Boris Johnson has refused to explain what happened during a heated row with his girlfriend, declaring that it would be “unfair” on those close to him to talk about his private life.
In an interview with the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg, the Tory leadership frontrunner ducked questions about his relationship with Carrie Symonds, a former party researcher.
Police were called to Symonds’ flat last week after neighbours heard screaming and the sound of smashing glass, but no action was taken.
But Johnson refused to explain what had happened, stating: “I do not talk about stuff involving my family, my loved ones. And there’s a very good reason for that.
“That is that, if you do, you drag them into things that, really is, is, in a way that is not fair on them.”
Put to him that being prime minister meant being transparent and that the issue was one of character and trust, he replied: “I totally get that... but my key point though is that the minute you start talking about your family or your loved ones, you involve them in a debate that is it is simply unfair on them.”
Johnson failed to deny that a newly-released photograph of himself and Symonds - pictured in a countryside garden - had been deliberately staged with his knowledge.
“Actually I think what people want to know is what is going on with this guy, does he, when it comes to trust, when it comes to character all those things, does he deliver what he says he’s going to deliver? And that is the key thing,” he said.
Elsewhere in the interview, Johnson said he should be judged on his record in public office, including when he was Mayor of London and foreign secretary.
And he refused to hit back at leadership rival Jeremy Hunt, who has accused him of “cowardice” for failing to agree a live TV debate before Tory members received their ballot papers in the election.
“Look you know I just always invoke the 11th commandment of Ronald Reagan which is ‘thou shalt never speak ill of a fellow conservative’,” he said.
On the crucial issue of a no-deal Brexit, Johnson said that “of course” he would give an absolute guarantee to take the UK out of the EU by October 31 with or without an agreement with Brussels.
“My pledge is to come out of the EU at Halloween on the thirty first of October,” he said.
But the former foreign secretary was skewered by Kuenssberg on his plan to create a ‘transition period’ for the UK while at the same time ditching May’s withdrawal agreement.
He replied: “No because you’re going to need some kind of agreement and that’s certainly what I’m aiming for in order as you rightly say Laura to get an implementation period.”
That was his first hint that he will need to hammer out his own version of a withdrawal agreement before any of his other proposals could be set in train.
Here is the interview transcript in full:
Laura Kuenssberg So Boris Johnson what would you do on day one in number 10 to make sure we leave the EU at Halloween?
Boris Johnson I would make sure that we have a plan that will convince our European friends and partners that we are absolutely serious about coming out and the key things that you got to do are to take the bits of the current withdrawal agreement which is dead, take the bits that are serviceable and get them done. And that is number one, the stuff about European Union citizens, the 3.2 million. They need to be properly protected. I wanted that done the day after the referendum, you may remember. Their rights should be enshrined in an unconditional way in UK law, number one. Number two, you should look at the various other things that you could do to make progress with the bits of the withdrawal agreement that we have. I think the money is more difficult. I think the 39 billion is at the upper end of the EU’s expectations but there is it, it’s a considerable sum. I think there should be creative ambiguity about when and how that gets paid over. The important thing is that there should be an agreement that the solution of the Border questions, the Irish Border, the Northern Irish border questions, and all the facilitation that we want to produce to get that done. All those issues need to be tackled on the other side of October the 31st during what’s called the Implementation Period.
Laura Kuenssberg But the implementation period, as it stands, is part of the withdrawal agreement and you’ve said that you wouldn’t sign up to the Withdrawal Agreement and its dead. Those two things can’t both be true.
Boris Johnson No because you’re going to need some kind of agreement and that’s certainly what I’m aiming for in order as you rightly say Laura to get an implementation period. And I think actually that there are politics has changed so much since March the 29th. I think on both sides of the channel there’s a really different understanding of what is needed. And on our side of the channel we’ve got MPs in both the major parties who recognize that their parties face real danger of extinction at the polls and - you know - Labour went backwards in the recent council elections - unless we get Brexit over the line. And so I think there’s going to be a willingness to move this thing forward.
Laura Kuenssberg But what is it…?
Boris Johnson On the other side of the channel obviously where you know they’re watching this very carefully and we need obviously for both sides to come together they’ve not got 29 Brexit MEPs in Strasbourg. They have the 39 billion that they’re keen to get. And frankly they also want Brexit to be done.
Laura Kuenssberg They want it done in the EU but they do not want it done at any cost. And time and again whether it is Jean Claude Juncker, President Macron, any EU leaders, they have been crystal clear; there is no kind of deal without the backstop, an insurance policy for Northern Ireland. So what evidence do you have you can get around that?
Boris Johnson Because I think that it is what the gentlemen have also said and what people have also said in all European capitals, and of course in the commission is that nobody wants a hard border in Northern Ireland and indeed nobody believes that it will be necessary. And so what we need is to hold that thought, which is true, which is agreed amongst all.
Laura Kuenssberg It’s what people want, but that’s very different to want people get, Boris Johnson.
Boris Johnson And make sure that we reach the solutions that are achievable as both sides have said, as the Commission has said, the facilitations that can be reached make sure that we deal with the solutions to the Irish border question and any all other border questions because the Irish border question in microcosm stands for all the other facilitations that we’ll around the EU.
Laura Kuenssberg But how do you do that? Because you’re right - everybody wants a solution to this. But if you want to be prime minister you have to tell people how, you can’t just wish it to be true.
Boris Johnson Let me tell you, there are abundant, abundant technical fixes that can be introduced to make sure that you don’t have to have checks at the border. That’s the crucial thing. And everybody accepts that there are ways you can check for the rules origin, there are ways you can check for compliance with EU goods and standards, of our goods standards.
Laura Kuenssberg But they don’t exist yet.
Boris Johnson Well, they do actually, you have in very large measure they do, you have trusted trader schemes, all sorts of schemes that you could put in to place.
Laura Kuenssberg But as one big solution to the Irish border question which as you suggest is absolutely at the root of this, there is no solution ready right now.
Boris Johnson You’re right, Laura, that there’s no single magic bullet. But there is a wealth of experience, a wealth of solutions. And what’s changed now is that there is a real positive energy about getting it done.
Laura Kuenssberg Where’s your evidence for that?
Boris Johnson Well because I think on both sides of the channel there’s an understanding that we have to come out, but clearly parliament has voted three times against the backstop arrangements that you rightly describe. And that present the UK, and any UK government, with this appalling choice of either being run by the EU whilst being outside the EU, which is plainly unacceptable, or else giving up control of the government in Northern Ireland. There is a way forward which I think actually to be fair all the candidates in the Conservative Party leadership contest broadly endorsed, which was to change the backstop, get rid of the backstop in order to allow us to come out without this withdrawal agreement and as far as I understand the matter. That is also the position of my remaining opponent.
Laura Kuenssberg But Boris Johnson. Everybody wants this to be sorted. Of course they do. Not least the public. But what you’re basically saying is we’ll cross our fingers because I think the situation is different so we could get a deal done. You’re not giving us anything concrete that actually suggests it’s possible.
Boris Johnson No that’s not true at all, actually Laura.
Laura Kuenssberg Well where’s your evidence?
Boris Johnson There was a very good report just today by Shanker Singham and many others looking at the modalities of how to do this. This is something that had been worked on extensively for the last three years. There are plenty of checks that you can do away from the border if you had to do them without any kind of hard infrastructure at the Northern Ireland frontier -
Laura Kuenssberg But you know, it requires, do you accept that your plan would require agreement from European Union, political goodwill, and why do you think they would do that if the UK had just walked away from a deal that has taken them three to put together?
Boris Johnson Several reasons. First of all, don’t forget that as I say they got the Brexit MEPs they don’t particularly want, they want us out; they’ve got the incentive of the money. They’ve also got to understand, Laura, is what has changed and what will be so different is that the intellectual capital that had been invested in the whole backstop had really come from the UK side. We were committed to it. We actually helped to invent it. We were the authors of our own incarceration. Take that away. Change the approach of the UK negotiators and you have a very different outcome.
Laura Kuenssberg - and if you can’t do that -.
Boris Johnson - and simultaneously of course, and you know what I’m going to say, the other tool, the other tool of negotiation that you should use, not only the incentives of getting this thing done, moving it over the line, getting the money across and all the rest, but you have the extra incentive of course that the UK will be ready to come out as you know on WTO terms.
Laura Kuenssberg And if you cannot get the agreement that sounds like you’re crossing your fingers, you are clear we would leave you would take us out at Halloween without a deal an absolute guarantee?
Boris Johnson You have to be - of course - my pledge is to come out of the EU at Halloween on the thirty first of October. And the way to get our friends and partners to understand how serious we are is finally, I’m afraid, to abandon the defeatism and negativity that has enfolded us in a great cloud for so long and to prepare confidently and seriously for a WTO or no deal outcome. You’ve got to understand, Laura, listening to what I just said, that is not where I want us to end up. It is not where I believe for a moment we will end up. But in order to get the result that we want, in order to get the deal we need, the common sensical protraction of the existing arrangements until such time as we have completed the free trade deal between us and the EU that will be so beneficial to both times. The common sensical thing to do is to prepare for a WTO exit.
Laura Kuenssberg But unless you can get that deal -
Boris Johnson Now as it happens, by March the 29th, a huge amount of work had been done and we had made great progress. There is still as you know some areas that need to be completed some things actually where the kind of level of preparedness is slightly sunk back again.
Laura Kuenssberg and Boris Johnson are you, would you really be willing as prime minister to face the consequences of no deal which could mean crippling tariffs on some businesses. It could mean huge uncertainty over what on earth happens at the Northern Irish border. It could mean huge uncertainty for people’s livelihoods and people’s real lives. Now in the real world, as Prime Minister and I know you dispute how bad it would be, but are you willing to face the consequences of what a no deal might mean for the people of this country?
Boris Johnson In the real world, the UK government is never going to impose checks or a hard border of any kind in Northern Ireland. That’s just number one. Number two in the real world the UK government is not going to want to impose tariffs on goods coming into the UK -
Laura Kuenssberg - but it’s not just up to the UK…
Boris Johnson Hang on, I’m coming to that point…
Laura Kuenssberg…not just up to the UK?
Boris Johnson Of course that’s right Laura. It’s not just up to us; it’s up to the other side as well. And there is an element of course a very important element of mutuality and cooperation in this. And we will be working with our friends and partners to make sure that we have an outcome that is manifestly in the interests of people, of businesses, communities on both sides of the channel.
Laura Kuenssberg And you think you could get that through Parliament?
Boris Johnson I do.
Laura Kuenssberg You think you could get a no deal through parliament?
Boris Johnson Well I do. I mean you’ve got to be very clear. I think Parliament now understands. That the British people want us to come out and to honour the mandate that they gave us. And I think that MPs on both sides of the House also understand that they will face mortal retribution from the electorate unless we get on and do it. Again, what has changed since March the twenty ninth is that my beloved party is down at 17 points in the polls. Labour isn’t doing much better, as I say with superhuman incompetence Corbyn managed to go backwards in the recent council elections. People want to get this thing done. They want to get it done sensibly. They want to get it done in a way that is generous to European Union citizens in our country and I stress that is the first thing to do. And they want to get it done in a way that allows us to move on which is why I think people are yearning, their yearning for this great Incubus to be pitchforked off the back of British politics. They want us to get on with some fantastic things for this country. And that is what we want to do.
Laura Kuenssberg Okay well let’s move on cos there are plenty of things we want to talk on? So let’s move on. Can you just tell us what happened at your partner’s home a couple of nights ago?
Boris Johnson I...would love to tell you about all sorts of things Laura, but I’ve made it a rule over many, many years and I think you’ve interviewed me loads of times, I do not talk about stuff involving my family, my loved ones. And there’s a very good reason for that. That is that, if you do, you drag them into things that, really is, is, in a way that is not fair on them.
Laura Kuenssberg But now you hope to be in Number 10, things are changing. Does your privacy mean more to you than the public’s ability to trust you? Because part of trust is being open, it’s being accountable, it’s being transparent.
Boris Johnson Yes I get that, I totally get that. But my key point though is that the minute you start talking about your family or your loved ones, you involve them in a debate that is it is simply unfair on them.
Laura Kuenssberg But you seem to care about privacy so much that yesterday a photographer, or someone with a phone, just happened to stumble upon you in the middle of the Sussex countryside. I mean are you just trying to have this both ways?
Boris Johnson Look, I repeat my key point too which is that over many, many years and you can look back at innumerable statements I gave when I was Mayor when, I just do not go into this stuff, and there’s a good reason for it but it’s actually I think what people want to know is what is going on with this guy, does he, when it comes to trust, when it comes to character all those things, does he deliver what he says he’s going to deliver? And that is the key thing.
Laura Kuenssberg Well let’s look at your record then, let’s look at that then. Because there are plenty of people even in the Conservative Party who worry that you do not stick to what you promise.
Boris Johnson Well I think they’re talking absolute nonsense. When I was Mayor, when I became Mayor of London, when we said we would do something, we, I may say delivered not just x but x plus ten.
Laura Kuenssberg But you said you would keep all ticket offices, you closed every single one. You said that you would build more affordable houses, yes you built more houses…
Boris Johnson We did.
Laura Kuenssberg…but the definition of affordable housing changed….
Boris Johnson Oh, nonsense.
Laura Kuenssberg …you said you’ve done rough sleeping and the number went up.
Boris Johnson We built more affordable homes than under Labour. When you talk about the tube we increased capacity on the tube by about 30 percent. The biggest investment in infrastructure that I think the city has seen. I pledged to reduce crime. We reduced crime by about 20 percent. We reduced the murder rate which is a statistic that is very difficult to fudge; we reduced it by 50 per cent.
Laura Kuenssberg Then why do you think then, Boris Johnson, people worry about your character? Why do so many Conservatives worry about you sticking to your word or being careless with the truth? I mean you said only a few weeks ago, you would raise tax for the wealthiest in society then that became an ambition.
Boris Johnson Hang on…
Laura Kuenssberg…you said you’d lie down in front of bulldozers at Heathrow and now you’re wobbling. Most importantly, when it came to the British citizen Nazanin Zaghari-Radcliffe you put her in danger by being careless with the facts. Your words were used in evidence against her in an Iranian court. I think you’ve sometimes been careless with facts, careless with the truth?
Boris Johnson No, look. On, take Nazanin Zaghari-Radcliffe and the other very difficult consular cases that we have with Iran. I think of course people will want to point the finger of blame at me if they possibly can, but actually all that does is serve to exculpate, lift the blame of the people who are really responsible, who are the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. And if you look, talk about overachieving in the Foreign Office, we were told that we had to orchestrate, and we did, an international response to the poisonings by a by Russia in Salisbury, and we thought we would be lucky to get 30 Russian spies expelled around the world in support of the UK by other countries. We actually got 153 spies expelled around the world; I don’t think there’s ever been a diplomatic coup like.
Laura Kuenssberg But Boris Johnson -.
Boris Johnson So don’t look at what people say about me look at what I actually deliver.
Laura Kuenssberg But so often people worry that you’re just a bit scrappy with the truth, or you almost seems sometimes you enjoy offending people…
Boris Johnson No, I don’t enjoy offending people…
Laura Kuenssberg …If you are Prime Minister do you think it would be acceptable for a prime minister to say things like Muslim women in full veil look like bank robbers or Commonwealth citizens are “flag waving picanninies”. Do you think, if you move in to number 10, will you change? If you’re lucky enough to become prime minister, will you be a different kind of politician?
Boris Johnson What I pledge to, you know, and what I think the people of this country want to hear is I will be a politician who sticks by what I believe in. Yes occasionally I may say things as I’ve said before that, causes offence, and I’m sorry for the offence and I’m sorry for the offence I caused, but I will continue to speak my mind because I think people deserve to hear what’s going on in my head. They deserve to hear my approach to things. And you talk about my commitment to delivery. Actually look at the difficult things that I’ve taken on and done. Nobody thought we could win in London either in 2008 let alone in 2012 when the Tory Party was actually 17 points behind in the polls and I overhauled that deficit. Nobody thought we could win the European Union referendum in 2016. And I played a role with others in getting that over the line -
Laura Kuenssberg Why is it then do you think some people have doubts about you -
Boris Johnson By the way nobody thought the Olympic Games would be a huge success, and the Paralympic games. I remember people writing them off, I remember people saying, and it was all going to be a fiasco. And they were a fantastic success.
Laura Kuenssberg We’re just we’re very much running out of time.
Boris Johnson And if I have one message, forgive me, but I believe that we had amazing success when I was mayor of London in using infrastructure, education, technology and bringing the greatest city on earth together and lifting people up across the city, closing the opportunity gap in London, giving people tools, whether it’s better transport, better education to take advantage of all the incredible things going on in this city. When I began we had four of the six poorest boroughs in London in the UK. After two terms, when I ended in London there were none of the poorest 20 boroughs in the whole of the UK. The whole city came up and it was people on the lowest incomes who’d been helped by, by our living wage, who’d been helped by massive investment in public transport, who’d been helped by better education. It was they whose life expectancy had gone up the fastest and whose wealth had also increase. And I’m incredibly proud of that, incredible proud of that. And what I want to do now, if I possibly can, and if I’m successful in this in this in this contest, and become leader and Prime Minister, what I really want to do is to bring our country together which has felt divided, which has felt a bit directionless, which has I think because of the failures of the political class, lost a sense of purpose and lost perhaps a bit of a sense of self belief. I want to bring this incredible country together to release the potential of the whole of the UK. That’s what I want to do.
Laura Kuenssberg Just one of the other people who was very closely involved in the Olympics of course was your opponent Jeremy Hunt. What do you make of Jeremy Hunt?
Boris Johnson And I pay tribute to Jeremy and enjoyed working with him then as I enjoyed working with him in government and who knows look forward to working with him in the future.
Laura Kuenssberg What do you make of him? Today he’s saying you’re a coward.
Boris Johnson Look you know I just always invoke the 11th commandment of a Ronald Reagan which is “thou shalt never speak ill of a fellow conservative”. And you know what I want to do is talk about my basic message which is to unite our country bring the country together - Brexit was partly about objection to the one way ratchet of European Union and democracy yes of course it was partly about immigration but it was about huge parts of Britain feeling that they didn’t have the same advantages, the same care, the same love, as London and the southeast, and that they were being a bit left behind. Well that’s an economic mistake. It’s a political and it’s a social mistake. We need to bring the country together. Infrastructure, education, technology. Give everybody the chance they deserve.
Laura Kuenssberg And you really think you can do that when some people see you as the most divisive politician?
Boris Johnson Believe me they said that in 2008 before I became mayor of London. The Guardian - highly reputable newspaper - ran a whole subsection in which people promised to flee the land or at least the city if I became mayor, eight years later most of them were still there. Many of them had gone to work with me and I had higher approval ratings by far when I left my office as Mayor than when I began. And I ran London, yes of course, I believe in the democracy of our country and yes of course we are going to get Brexit done by October the 31st, but be no doubt that at heart I am a centre right progressive modern conservative and I will govern from the centre right because that is from the centre because that is where you win. That is where the broad mass of the people are. They understand that you need a dynamic market economy to pay for fantastic public services and infrastructure. And you need fantastic public services and infrastructure great NHS great education to enable business to have the confidence to invest. And Jeremy Corbyn only understands one half of that. He’s only interested in taxation and spending. He has no care, no love, no interest for business and for the wealth creators on whom we all depend. And you’ve got to have that balance in your government.
Laura Kuenssberg Well we will see, if before too long, you’ll be able to make that case to him across the despatch box.
Boris Johnson Thank you.
Laura Kuenssberg Thanks very much. Thank you very much indeed.