Boris Johnson dodges question over cocaine use

Boris Johnson dodges question over cocaine use and prompts renewed scrutiny over previous drug-taking remarks as he launches Tory leadership bid

  • Former foreign secretary side-stepped cocaine question at campaign launch
  • Tory heavyweight said in 2005 he had ‘tried to’ snort the drug – but sneezed
  •  In 2007 Mr Johnson suggested he had tried cocaine at university but it had no effect
  •  Then in 2008 he said he had been referring to when he was 19 but that claims he had actually taken the drug were ‘simply untrue’
  • Drug-taking revelations from numerous candidates have dominated the race to take over from Theresa May

Boris Johnson dodged a question about whether he had ever taken cocaine as he finally broke cover and launched his Tory leadership campaign.

The former foreign secretary was left blustering as he became the latest Conservative contender to face a grilling over illegal drug-taking amid renewed scrutiny of comments he made on the subject in 2005, 2007 and 2008.

Drug revelations have repeatedly rocked the race to be the next prime minister after Michael Gove’s admission of having previously used cocaine threatened to destroy his own bid for Number 10.

Mr Johnson flannelled desperately when asked by the Daily Mail’s Jason Groves whether he had ever taken the substance.

The former mayor of London faced a grilling at his campaign launch in London on Wednesday as he was asked about his character and Brexit. He appeared to dodge a question about whether he had ever taken cocaine

Confronted with comments from a 2007 interview with GQ Magazine – when he said he ‘tried it at university’ and ‘remembered it vividly’ – Mr Johnson merely said: ‘I think the canonical account of this event when I was 19 has appeared many, many times.

‘I think what most people in this country want us to focus on is what we can do for them and this great country.’

Mr Johnson said during an appearance on Have I Got News For You in 2005 that he  had ‘unsuccessfully’ tried to take cocaine ‘a long time ago’ because he had sneezed. 

The current leadership race has seen more intense scrutiny of whether candidates have taken illegal drugs than previous battles to become leader of the Conservative Party.

Mr Gove said he ‘deeply regrets’ taking cocaine at a number of ‘social events’ more than two decades ago.

Meanwhile, Rory Stewart, the International Development Secretary, said he had smoked opium during a trip to Iran 15 years ago, something he described as a ‘very stupid mistake’.

A number of contenders, including Andrea Leadsom, the former Commons leader, and Dominic Raab, the former Brexit secretary, have admitted trying cannabis.

What has Boris said before about cocaine use? 

Have I Got News For You, 2005

Mr Johnson hosted an episode of the BBC comedy panel show when he was the Conservative MP for Henley.

He was asked directly by one of the panellists whether he had ever snorted cocaine and he suggested he had tried but failed to take the drug.

He replied: ‘I tried to unsuccessfully a long time ago. I sneezed. It was only a very small quantity. It was a long, long time ago.

‘I think it is probably a totally disgusting and ridiculous thing to do and what else can I say about it? And very, very, very, very, very wrong and bad.’

Mr Johnson said he ‘may have been doing icing sugar’.

GQ Interview, 2007

Piers Morgan interviewed Mr Johnson for the magazine one year before the latter was elected Mayor of London and dealt with the question of drug use at length.

Describing himself as ‘not a great drug man myself’, he sought to clarify his remarks on Have I Got News For You.

He said: ‘Yes. I tried it at university and I remember it vividly. And it achieved no pharmacological, psychotropical or any other effect on me whatsoever.’

The frontrunner to be the next Prime Minister, pictured celebrating his final exams at Oxford in 1987, suggested in an interview in 2007 that he had tried cocaine at university 

Mr Morgan suggested some of the powder ‘did creep in to your big hooter’ despite Mr Johnson sneezing to which the MP replied: ‘It must have done, yes, but it didn’t do much for me, I can tell you.’

Mr Johnson was also pushed on whether he had tried any other drugs and confirmed that he had taken cannabis before university which he reportedly described as ‘jolly nice’ but he was now ‘very illiberal about it’.

Marie Claire Interview, 2008

Janet Street-Porter, the journalist and broadcaster, interviewed Mr Johnson for the fashion magazine just before he was elected Mayor of London for the first time.

He was repeatedly pushed on whether he had snorted cocaine as his earlier comments appeared to have suggested.

Boris Johnson (pictured in May 2008) was asked when he was running to be Mayor of London for the first time whether he had ever taken cocaine. After suggesting he had, he then issued a statement in which he said the claims were ‘simply untrue’

He said: ‘Well, that was when I was 19. It all goes to show that, sometimes, it’s better not to say anything.’

A statement issued by Mr Johnson after the interview was published said claims he had taken cocaine were ‘simply untrue’, according to The Independent.

Tory Leadership Launch, 2019

The frontrunner to succeed Theresa May was asked directly after his leadership speech whether he had ever taken cocaine and he appeared to dodge the question.

He said: ‘I think the canonical account of this event when I was 19 has appeared many, many times.

‘I think what most people in this country want us to focus on is what we can do for them and this great country.’

Mr Morgan claimed Mr Johnson (pictured together at a party to celebrate the 180th anniversary of The Spectator magazine) had ‘unequivocally’ admitted during a 2007 interview to taking cocaine

The TV presenter was quick to respond to Mr Johnson’s remarks at his Tory leadership launch.

Mr Morgan took to Twitter after the Mr Johnson’s comments and claimed the Tory MP had ‘unequivocally’ admitted to taking cocaine during the 2007 interview.

‘I know this because I’m the one he admitted it to,’ Mr Morgan said.

‘The interesting question is why such an admission is deemed campaign-wrecking for Gove but not for Boris…’ 

What do the candidates for the Tory leadership think about Brexit?

The Conservative leadership race is ramping up ahead of nominations opening on Monday as the contenders continue to declare their credentials for the top job.

Here are the runners and riders:

– Boris Johnson

The former foreign secretary, who played a key role in the Vote Leave campaign at the 2016 referendum, is widely seen as the front-runner.

On Brexit, he has committed to keeping the October 31 deadline even if that means leaving without a deal and said he would step up no-deal preparations.

He also said he would refuse to pay the promised £39 billion to the European Union unless better Brexit terms are on offer.

Key quote: ‘I truly believe only I can steer the country between the Scylla and Charybdis of Corbyn and Farage and on to calmer water.’

What he’s said about drugs: Confessed to trying cocaine and smoking cannabis as a teenager at Oxford in a magazine interview in 2007.

Backers: James Brokenshire, Gavin Williamson, Steve Baker.

– Jeremy Hunt

The Foreign Secretary has ruled nothing out on Brexit, but insists that his experience as a negotiator in both business and politics means he could go to Brussels and secure a better deal.

He has said he would keep a no-deal Brexit on the table, but warned it could be ‘political suicide’ for the Conservatives as Parliament would force a general election.

He has called for a big increase in defence spending after Britain leaves the EU to counter rising global threats and has suggested slashing corporation tax to Irish levels of 12.5% to attract investment.

Key quote: ‘We will absolutely be obliterated in an election if we haven’t delivered Brexit.’

What he’s said about drugs: Told The Times he had a ‘cannabis lassi’, a yoghurt-based drink, when he was backpacking through India in his youth.

Backers: Liam Fox, Greg Hands, Mark Field.

– Dominic Raab

The former Brexit secretary has set out an uncompromising approach in a bid to appeal to hardline Eurosceptics.

He wants Brussels to ditch the Irish backstop as part of a new agreement, but if the EU will not move on the issue, he will walk away without a deal on October 31 – and has not ruled out suspending Parliament to ensure that MPs cannot block the UK’s exit.

He also wants to toughen up community sentences and has promised a shake-up of maternity care.

Key quote: ‘We need to up our game, which means being less naive, and being absolutely resolute about our intention and our resolve to leave on October 31. It seems to me that I’m the only candidate in this race that is clear about that.’

What he’s said about drugs: Has admitted taking cannabis as a student.

Backers: David Davis, Nadhim Zahawi, Maria Miller.

– Michael Gove

The Environment Secretary, who scuppered Mr Johnson’s last leadership bid in 2016, is again positioning himself in opposition to the front-runner.

Unlike Mr Johnson, he has not ruled out seeking a further delay to Brexit – possibly for months beyond October 31 – if a deal is in reach, and warned pursuing a no-deal scenario could lead to a general election in which Jeremy Corbyn could enter Number 10.

He has set out a ‘pro-business economic plan’ to take on Mr Corbyn’s ‘Marxist message’ and said he would replace VAT after Brexit with a ‘lower, simpler’ sales tax.

Key quote: ‘If I am prime minister of this country I want to ensure it’s the best place in the world to live, learn, raise a family, achieve your potential, and start and run a business.’

What he’s said about drugs: Said he ‘deeply regrets’ taking cocaine ‘on several occasions’ two decades ago.

Backers: Mel Stride, Nicky Morgan, Ed Vaizey.

– Rory Stewart

The International Development Secretary has travelled around the country filming himself chatting to voters in a bid to raise his profile in the race.

A Remainer who now accepts the referendum vote, he has ruled out a no-deal Brexit and would establish a citizens’ assembly to thrash out a new Brexit compromise.

He has also pledged to protect the Conservatives’ ‘reputation for economic competence’, hitting out at the ‘unfunded spending commitments’ made by rivals.

Key quote: ‘Candidates that are advocating a no-deal Brexit as well as tax cuts will – in one afternoon in October – lose us a reputation that we have spent 300 years building up.’

What he’s said about drugs: Has apologised for smoking opium at a wedding in Iran.

Backers: David Gauke, Ken Clarke, Nicholas Soames.

– Sajid Javid

The Home Secretary hopes to renegotiate the Withdrawal Agreement to remove the Irish backstop but does not want a delay beyond October 31.

He has set out a plan to tackle the Irish border issue by spending hundreds of millions on a technological solution, saying the UK has a moral duty to pay for measures at the border in an effort to secure a breakthrough.

Mr Javid has put forward a number of policy proposals, including cutting the top rate of income tax and establishing a £100 billion fund to invest in the UK’s infrastructure.

Key quote: ‘We will not beat the Brexit Party by becoming the Brexit Party.’

What he’s said about drugs: Has denied ever taking drugs.

Backers: Ruth Davidson, Jeremy Wright, Chris Skidmore.

– Matt Hancock

The Health Secretary insists a no-deal Brexit is not a credible option and Parliament would never allow it.

He has set out a Brexit delivery plan to leave by October 31, including establishing an Irish border council, made up of UK and Irish officials, to prevent the return of a hard border and time-limiting the backstop.

He has also pledged to scrap business rates for small retailers and increase a tax on internet companies to ‘level the playing field’ for high streets, and has set out his vision for a foreign policy that boosts trade and ‘resists protectionism’, while also promising to ‘uphold our values’.

Key quote: ‘If in order to deliver Brexit we were to change who we are as a country we would have failed.’

What he’s said about drugs: Is understood to have tried cannabis as a student but has not used drugs since university.

Backers: Damian Green, Tracey Crouch, Caroline Spelman.

– Andrea Leadsom

The former leader of the Commons, who ran against Mrs May for the party leadership in 2016, was another prominent member of the Vote Leave campaign.

She has set out a plan to scrap the Withdrawal Agreement and instead ‘massively ramp up’ preparations for a ‘managed’ exit without a full deal.

Mrs Leadsom has also promised to tackle climate change at home and abroad and establish a cross-party commission to find a solution to funding social care, and has warned that bold tax-cutting pledges could easily be blocked by Parliament.

Key quote: ‘I truly believe in the bright future that awaits us once we leave the EU. And I think I have the best plan that I’ve seen for delivering a managed exit.’

What she’s said about drugs: Told the Independent that she ‘smoked weed at university and have never smoked it again since’.

Backers: Chris Heaton-Harris, Heather Wheeler, Derek Thomas

– Sam Gyimah

As the only contender open to a second referendum, the former universities minister is widely seen as a rank outsider.

His five-point plan would give MPs a ‘final chance’ to get a Brexit deal through Parliament while also preparing for a referendum if that failed.

The public would be offered a binding choice between a no-deal Brexit, a revised deal or remaining in the EU.

Key quote: ‘The world won’t wait for Westminster, no matter how loudly we shout, and no matter how damaging a prolonged Brexit process is for Britain.’

What he’s said about drugs: Has denied taking any drugs.

Backers: Dominic Grieve, Guto Bebb, Phillip Lee

– Esther McVey

The committed Brexiteer has said she would fill her Cabinet with fellow believers.

She has called for the Tories to ’embrace’ a no-deal Brexit in order to make sure the UK leaves on October 31.

Elsewhere, she has caused controversy with comments championing the right of parents to take their children out of lessons on same-sex relationships.

Key quote: ‘I think you need to have people who believe in Brexit to deliver this by October 31.’

What she’s said about drugs: A spokesman told The Telegraph she ‘has never taken cocaine and never would’.

Backers: Pauline Latham, Phillip Davies, Andrew Lewer

– Mark Harper

A former Conservative chief whip and Remain supporter who now accepts the referendum result, Mr Harper acknowledges he is an underdog in the leadership race.

He has called for a ‘short, focused’ extension to allow for the deal to be renegotiated but said he would be prepared to leave with no deal if that is not possible.

He has claimed sticking to an undeliverable October 31 exit date could risk making Nigel Farage even stronger.

Key quote: ‘I know what people want to hear but I am not going to tell people what they want to hear if I don’t think it is credible.’

What he’s said about drugs: Has denied taking any drugs.

Backers: William Wragg, Jackie Doyle-Price, Scott Mann.


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