BORIS JOHNSON said he had ‘been told’ he would take six questions from the media at the end of his campaign launch speech. He described it as a ‘huge number’, but was widely condemned for not allowing follow-up questions, not answering those he was asked, and allowing his supporters to heckle the questioners. Here Metro publishes the full exchange so you can make up your mind.
Laura Kuenssberg, BBC: You’ve suggested Brexit would be a straightforward win-win and actually it’s been a chaotic mess. As foreign secretary you offended people at home and abroad, you have a reputation for being cavalier with vital detail and already in this campaign you’re telling some supporters you will do everything you can to avoid leaving the EU with no deal and others that you would gladly do that. If you want to be prime minister, can the country trust you?
BJ: Yes of course, Laura, and perhaps in that great minestrone of observations there is one substantive question, one crouton which I picked up which was that you think I’ve been somewhat inconsistent in saying I don’t want a no-deal outcome but I think it is right for our country to prepare for a no-deal outcome. What most people understand is that the best way to avoid a no-deal outcome and a disorderly Brexit is to make the preparations now that will allow us to exit in a managed way if we have to, because if we make the preparations now we will carry the conviction with our friends and partners that we are indeed able to make such an exit if we really have to go down that route, which would be a last resort, nothing that anybody desires as their first option. But if we have to go down that route the best thing to do is to prepare for it and to be absolutely clear with our friends and partners that we are prepared to do it, and that is the way we will get a deal that is sensible and in the interests of everyone on both sides of the Channel and I want to stress the team I hope to build will hit the ground running and we will engage in the friendliest possible way with our colleagues over the Channel and I think they will rapidly come to see they have a new government with a new mandate, a new earnestness, a new determination to get things done, a new optimism, and a new confidence about what Britain can do and I think they will respond to that and I think there will be a symmetrical enthusiasm on the other side of the Channel about getting this thing done and moving forward because it isn’t good either for the UK or for our friends and partners to continue with this kind of uncertainty. And that is why I think it is important to be robust and determined and committed now to preparations for no deal, and I think that the British people, having been told for three years that they are incapable of going down that route, will respond to that challenge. They will rise to it and we will get there.
Beth Rigby, Sky News: Mr Johnson you brandish your Brexit credentials but many of your colleagues worry about your character…
BJ: My parrot?
Rigby: Your character. Your character.
BJ: Oh sorry.
Rigby: Your former foreign office colleague Alistair Burt said your description of the PM’s plan as a ‘suicide vest wrapped around Britain’ was ‘outrageous, inappropriate and hurtful’. He said ‘this language had to stop’, but it doesn’t stop. You brought shame on your party when you described veiled Muslim women as letterboxes (boos) and bank robbers. People who have worked closely with you do not think you are fit to be PM.
BJ: Well Beth I’m delighted that many of my colleagues seem to dissent from that view (cheers and applause), but nonetheless you’ve asked a good question and a fair question and I want to make a general point about the way I do things and the language that I use because occasionally some plaster comes off the ceiling because of a phrase I might have used or indeed the way that phrase has been wrenched out of context and interpreted by those who wish for reasons of their own to mischaracterise my view. But it is vital, I think it is vital, that we as politicians remember the reason the public feel alienated from us all as a breed is because too often they think we are muffling and veiling our language, if I might put it that way. Not speaking as we find, covering up everything in bureaucratic platitudes, when what they want to hear is what we genuinely think. And if sometimes in the course of trying to get across what I genuinely think I use phrases and language that cause offence, of course I am sorry for the offence I have caused but I will continue to speak as directly as I can. Because that is what I think the British public want to hear.
Paul Brand, ITV: In the spirit of this campaign I would first like to ask have you done anything illegal in the whole of your life (laughs) and regardless of the answer to that, the problem you have in this contest, much as you might want to refute it, is one of trust, is one of reliability, so may I ask do you regret any of the mistakes you have made in your political and personal life and would you change as prime minister?
BJ: I cannot swear that I have always observed a top speed limit in this country of 70mph. And I would not want to be categorised too closely on it. On the general question, the key issue here is do I do what I promise I am going to do as a politician? That is the issue that you legitimately raise Paul, and the answer to that is yes. You look at what we did in City Hall. We said we would do X, we ended up doing X plus ten. We said we would do 100,000 homes and we did… slightly more, perhaps not a huge number more, but slightly more. I promised to stop knife crime, which was out of control, or to cut knife crime. And you remember what was happening 11 years ago or so, and I see veterans of that campaign, I am proud to say, in the audience here today. It was terrible, we had kids losing their lives in our city at a rate of 28 or 30 a year. Teenagers were being stabbed to death in London and we had to take some very tough decisions and I’m delighted that two of my former deputy mayors who were intrinsically involved in that campaign, James Cleverly and Kit Malthouse, are both on our team today (claps). They did an extraordinary job. Kit had to take some very, very difficult decisions about encouraging the police to go down the route of Operation Blunt 2 which took about 11,000 knives off the streets of London, saving who knows how many lives of kids, avoiding heaven knows how much grief and misery for the families of those young people. And he did it, we did it, with stop and search. I am delighted to see that the government is now putting back the emphasis on stop and search in our towns and our cities because I believe that frankly there is nothing kinder or more loving that you can do if you see a young kid coming down the street who may be carrying a knife to ask him to turn out, or her, but almost invariably him, to turn out his pockets and produce that knife. That is not discriminatory, that is a kind compassionate and loving thing to do and it worked. We ended up cutting serious youth violence by 32 per cent, knife crime went down, the murder rate went down 50 per cent and there was a long period in which we had the murder rate in London running at or under 100 a year, which is an astonishing thing for a city of 9million. And that was because of the work of the police — and I will say one thing about the police and the way I am going to campaign and the way I am going to be prime minister. I believe that as a leader of great public services it is your job not just to be the chief consumer, not just to hold them to account, but also to recognise that you are their leader and their champion. And we should get behind our police and we should support them and, by the way, we should fund them properly because they do a fantastic job.
Jason Groves, Daily Mail: Can we sort out this drugs question which seems to have bedevilled this campaign so far? You told GQ some years ago, when you were asked if you had taken cocaine, ‘yes I took it at university and I remember it vividly’. And when you were asked whether the drug had actually gone up your nose you said ‘yes it must have done but it didn’t do much for me’. Were you telling the truth then, and do you regret that you took a class A drug?
BJ: Well I think the canonical account of this event when I was 19 has appeared many, many times and I think what most people in this country really want us to focus on is what we can do for them and what our plans are for this great country of ours. And I think the prospectus I am setting out this morning of solid modern conservatism, a one-nation vision championing the wealth-creating section of our country, extolling the merits, and I don’t think we’ve done it enough over the last few years, of free market capitalism, yes I’m going to use that word, of free market capitalism, because I believe that is the way to support the poorest and the neediest in society and that is at the core of what we are trying to do and that is a message I don’t think people have heard enough of in the last few years. I am absolutely determined to make it the core of my campaign and all the rest frankly of it is in danger of blowing us off track. Let’s focus on what conservatism is, let’s focus on what conservatism can do, that is what the public want to hear, and what they also want to know is can we find a leader now who can beat Jeremy Corbyn and deliver a sensible Brexit that fights off the threat from the insurgent Brexit Party and that is the job that I believe I am best suited to do today. So that is where I think the public want us to direct our energies.
George Barker, Financial Times: You famously said ‘f- business’. What do you say to FT readers concerned that that off-the-cuff comment could become official policy? What exactly did you mean when you said ‘f- business’?
BJ : If you look at my record as a campaigner, as a politician, there is no one in the modern Conservative Party who can honestly be said to have stuck up more for business even in the toughest of times (applause). After the crash I remember vividly there was an absolute feeding frenzy in 2008 on financial services in London, everybody said we should allow the bankers to depart to Zurich and New York and Singapore and good riddance, and I thought that was a disastrous approach and our fantastic city and our economy benefits from hard-working people. And they are not all by the way on massive incomes in financial services, there are probably half a million people in the City who depend on financial services but they are not all on massive incomes. Financial services put bread on the table for people on modest incomes across London and across the UK and I will stick up for them and I will stick up for every business in this country and when I was foreign secretary I spent much of my time trying to sell this or that, and I am glad to see my friend Michael Fallon there because he and I will know what it is like trying to fly around the world, one of the most important things you have to do as a government minister is sell the UK abroad and I can tell you that if I am lucky enough to become our leader and prime minister there will be no more committed, enthusiastic champion and salesperson, man, person of the UK. That is the mission.
Heather Stewart, Guardian: You have promised to exit the EU on October 31 with or without a deal. But Brussels may not be as susceptible to your charms as you hope and MPs are moving to block a no-deal Brexit. What then, and will you commit to resign if you fail to meet the October 31 deadline?
BJ: Of course I understand that colleagues in Parliament have very strong views but our job is to engage with everyone and to point out the real existential threat that faces both major parties if we fail to get this thing done. And I think in the end maturity and a sense of duty will prevail. And I think it will be very difficult in the end for colleagues in Parliament to obstruct the will of the people and simply to block Brexit. Because we asked the people, we put the question out to them and in a sense it was absolutely right to do so because the issue of membership of the European Union does go fundamentally to the sense of where they see their future, what their identity is. It was right to ask the British people. They returned a very clear answer by a substantial majority. Parliament voted overwhelmingly to trigger Article 50 and get this thing done. I think if we now block it, collectively as parliamentarians, we will reap the whirlwind and we will face mortal retribution from the electorate. So I just say to our friends and colleagues, let us come together and get this thing done.
And in Brussels they will have a government that is inspired with a new vigour, a new confidence, a new optimism about what we can do, and also has total conviction about the way forward and we will get results. I’m not going to pretend to you now that everything will be plain sailing. There will be difficulties and there may be bumps in the road but my team will hit the ground running. We will have a fantastic team, and we will work flat out between now and October 31 and I think we will get the result that the country needs: a sensible, orderly Brexit that allows this country to flourish as a great independent nation, but also that builds a new partnership with our friends across the Channel. One failing I would single out in the last three years is that we have not made enough of that future partnership and the benefits it will bring on both sides of the Channel. And there hasn’t been enough about what we can do to promote a new sense of Europeanism and European conservatism, and we were the party that took the UK into what was then the common market. It then evolved in a way that was very, very different to what had been initially promised to the people but we can still have a fantastic, intense, intimate relationship with our friends and partners overseas. And one of the tragedies of our 45 years of membership is that some of our bilateral relationships have not developed in the way they could have done, and the teaching of French and German in our schools has actually declined paradoxically rather than increased. Now is the time not just to come out of the EU but actually to intensify our trading relationships, our friendships, our partnerships with those European nations and we can do that and that should be the ambition of Conservatives as well.