Boris Johnson’s leadership bid boosted after failing to appear on Channel 4 debate

BORIS Johnson's Tory leadership bid has received a new boost today with the backing of health secretary Matt Hancock who pulled out of the contest last week.

Monday, 17th June 2019, 8:50 am
Conservative MP Boris Johnson leaves a house in London on. Photo: Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP/Getty Images

Despite having ruled out a no-deal Brexit during his campaign, in contrast to Mr Johnson, he said the former foreign secretary was now the best candidate to re-unite the fractured Conservative Party.

His endorsement came after the clear frontrunner was criticised for failing to appear in the first of the televised leadership debates staged by Channel 4 on last night.

Writing in The Times, Mr Hancock said: ‘Having considered all the options, I'm backing Boris Johnson as the best candidate to unite the Conservative party, so we can deliver Brexit and then unite the country behind an open, ambitious, forward-looking agenda, delivered with the energy that gets stuff done.’

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Michael Gove, left, with Jeremy Hunt and Sajid Javid, right, during the live television debate on Channel 4 for the candidates for leadership of the Conservative party, at the Here East studios in Stratford, east London. Photo Tim Anderson/Channel 4/PA Wire

He said he believed Mr Johnson had a ‘unique personality’ which would bring the Tories together behind a Brexit deal, adding: ‘We need that unity in the Conservative party, and then in the country. Let's move forward.’

Mr Johnson, who has been under fire over his reluctance to face media scrutiny, is likely to face further criticism after refusing to take part in a hustings on today organised by political journalists at Westminster.

Instead he chose to use his column in The Daily Telegraph to announce plans to extend full-fibre broadband to every home in the country by within five years, nine years ahead of the government's 2033 target.

‘A fast internet connection is not some metropolitan luxury. It is an indispensable tool of modern life,’ he wrote.

International development secretary Rory Stewart, right, with former Brexit minister Dominic Raab, left, at the Channel 4 leadership debate. Photo: Tim Anderson/Channel 4/PA Wire

‘It is therefore a disgrace that this country should suffer from a deep digital divide, so that many rural areas and towns are simply left behind.’

Mr Johnson has said he will take part in a BBC debate tomorrow, after the second round of voting, when the field of candidates will have been whittled down further.

He was however taunted about his absence in last night's event by foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt who said it raised questions about his ability to take on the job of prime minister.

‘Where is Boris? If his team won't allow him out with five pretty friendly colleagues, how is is he going to fare with 27 European countries?’ he said.

The sharpest exchanges were however dominated by Dominic Raab's refusal to rule out suspending parliament to push through a no-deal Brexit.

The former Brexit secretary said he did not think it was likely ‘but it is not illegal’.

‘The moment that we telegraph to the EU we are not willing to walk away at the end of October we take away our best shot of a deal,’ he said.

International development secretary Rory Stewart said shutting down Parliament was ‘undemocratic’ and ‘deeply disturbing’ and would not work.

Mr Hunt said it was the ‘wrong thing to do’ while home secretary Sajid Javid said: ‘You don't deliver democracy by trashing democracy.

‘We are not selecting a dictator.’

Mr Raab warned that Parliament could not stop a determined prime minister, saying: ‘It is near impossible to stop a government that is serious.’

That drew a sharp retort from environment secretary Michael Gove who told him: ‘I will defend our democracy.

‘You cannot take Britain out of the EU against the will of parliament.’