TWELVE years ago he incited fury by saying Portsmouth was a city ‘full of drugs, obesity and underachievement’ in a shock magazine column.
But today a reconciliatory Boris Johnson sought to heal old wounds as he posed with a Pompey shirt and insisted he was a ‘true blue’.
The prime ministerial candidate was presented the Portsmouth Football Club shirt by staunch Pompey supporter, Malcolm Drew, who asked the Tory frontrunner if he would become an ‘honorary fan’.
‘I would love to,’ Mr Johnson said. And in a further bid to woo support from Portsmouth, the former London mayor added: ‘This is a fantastic city and what I want to do is to try and bring our country together in a way that we were able to bring London together.’
Donna Jones, former Portsmouth City Council leader and Tory prospective parliamentary candidate for Portsmouth South, invited Mr Johnson to the city and defended him over his past remarks.
She said: ‘Boris may have said it in a certain way but the points he made then were based on facts and truth.
‘But he came here today and had a brilliant reception. I think Pompey has really got behind him and the most important thing today is that he has made it very clear that Boris backs Pompey.’
Mr Johnson’s visit came as he sought to ramp up his campaign to become the next prime minister.
He spoke to local Conservatives and business leaders during his 45-minute stopover before sailing to the Isle of Wight ahead of his hustings clash with his rival, Jeremy Hunt, in Bournemouth.
Looking to seize the initiative in the leadership race, Mr Johnson vowed to deliver an Australian-style points-based immigration system if he became PM.
The hopeful successor to Theresa May said he wanted to rebuild the public's faith in the UK's immigration system and to be ‘tougher on those who abuse our hospitality’.
He also outlined commitments to improving Britain’s education system and deliver high-speed fibre broadband to all parts of the UK.
‘It’s a joke that parts of Spain get full fibre [broadband] in a way that whole towns in this country don’t get,’ he said.
Mr Johnson insisted if he came to power he would guarantee Britain would leave the European Union – with or without a deal – on October 31.
But he refused to say if he would resign if Brexit hadn’t been achieved by that deadline and instead sought to crush the pessimism surrounding Britain’s delayed divorce with Brussels.
‘We have got to abandon this defeatism on it,’ he said. ‘This is an amazing country and people believe in themselves.’
City Labour leader Stephen Morgan – who is MP for Portsmouth South – said Mr Johnson ‘was not the PM for Portsmouth’ and had ‘broken parliamentary protocol’ by not informing him of his visit.
‘I can only assume that Mr Johnson’s reason for defying long-held procedure was the sheer embarrassment following his comments about Portsmouth and its people, where he described us as a ‘city full of drug addicts, obese people and underachievers,’ he said.
‘Portsmouth needs a prime minister who will prioritise the public services we all rely on, and end the neglect our city has seen for too long. With all the challenges our community faces, the last thing we need is an insulting joker at number 10.’
In a statement to The News after his visit, Mr Johnson insisted Portsmouth was a ‘key city in the UK’ and was delighted by the reception he received.
‘The ideas and passion for the future of the city is clear and if I am lucky enough to become your prime minister I will be supporting Donna and Penny Mordaunt in making Portsmouth one of the most important naval city’s in the world,’ he added.