Tory leadership campaign: 'We will reap the whirlwind' if we block Brexit, says Boris Johnson

Update: Asked about a previous confession that he had taken cocaine at university, Mr Johnson said: “I think the account of this event when I was 19 has appeared many, many times.

“I think what most people in this country want us to really focus on in this campaign, if I may say so, is what we can do for them and what our plans are for this great country of ours.”

Mr Johnson’s Conservative leadership rival Rory Stewart tweeted: “On reflection I am beginning to think there are only 2 candidates who can beat Boris – me, and Boris himself.”

Mr Johnson, answering a question about his commitment to Brexit, added: “The real existential threat that I now think faces both parties if we fail to get this thing done. And I think that in the end maturity and a sense of duty will prevail.

“It will be very difficult in the end for colleagues in Parliament to obstruct the will of the people and to block Brexit.

“They (the public) returned a very clear answer by a substantial majority.

“I think if we now block it collectively as parliamentarians we will reap the whirlwind and we will face mortal retribution from the electorate.”

Mr Johnson clarified he would stand up for all businesses when asked about his “f*** business” comments.

Mr Johnson said: “I don’t think there is anybody in the modern Conservative Party who can honestly be said to have done more to stick up for business, even in the toughest of times.”

He added: “I will stick up for them.”

He said he had spent a lot of time as Britain's Foreign Secretary promoting British business.

Mr Johnson added: “I am not going to pretend to you now that everything will be plain sailing.

“There will be difficulties and there will be bumps in the road, but my team will hit the ground running.

“A sensible, orderly Brexit that allows this country to flourish as a great, independent nation.”

Update: When challenged by a reporter about past comments, including saying Muslim women wearing burkas “look like letter boxes”, Mr Johnson said: “I want to make a general point about the way I do things and the language I use.

“Occasionally some plaster comes off the ceiling as a result of a phrase I may have used, or the way that phrase has been wrenched out of context by those who wish for reasons of their own to caricature.

“But I think it’s vital for us as politicians to remember that one of the reasons that the public feels alienated now from us all as a breed, is because too often they feel that we are muffling and veiling our language, not speaking as we find – covering everything up in bureaucratic platitudes, when what they want to hear is what we genuinely think.”

Asked whether he had ever done anything illegal, Mr Johnson said: “I cannot swear that I have always observed a top speed limit of 70mph.”

Boris Johnson defended stop and search policies, and said his record as mayor of London made him suitable to be the next prime minister of the UK.

Mr Johnson said: “It was terrible. We had kids losing their lives in our city at a rate of 28-30 a year, teenagers were being stabbed to death in London. We had to take some very tough decisions.”

“I believe, 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, than to ask him to turn out, or her, almost invariably him, to turn out his pockets and produce that knife.

“That is not discriminatory, that is a kind, compassionate, loving thing to do. And it worked.

“We ended up, as I said just now, we ended up cutting serious youth violence by I think 32%. Knife crime went down, the murder rate went down.”

Update: The UK's former foreign secretary insisted that it is essential that Britain finally leaves the EU at the end of October to prevent the mood of “disillusion, even despair” in the country from spreading.

He warned failure that to honour the referendum vote risked handing power to Jeremy Corbyn and Labour at the next British general election.

After three years and two missed deadlines we must leave the EU on October 31.

“Delay means defeat. Delay means Corbyn. Kick the can and we kick the bucket.”

His launch took place as a cross-party alliance of MPs prepared a fresh attempt to use Commons procedure to block a no-deal Brexit.

Mr Johnson said: “In everything we do, we will seek to strengthen the union of our four nations… that invincible quartet, the awesome foursome that makes up the UK – the world’s soft power superpower.

“And I have seen across the world in our armed forces, in our diplomacy, our sheer cultural impact, how we are so much more than the sum of our parts.”

“We can fight for the teachers, and the nurses and the firemen, and the armed service personnel, and the police, precisely because we are willing to encourage the tech wizards and the shopkeepers and the taxi drivers and, yes, the bankers as well.

“We enable the extraordinary success of our private sector with a strong, committed, passionate, well-funded public sector.

“It is that synergy, that symbiosis, that sizzling synergy, that is so fertile in generating further economic growth, that is the formula, that is the way we will bridge the opportunity gap and bring the country together, responding to the mighty plea of the majority of our people for fundamental change.”

Ending his speech, Mr Johnson said: “To sum up my mission in a sentence: what I want to do now, with your help, is to do for the whole country what we did in London – releasing the creative energies of our country and its people and healing its divisions.”

As Mr Johnson spoke, Labour MP David Lammy tweeted: “Boris Johnson says the UK must ‘have the guts’ to prepare for No-Deal Brexit. But he turns down countless debates, interviews and outright refuses to put it to the country in a #PeoplesVote. This is not leadership, it is shameless opportunism that will cause permanent damage.”

He added: “Boris Johnson says with a straight face he will ‘unite this country and unite this society’. The same man who described black people as ‘piccaninnies’, mocked Muslim women as ‘bank robbers’ and peddled lies throughout the referendum. Britain deserves so much better than this.”

Update: Taking to the stage, amid prolonged applause, Mr Johnson said: “It’s a measure of the resilience of this country that since the vote to leave the EU, and in defiance of all predictions, the economy has grown much faster than the rest of Europe…

“Unemployment has fallen to the lowest levels since 1972, exports have soared, English football teams have won both the Champions League and the Europa League by beating English football teams, and inward investment has soared.

“It’s almost as if the commercial dynamism of the British people is insulating them from the crisis in our politics.”

Shortly after Mr Johnson began speaking, heckling from the street outside the venue was audible in the room.

Cries of “Bollocks to Boris” and “No to Brexit” could be heard during Mr Johnson’s launch speech.

Mr Johnson said: “And yet we cannot ignore the morass at Westminster where parties have entered a yellow box junction, unable to move forward or back, while around the country there is a mood of dissolution, even despair, at our ability to get things done.

“The longer it goes on, the worse the risk that there will be serious contamination and loss of confidence because the people of this country deserve the best from their leader.”

Update:

A smattering of anti-Brexit protesters have gathered to picket outside the venue for Mr Johnson’s campaign launch in central London.

Veteran anti-EU withdrawal protester Steve Bray told the Press Association: “My message to Mr Johnson is he’s not fit to be an MP, let alone PM.”

Former defence secretary Gavin Williamson, who British Prime Minister Theresa May sacked from the Cabinet, declined to speak to reporters when he arrived for the event.

Attendees at the launch were offered “Boris bacon butties” and “Boris eggs Benedict” inside the venue.

They were also invited to wear “Back Boris” badges.

Earlier: Boris Johnson is launching his bid to seize the Tory crown, as a cross-party alliance of MPs attempts to use Commons procedure to block a no-deal Brexit.

The UK's former foreign secretary has emerged as the clear frontrunner in the race to succeed Theresa May – despite so far staying largely silent in the contest.

For many MPs, he is the one candidate who can see off the twin threats of Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party and a Labour government led by Jeremy Corbyn.

However he remains a divisive figure within the party, with criticisms over his role in the Vote Leave campaign and his record as foreign secretary.

Treasury Chief Secretary Liz Truss says Mr Johnson was an ‘excellent’ foreign secretary (David Mirzoeff/PA)
Treasury Chief Secretary Liz Truss says Mr Johnson was an ‘excellent’ foreign secretary (David Mirzoeff/PA)

Ahead of his launch event in London today, leading supporter Treasury Chief Secretary Liz Truss insisted he had done a “brilliant job” at the UK's Foreign Office.

She brushed off criticism that he had been responsible for the continuing imprisonment of the British-Iranian mother Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe in Iran.

“I think it’s a sign – that he is being attacked shows the huge public appeal he has, the huge power he has to communicate,” she told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

“His record is of being the most successful mayor of London we have had, of being an excellent foreign secretary.”

Mr Johnson is expected to use his leadership launch to again insist Britain must quit the EU by October 31.

“We simply will not get a result if we give the slightest hint that we want to go on kicking the can down the road with yet more delay,” he is expected to say .

Delay means defeat. Delay means Corbyn. Kick the can and we kick the bucket

Meanwhile there was anger among Brexiteers at the latest move by MPs opposed to no-deal to seize control of Commons business from the Government.

Labour is using an opposition day debate to try and give control of the Commons agenda to MPs on June 25 in order to stop the UK exiting the EU without a deal in the autumn.

Prominent Brexiteer Sir Bill Cash strongly attacked supporters of the move who include Tory former minister Sir Oliver Letwin, plus the SNP, the Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru and the Greens.

Sir Bill told the Press Association: “They are causing a breakdown of our democracy.”

Sajid Javid says the Tories need a new kind of leadership (David Mirzoeff/PA)
Sajid Javid says the Tories need a new kind of leadership (David Mirzoeff/PA)

With the Labour-led motion only needing a relatively small number of Tory MPs to support it for success, Sir Bill, who supports Mr Johnson, was scathing about the involvement of Sir Oliver, a Michael Gove backer in the leadership race.

Sir Bill said: “He has put his name to an opposition day motion with Marxist Jeremy Corbyn.”

But shadow Brexit minister Jenny Chapman said the vote on blocking a no-deal Brexit was a “safety valve” aimed at Tory leadership contenders trying to freeze MPs out of the decision.

She told the Today programme: “This is about that safety valve, that lock in the process, so that somebody who may find themselves elected a leader of the Tory Party on a promise of, in Dominic Raab’s case, proroguing Parliament, and locking Parliament out of this process – they can’t do that.

“They would have to come back to Parliament and get the consent of MPs.”

The looming Commons vote forced fellow leadership contender Sajid Javid to push back the time of his leadership launch for later on Wednesday.

The Home Secretary is expected to tell the gathering: “I believe now more than ever that this is a moment for a new kind of leadership and a new kind of leader.

“A leader is not just for Christmas, or just for Brexit.

“So we can’t risk going with someone who feels like the short-term, comfort zone choice.

“We need tomorrow’s leader, today.”

- Press Association

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