 interview.
He said that politicians should take part in ‘as many of them as possible’ in a September interview with Sky unearth by opponents.
He remains the only one of the six remaining candidates who has not committed to taking part in a Channel 4 event on Sunday, prompting claims he was ‘hiding away’ from the public in a bid to avoid making gaffes.
Latest Tory leader odds
Boris Johnson 1/5
Jeremy Hunt 8/1
Rory Stewart 16/1
Michael Gove 20/1
Sajid Javid 25/1
Dominic Raab 50/1
Mr Hunt jibed Mr Johnson that his hero Winston Churchill would not have shirked taking part in ‘big occasions’.
The Foreign Secretary went on the attack today in a bid to cement his status as the main challenger, pointing out that all six other candidates had signed up to TV debates on Sunday and Tuesday. He said Tory members and the country deserved to know who was going to be the next PM.
‘We can only have that debate if our frontrunner in this campaign is a little bit braver in terms of getting out into the media, engaging in debates, engaging in the TV debate,’ Hunt told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
Jeremy Hunt (pictured at Parliament yesterday) came a distant second in the Tory ballot, with Rory Stewart (right, today) a surprise survivor through to the second round
‘If you want to be prime minister of the United Kingdom, you have to get out there and make your case.
Now Rory Stewart says he WOULD serve under favourite Boris Johnson
Rory Stewart performed a screeching u-turn today, saying he would be prepared to serve
The International development Secretary, who previously described himself as the ‘anti-Boris’ choice in the race to replace
He said he would be prepared to take a ministerial post if there was a No Deal Brexit ‘crisis’ – having yesterday launched a blistering on suggestions Mr Johnson might shut down Parliament to get the UK out of the EU by October.
Mr Stewart is now the third favourite to win with Ladbrokes. He surprised Westminster by getting enough votes to get through to the second round of the
‘What would Churchill say if somebody who wants to be prime minister of the United Kingdom was hiding away from the media, not taking part in these big occasions.’
The direct assault on Mr Johnson comes after he destroyed the field in the first round of the Tory leadership contest yesterday – raking in backing from 114 MPs.
The huge total – nearly three times the 43 Mr Hunt managed – means he is virtually guaranteed a spot in the final two, who will go to a ballot of party members.
Mr Hancock bowed out this morning, saying: ‘I ran as the candidate of the future, but the party is understandably looking for a candidate for the unique circumstances we face right now.’
Channel 4 News has proposed a programme on Sunday night featuring all seven remaining candidates.
In a video released yesterday on Twitter, Michael Gove appeared to bait Mr Johnson, saying: ‘It’s all to play for. Very much looking forward to the Channel 4 and BBC debates – hope to see all the other candidates there.’
Similarly, Dominic Raab said: ‘I think the TV debates coming up are a great opportunity to test the views… we’re all talking about.’
Rory Stewart went further, saying: ‘Everybody has accepted except Boris, so again if I could please ask Boris to come forward into these debates and join us.
How will the Tory leader battle play out?
JUNE 18, JUNE 19
The next rounds of voting by MPs will take place.
Contenders will be hoping to consolidate their support and hoover up votes from those who have been eliminated.
There is also the potential for pacts with candidates who no longer believe they can win.
THURSDAY, JUNE 20
After the fifth ballot on this date there will almost certainly only be two candidates left – one of whom is bound to be Boris Johnson.
JUNE 20 – JULY 22
Once the final two are decided, they will go to a run-off ballot of the 160,000 Tory members.
There will be a schedule of hustings taking place across the country, as the pair make their case to be the next incumbent at No10.
WEEK OF JULY 22
The winner is due to be declared this week.
They will take over from Theresa May as PM shortly afterwards – probably in time to take a session of PMQs before the Commons breaks up for its summer recess.
‘Let’s have the debates and let the public make this decision, not just the Members of Parliament.’
A source in the Sajid Javid camp said: ‘The future of the Conservative Party cannot be decided behind closed doors.
‘Everybody in the party should see this contest as an opportunity to put their ideas to the country.’
Amber Rudd, one of Jeremy Hunt’s most prominent supporters, said candidates had a ‘duty’ to take part, telling the Mail: ‘The Conservative Party needs to remember we are not just choosing our leader, we are choosing the next prime minister.’
Officially, Team Boris say they are still ‘in discussions’ with the broadcasters and have not ruled out taking part.
Allies say he is already rehearsing for them with his team. But last night one Johnson supporter, former Cabinet minister Andrew Mitchell, said there was ‘no reason’ for Mr Johnson to join the debate with all six other candidates ‘because he is some way ahead’.
He told the Huffington Post website: ‘It depends on the format and also how many, because he’s some way ahead so there’s no reason for him to debate with everybody.’
Another Johnson-supporting MP warned that a six-way debate could be a ‘gift to Jeremy Corbyn’ if the candidates ended up ‘tearing strips’ off each other.
Mr Johnson faces the prospect of being ’empty chaired’ by Channel 4 if he does not attend. A source said it would ‘keep a lectern there for those who don’t bother to turn up so everyone can see the space’.
Tory Muslim group chief vows to quit if Boris wins the leadership
Boris Johnson has been compared to Adolf Hitler by the chairman of the Conservative Muslim Forum who vowed to quit the Tories if the frontrunner becomes the party’s next leader.
Mohammed Amin said the former foreign secretary was a ‘buffoon’ who was not ‘sufficiently moral’ to be prime minister.
Mr Johnson’s candidacy took a hit this morning as Mr Amin said ‘popularity is not the test’ as he then compared the former mayor of
‘There are many horrible people who have been popular,’ he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
‘Popularity is not the test. The test is, is this person sufficiently moral to be prime minister, and I believe he fails that test.’
Mr Amin added: ‘A lot of Germans thought that Hitler was the right man for them.’
Told that comparing Mr Johnson with Hitler was ‘shocking’, Mr Amin defended his comments and said: ‘I am not saying Boris Johnson wants to send people to the gas chamber, clearly he doesn’t.
‘He’s a buffoon. But he as far as I am concerned has insufficient concern about the nature of truth for me to ever be a member of a party that he leads.’
Matt Hancock QUITS Tory leadership race after admitting he cannot beat Boris as rivals race to scoop up his 20 votes
Tory leadership manoeuvring hit fever pitch today after Matt Hancock pulled out of the leadership contest – admitting he cannot beat runaway favourite
The Health Secretary sparked a feeding frenzy among his rivals by dramatically quitting, with speculation that his 20 votes could end up going to Jeremy Hunt or Sajid Javid.
‘I ran as the candidate of the future, but the party is understandably looking for a candidate for the unique circumstances we face right now,’ he said.
Mr Johnson trounced the field in the first round of the contest yesterday, romping home with 114 votes from MPs.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced today (pictured) that he was dropping out of the Tory leadership race
The massive haul – more than the next three candidates put together – means he is virtually guaranteed a spot in the final two, who will go to a ballot of party members.
But the other hopefuls are still fighting over votes to sort out who should be Mr Johnson’s opponent in the run-off – and position themselves to get a big job in the next Cabinet. Mr Hunt sought to burnish his credentials today by launching an extraordinary broadside at Mr Johnson for ‘hiding’, taunting him that his hero Churchill would be ‘braver’.
The six still standing have been desperately wooing the trio of candidates who were eliminated in the first ballot, with rumours that plum posts are being promised.
Andrea Leadsom’s 11 votes could end up with Mr Javid or Mr Johnson, while Esther McVey is widely expected to endorse Mr Johnson and urge her nine backers to follow suit. Mark Harper’s tally of 10 looks set to fragment across the campaigns.
Mr Hancock refused to say today who he would endorse for PM, saying he wanted to push the values of ‘free enterprise, and an open, aspirational, free society’.
‘I will talk to all the other candidates about how these values can be best taken forward,’ he added. He met Mr Javid privately last night, but many of the MPs who voted for him are likely to line up behind Mr Hunt as the best chance of avoiding a hardline Brexit policy.
Some supporters of Home Secretary Mr Javid, who came fifth, are urging him to do a deal with Mr Johnson to become Chancellor.
However, one senior MP in Mr Javid’s camp dismissed the idea – telling MailOnline that Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt taking on Mr Johnson would be a ‘quasi University Challenge final’.
Mr Hunt was educated at Charterhouse and Magdalen colllege, Oxford, while Mr Johnson went to Eton and Balliol, Oxford.
Former foreign secretary Boris Johnson (pictured leaving his London home today) trounced the field in the first round of the contest yesterday, romping home with 114 votes from MPs
Tory Game of Thrones: Bribes and threats as MPs jostle for position in post-May era
Tory big beasts are engaged in Game of Thrones-style manoeuvring as they position themselves for the post-May era.
With Boris Johnson in the driving seat for the leadership, bribes and threats are flying at Westminster.
Candidates have been desperately wooing supporters of the three colleagues who were eliminated in the first ballot yesterday.
There are rumours that Andrea Leadsom – who secured 11 votes – could line up behind Sajid Javid in the first instance.
Meanwhile, Esther McVey is widely expected to deliver her nine backers to Boris Johnson, whose Brexit views are close to her own.
Mark Harper’s tally of 10 looks set to fragment across the campaigns.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock has concluded he cannot win, and might now throw his lot in with Jeremy Hunt as the best prospect of taking on Mr Johnson.
There are claims that Mr Javid is being urged to do a deal with the front runner that could install him as Chancellor in a new Cabinet – although other backers insist he must stay in.
However, Mr Johnson’s advantage in the race is such that many individual MPs might decide their best interests lie in joining the winning team – whether their previous candidate wants them to or not.