Boris Johnson was represented by an empty lectern during Channel 4′s Tory leadership contest on Sunday evening, after the frontrunner to succeed Theresa May refused to take part.
Jeremy Hunt, Michael Gove, Sajid Javid, Dominic Raab and Rory Stewart all faced-off against each other in the race to become the anti-Johnson candidate.
The debate got heated at several points as they sparred over each other’s plans for Brexit, with Stewart accusing his rivals of “machismo”.
But Johnson, who is on course to become prime minister in just a matter of weeks, dodged the “Britain’s Next PM: The Channel 4 Debate” event.
Watch the debate in full
Krishnan Guru-Murphy, the moderator of the debate, opened the programme by telling Johnson there was still time for him to get a “taxi from North London” to the venue.
Speaking on the stage, Hunt asked: “Where is Boris? If he can’t debate with five colleagues how could he negotiate with the heads of 27 member states?”
Stewart had said of Johnson: “We’re choosing a prime minister and the public has the right to hear from us and judge who had the qualities to be prime minister.”
Gesturing to the five candidates who did turn up, Stewart added: “I hope it’s one of us that becomes prime minister.”
Unlike the other candidates, Johnson has also so far failed to agree to face questions from political reporters in Westminster on Monday.
All six, including Johnson, will face Tory MPs at a hustings in parliament tomorrow ahead of the second ballot on Tuesday. But it will be held behind closed doors.
The candidates must secure the support of 33 MPs to proceed to the next round of voting. Anyone who fails to reach that threshold is eliminated from the race.
Johnson has agreed to take part in the BBC’s debate on Tuesday evening once the field has been narrowed further.
Result of the first ballot
Boris Johnson: 114
Jeremy Hunt: 43
Michael Gove: 37
Dominic Raab: 27
Sajid Javid: 23
Matt Hancock: 20 (Dropped out)
Rory Stewart: 19
Andrea Leadsom: 11 (Eliminated)
Mark Harper: 10 (Eliminated)
Esther McVey: 9 (Eliminated)