BORIS JOHNSON presented a picture of domestic bliss yesterday, as he ignored a growing clamour for him to face a TV debate with Jeremy Hunt.
The frontrunner in the race to be prime minister was photographed exchanging a loving gaze with Carrie Symonds in the Sussex countryside — days after screams coming from their flat prompted neighbours to dial 999.
Mystery surrounded the emergence of the photo but sources close to Mr Johnson and his girlfriend, a former Tory PR boss, played down claims the scene was staged.
Senior MPs insisted the couple remain smitten — despite reports of four rows in six weeks — and intend to tie the knot. Mr Johnson finally responded to a question about the argument at the flat, telling the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg last night: ‘I do not talk about stuff involving my family, my loved ones. And there’s a very good reason for that.
‘If you do, you drag them into things in a way that is not fair on them.’ Meanwhile, the other Tory leadership candidate Mr Hunt claimed ‘bottler Boris’ was trying to ‘slink through the back door’ of No.10. Sky News said it would be forced to axe a debate between the contenders tonight if Mr Johnson continued to ignore its invitation. And Mr Hunt said: ‘On the question of debates, he is being a coward. People need to know what you’re going to do and you need to answer those questions.’
Mr Johnson has agreed to an ITV debate on July 9 — after party members have begun returning their postal votes. Mr Hunt called for the BBC to stage a debate and to leave an empty chair for his rival if he won’t appear.
Theresa May’s deputy David Lidington also criticised Mr Johnson, saying: ‘We’re choosing not just a party leader, we’re choosing a prime minister, so I think the country is entitled to know what both the candidates would have as their priorities and how they would discharge those responsibilities. So I hope he thinks again.’
Neighbours summoned police after married Mr Johnson, 55, and Ms Symonds, 31, argued at their flat in south-east London early on Friday.
Officers left after being assured by the couple that they were both safe and well. An MP told The Sun: ‘They’ve spent the weekend together after being driven out of their home in Camberwell and the events of the last few days have made them stronger than ever.’ But Labour MP Jo Stevens claimed: ‘The obviously staged “paparazzi” photo just makes him look even more shifty.’
In an interview for the BBC’s News at Ten, Mr Johnson said he accepted PMs had to be open, before repeating that he never spoke about loved ones.
He stuck to his guns when asked by Ms Kuenssberg if he was trying ‘to have it both ways’ after a photographer ‘just happened to stumble upon you in the middle of the Sussex countryside’.
■ BORIS JOHNSON may be avoiding TV debates but he will appear at 16 hustings with Jeremy Hunt before a leader is named next month. They will also be quizzed by some of the 160,000 party members eligible to vote. Mr Johnson yesterday took calls from Tory councillors, and later tweeted: ‘I repeated my commitment to leave the EU by October 31 and to unite our country!’