NEWS
12/06/2019 11:05 BST | Updated 12/06/2019 11:19 BST

11 Questions Boris Johnson Should Have To Answer In The Tory Leadership Contest

The favourite to be prime minister is avoiding media scrutiny while rivals like Michael Gove face a grilling.

He’s the runaway favourite to be the next prime minister. The charismatic politician who many say is poised to drag the Conservative Party out of the doldrums by solving Brexit and slaying Jeremy Corbyn. Except you’re unlikely to have heard that from Boris Johnson himself.

While the ex-foreign secretary’s rivals are likely to turn up to the opening of an envelope, so eager are they for publicity, Johnson has restricted his public appearances. His Telegraph columns, a handful of clips to camera and a sit-down interview with The Sunday Times are the sum total. On Wednesday, for the first time in the contest, Johnson faces the media as he officially launches his campaign. We will await to see whether he takes questions.

Given the closed nature of the election - Theresa May’s successor will be chosen by Tory MPs and around 160,000 party members - the calculation has been simple. The contest is his to lose, why expose yourself to danger?

Peter Summers via Getty Images
 Boris Johnson leaves his girlfriend's home on Monday. 

But with the prize far greater than simply the leadership of a party, critics have questioned whether the potential next-PM is facing the scrutiny he deserves.

Here are just a handful of the questions he could be asked if forensically interviewed in the same way as other candidates: 

1. You have admitted taking cocaine. Do you feel lucky to have escaped going to jail?

Gove’s chances of victory have dramatically reduced since admitting at the weekend that he took cocaine in the 1990s while a journalist on The Times. The story gathered momentum when the Mail on Sunday accused him of hypocrisy for writing an article at the time condemning middle-class drug use. This was the centrepiece of the Sunday morning TV grilling he faced from Marr - who asked whether he should have faced a prison sentence.

Johnson admitted in 2008 he had taken cocaine when he was 19 and studying at Oxford: “It all goes to show that sometimes it’s better not to say anything. I thoroughly disagree with drugs. I don’t want my kids having drugs.” By contrast, it appears not to have harmed his leadership chances.

2. You made a joke about the “dead bodies” getting in the way of businesses investing in Libya after its civil war. Is that still your view?

Speaking on the fringes of the Conservative Party conference in 2017, the then foreign secretary said British businesses wanted to invest in the North African country.

“They have a got brilliant vision to turn [the Libyan city of] Sirte, with the help of the municipality of Sirte, into the next Dubai. The only thing they’ve got to do is clear the dead bodies,” he said.

Labour said Johnson’s joke was “unbelievably crass, callous and cruel”.

3. When working for The Telegraph’s Brussels bureau, you revealed plans by the EU to establish a ‘banana police force’ and officials outlawing Italian condoms because they were not precisely 16 centimetres long. Are you proud of your journalism?

Johnson covered the EU while working as a journalist in the 1990s. His former Telegraph colleague Martin Fletcher documented in the Spectator much of his dubious reporting.

“That such reports bore scant relation to the truth mattered little: Johnson’s mission was to debunk the EU at every opportunity,” he said.

Earlier in his career, Johnson was fired from The Times for fabricating a quote, an episode he has described as “my biggest cock-up”.

Johnson changed a quote from his godfather, the Oxford don Sir Colin Lucas, about the monarch’s sexual exploits of Edward II. 

“I mildly sandpapered something somebody said,” Johnson later remarked, even though the monarch’s supposed lover, the First Earl of Cornwall, was dead at the time of the alleged tryst.

4. You have referred to “watermelon smiles” and “piccaninnies” – both phrases are racist insults for black people – and described Barack Obama as a “part-Kenyan president”. Are you racist?

The insults were used in a column for the Daily Telegraph, when he was criticising then-prime minister Tony Blair and his trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2002.

On Obama, the ex-London mayor said the removal of a bust of Winston Churchill from the White House in 2008 showed he was uninterested in the UK-US relationship.

Labour’s shadow chancellor John McDonnell called on Johnson to withdraw the comment: “Mask slips again. Boris part-Kenyan Obama comment is yet another example of dog whistle racism from senior Tories.”

5. Was it worth the taxpayer’s money to go hide in Afghanistan to avoid voting on Heathrow?

The then-foreign secretary was given permission to miss a crunch vote on expanding Heathrow with a third runway, in order to avoid having to resign to vote against the plan which he long promised constituents he would. Few knew where he was before eventually landing in Afghanistan.

6. Do you accept that you jeopardised the freedom of a British citizen with your comments about Nazanin Zaghari Ratcliffe, that she was teaching journalism in Iran rather than visiting on holiday?

Johnson made a diplomatic blunder over the British charity worker being held in a brutal Iran prison.

He told MPs that Nazanin had been “teaching people journalism” – remarks that were seized on by the Iranian regime as proof that she was “spreading propaganda” against the state.

Nazanin was on a family holiday in Iran when she was arrested for spying in Tehran, a claim vigorously denied by the British government and her family. 

7. In 1990, in an infamous phone call between you and former Eton friend, Darius Guppy, who went to prison for masterminding a multimillion-pound fraud, you agreed to give him the address of a News of the World journalist who had upset him. Are you still comfortable with that?

In 2013, when guest host of the Andrew Marr Show, Eddie Mair confronted Johnson about a litany of mis-steps, including the claim he agreed to provide a reporter’s address to his friend Guppy so the journalist could be beaten up.

“You’re a nasty piece of work, aren’t you?” asked Mair.

8. In an article, you referred to gay clubbers as “tank-topped bumboys”. In a 2001 book, you compared gay marriage to bestiality. Do you have a problem with LGBT+ people?

In a 1998 Telegraph column about Peter Mandelson’s resignation from the Labour government, Johnson said the announcement would lead to the blubbing of “tank-topped bumboys” in the Ministry of Sound”nightclub, and “the soft-lit Soho drinking clubs frequented by Mandy and his pals”.

In 2001, Johnson wrote in his book, Friends, Voters, Countrymen, that “if gay marriage was OK – and I was uncertain on the issue – then I saw no reason in principle why a union should not be consecrated between three men, as well as two men, or indeed three men and a dog”. He has since backed same-sex marriage.

9. Writing for the Daily Telegraph about the 1996 Labour party conference, in an article headlined “Hot totty is on the agenda”, you claimed “the Tottymeter reading is higher than at any Labour conference in living memory“. Is that language still acceptable?

Business Insider journalist Adam Bienkov dug up several of Johnson’s old articles. This included one from 1996, while a journalist for the Telegraph, when he went to the Labour conference and wrote a piece reviewing the quality of “the hot totty” who were present.

10. The failed Garden Bridge project – which you oversaw as Mayor of London – cost £43 million of tax-payers money. Why should voters trust you with the UK’s finances?

The plan was to build a bridge covered with trees and flowers over the River Thames in central London. It was never constructed.

11. You described rumours of an extra-marital affair as “an inverted pyramid of piffle”. Why did you lie?

When Johnson was sacked from the Tory front bench in 2004, a spokesman for then-party leader Michael Howard said the decision was made because he lied about the claims, not because of the allegations themselves.