Saturday 20 July 2019

It's 'perfectly realistic' to renegotiate Brexit: Boris

Focus of attention: A person dressed as a chicken stands outside as Boris Johnson leaves his home on Thursday. Photo: AP
Focus of attention: A person dressed as a chicken stands outside as Boris Johnson leaves his home on Thursday. Photo: AP

Harriet Line

Conservative Party leadership race front-runner Boris Johnson has claimed it is "perfectly realistic" to renegotiate the Withdrawal Agreement to allow Britain to leave the European Union in October.

In his first broadcast interview of the contest, he agreed to take part in a BBC debate on Tuesday - but suggested he would miss one hosted by Channel 4 tomorrow - amid accusations that he was hiding from the media.

He also denied using cocaine since a "single inconclusive event" more than 30 years ago.

The former foreign secretary told BBC Radio 4's 'World At One' programme that he was committed to leaving the EU by October 31 and said the controversial Irish backstop problems could be solved by having checks away from the Border.

"There is a clear way that the now effectively defunct Withdrawal Agreement can be disaggregated - the good bits of it can be taken out," he said.

On the televised debates, he said it was "important that we have a sensible grown-up debate".

"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."

Mr Johnson had been under fire from critics for his refusal to give interviews or go before the cameras.

His rivals Jeremy Hunt, Michael Gove, Dominic Raab, Sajid Javid, and Rory Stewart had issued a joint statement to compel the favourite in the race to take part in a televised debate before the next vote on Tuesday.

Foreign Secretary Mr Hunt accused Mr Johnson of hiding from the media and preventing a wider debate in the party.

He told the BBC: "We can only have that debate if our front-runner in this campaign is a little bit braver in terms of getting out into the media and actually engaging in debates. Engaging in the TV debates."

Mr Hunt, who said he would take part in TV debates, added: "What would Churchill say if someone who wants to be prime minister of the United Kingdom is hiding away from the media, not taking part in these big occasions?"

Earlier, Health Secretary Matt Hancock withdrew from the Tory leadership race as candidates seek a way to defeat Mr Johnson.

Mr Hancock, who secured 20 votes in the first ballot of the contest on Thursday, said the party is looking for a candidate for the "unique circumstances that exist now".

He tweeted: "I have decided to withdraw from the race to be the next leader of the Conservative Party. I will now look for the best way to advance the values we fought for."

Candidates need to secure 33 votes in the second ballot on Tuesday in order to continue in the contest.

In his campaign, on the issue of Brexit, Mr Hancock vowed to go to Brussels to broker a time limit to the controversial Irish backstop and said MPs would block a no-deal exit.

It is thought that UK Home Secretary Mr Javid - who secured 23 votes in the ballot on Thursday - may seek Mr Hancock's backing.

Mr Johnson was the clear winner in the first ballot with 114 votes - 71 votes ahead of his nearest rival, Mr Hunt. However, Mr Hancock came sixth.

He said he was "hugely grateful" for the support he had received throughout the campaign and that he was "proud of the way we managed to set the agenda".

"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.

It came after the chairman of the Conservative Muslim Forum made a comparison between Mr Johnson and Adolf Hitler.

Mohammed Amin said he would quit the Tory Party after many years as a member if Mr Johnson was elected leader.

Mr Amin told BBC Radio 4's 'Today' programme: "I am not prepared to be a member of a party that chooses him as its leader. I would resign after 36 years."

Asked about Mr Johnson's popularity with grassroots members of the party, Mr Amin said: "There are many horrible people who have been popular. 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 was a shocking comparison, Mr Amin said: "Yes. 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'm concerned, has insufficient concern about the nature of truth for me to ever be a member of a party that he leads."

Irish Independent

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