Boris Johnson is EMPTY CHAIRED in first Tory leadership TV debate

‘There’s still time to get a taxi, Boris!’ Tory leadership debate kicks off with joke by host Krishnan Guru-Murthy as empty chair is reserved for Johnson – the ONLY candidate to refuse invitation to take part

  • Boris Johnson under firing for snubbing first Tory leadership TV debate tonight
  • Rory Stewart says nobody has an idea what former foreign secretary believes 
  • Poll finds voters think Mr Johnson more likely to win election than Tory rivals
  • Mr Johnson told hustings he would ‘get Brexit done and get ready for an election’
  • YouGov survey found people would not buy used car from leadership favourite  

Boris Johnson was humiliatingly ’empty chaired’ in the first Tory leadership TV debate tonight – as he became the only candidate to refuse to take part.

Channel 4 deliberately put a podium out for Mr Johnson alongside those for his five rivals, even though he had already said he would not be there.

Presenter Krishnan Guru-Murthy jibed that there was still time for Mr Johnson to ‘get a taxi from North London’ to the studios.

The public shaming came as the other hopefuls slammed the front runner for his ‘submarine’ campaign strategy, with Jeremy Hunt demanding to know: ‘Where is Boris?’

He added: ‘If his team won’t let him out to debate with five pretty friendly colleagues how is he going to do with 27 states?’ 

The rivals crossed swords early on in the debate, with Aid Secretary Mr Stewart accusing his Brexiteer colleagues of ‘macho’ posturing and demanding to know how they planned to take the UK out of the EU by the end of October without approval from parliament.

Dominic Raab shot back that he had resigned from the Cabinet ‘on principle’ and politicians had to keep their word. ‘I’m the only one who can be trusted to get us out by the end of October,’ he said, repeating his vow to suspend the Commons if necessary to stop it blocking No Deal.

Meanwhile, Michael Gove – whose campaign has been hit by his admission of cocaine use – painted himself as the true Brexiteer in the contest. ‘I put everything on the line, friendships and family, to deliver it,’ he said. 

He accused the other hopefuls of ‘defeatism’ saying he would find a way to secure a majority in Parliament. 

But Mr Raab swiped that he would ‘buckle’ to the EU. ‘You would buckle because you have shown you would take another extension,’ he said.

Presenter Krishnan Guru-Murthy jibed that there was still time for Boris Johnson to ‘get a taxi from North London’ to the studios for the Channel 4 Tory leadership debate tonight

The other five candidates – Michael Gove, Jeremy Hunt, Sajid Javid, Dominic Raab and Rory Stewart – all turned up for the TV debate tonight

Mr Johnson fuelled rumours of an early ballot by telling a hustings event he would ‘get Brexit done and get ready for an election. He is pictured arriving at the event in London yesterday

The battle for the keys to No10 is turning nasty as contenders desperately struggle to overhaul Mr Johnson’s commanding lead. They are scrambling to pick up votes from those already eliminated – with Health Secretary Matt Hancock, who had 20 supporters, yet to decide who to back.

Mr Johnson was criticised yesterday for bustling into a hustings event in London without taking questions from journalists – and sneaking out the back door afterwards.  

By contrast his rivals stopped to talk to reporters.

Although Mr Johnson has snubbed the 90-minute Channel 4 programme tonight, he has suggested he will join a BBC showdown on Tuesday, after the next round of voting by MPs.  

The audience on the debate this evening was made up of ‘floating voters’ willing to choose the Tories at an election. 

Mr Hunt, who came a distant second behind Mr Johnson in the first MP ballot last week, tried to burnish his credentials by launching a stinging attack on Jeremy Corbyn, saying it was of paramount importance to stop him taking power.

Meanwhile, all four of them turned on Mr Raab over his suggestion that Parliament could be prorogued if MPs tried to block Brexit from happening by Halloween.

Home Secretary Sajid Javid said: ‘You don’t deliver on democracy by trashing our democracy… we are not selecting a dictator.’  

But Mr Raab said pledging to leave on October 31 is ‘the only way we give ourselves a shot at a deal’. 

As the Tory leadership combat moved into a frenetic new phase: 

  • Former chancellor Ken Clarke said he was ready to vote no confidence in any ‘idiot’ who made a bid to take the UK out of the EU without approval from Parliament; 
  • Allies of Theresa May have suggested once she quits No10 she will join forces with pro-Remain ministers such as Philip Hammond and Amber Rudd to avoid No Deal;
  • Senior Eurosceptics insisted the Conservatives would be ‘over’ and they would defect to the Brexit Party unless the leadership front runner follows through on his vow to leave by Halloween; 
  • Tory rival Dominic Raab hit out at would-be PMs who are going ‘weak at the knees’ about pushing through Brexit – warning the party will be ‘toast’ unless it happens by October;  
  • Nigel Farage sought to exploit Tory splits by warning Mr Johnson ‘will not deliver on his promises’, adding: ‘Tory defectors would be welcome in the Brexit Party’. 

A clearly infuriated Mr Stewart stepped up his attack on the former foreign secretary on the Marr Show this morning. 

‘How is Boris going to deliver Brexit? How?’ the Aid Secretary said. 

‘I don’t even know what he believes. He won’t talk to me, he won’t talk to you, he won’t talk to the public. 

‘We want to know what he believes. We want him to sit at this debate tonight and tell us.’

Mr Stewart also tried to drawn a line under confusion over whether he would serve in the Cabinet if Mr Johnson becomes leader. 

‘I wouldn’t serve in a Boris Cabinet,’ he said.  

Mr Johnson has put the Tories in an election war footing – as a poll today found voters believe he can win back Eurosceptics and defeat Corbyn.

The leadership favourite fuelled rumours of an early ballot by telling a hustings event he would ‘get Brexit done and get ready for an election’. 

The dramatic vow yesterday came as a survey found 47 per cent of the public think he can see off Labour and Nigel Farage – while just 22 per cent think he would lose.

His ratings are way ahead of other leadership contenders such as Jeremy Hunt and Michael Gove.

However, in a worrying sign for Mr Johnson’s supporters, nearly six in 10 said he was not the kind of man they would buy a used car from. 

The scale of the challenge he faces was also underlined with the YouGov research showing that overall the Brexit Party is still leading on 24 per cent – three points ahead of both the Conservatives and Labour. 

A YouGov poll found 47 per cent of the public think Boris Johnson can defeat Labour and Nigel Farage – while just 22 per cent think he would lose

Theresa May (pictured at church in Maidenhead with husband Philip today) is said to have backed Rory Stewart in the first round of the Tory leadership battle 

If replicated at a general election the finding would likely put Mr Farage in No10, although the ratings for the Lib Dems and other parties have yet to be published. 

Mr Farage told MailOnline today: ‘It would appear that Mr Johnson wants a head to head fight. If that’s what he wants, he’s going to get it.’ 

Mr Hunt has said he believes it is possible to negotiate a new deal with the EU that would do away with the need for an Irish border backstop. 

Husband of mother imprisoned in Iran says he ‘resented’ Boris  

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband has admitted he ‘resented’ Boris Johnson’s handling of her case during his tenure as Foreign Secretary.

Richard Ratcliffe has joined his wife in staging a hunger strike against her detention in Iran over spying allegations, which she denies.

Speaking on Sunday outside the Iranian embassy in London, where he is holding his demonstration, Mr Ratcliffe said the goal is to ‘amplify her message’ and provoke a response from Iran.

He reiterated criticism for Tory leadership frontrunner Mr Johnson’s previous comments about the case.

‘He clearly made a mistake and clearly tried to correct it and made a promise that he wasn’t able to deliver on,’ Mr Ratcliffe told the Andrew Marr Show.

‘At times I’ve resented him for it and there are bits I did resent him for.’

Mr Johnson said in 2017 that Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe was working in Tehran training journalists, comments used by Iran to allege she was engaged in ‘propaganda against the regime’.

‘When you talk to European leaders as I do they want to solve this problem,’ he told BBC1’s The Andrew Marr Show. 

‘They say that if they were approached by a British prime minister, someone they were willing to deal with, who had ideas how to solve the Northern Irish border, they would be willing to re-negotiate the package. 

‘They are prepared to look at whether you could get much more detail onto the future relationship – potentially that could be legally-binding, let’s see – so that you don’t need a backstop. 

‘I would never pretend that this is going to be easy but nor is it impossible.’ Mr Hunt said it could even be done by the deadline of October 31, but added that it would be a mistake to commit to leaving the EU by that date. 

‘I am not committing to an October 31 hard-stop at any costs. If you do make that guarantee and you go with the wrong approach, then you are committing us to nothing other than a hard Brexit, a no-deal Brexit,’ he said. 

Mr Johnson goes into the second week of the Tory campaign the red-hot favourite to succeed Theresa May, having racked up support from 114 MPs in the first ballot – more than his next three rivals combined.

Mr Johnson’s position received a further boost with the support of Esther McVey, who was eliminated from the contest after finishing last in the first ballot.

Writing in The Sunday Telegraph she said: ‘He has promised to deliver Brexit on October 31, deal or no deal, and has shown time and time again that he is a dynamic leader, capable of building a strong team around him that will deliver on his promises.’

Meanwhile, there was growing alarm among pro-European Tories at the prospect Mr Johnson takes Britain out of the EU on October 31, even if he has been unable to secure a new deal with Brussels.

Veteran former chancellor Ken Clarke said that in those circumstances he would vote to bring down the Government.

‘If some idiot was sailing into a No Deal Brexit I’d decide politics had finally gone mad and vote against it,’ he told The Observer. 

Mrs May’s allies told the Mail on Sunday she has privately vowed to thwart any attempt by Mr Johnson to take the UK out of the EU without a deal.

The disclosure comes as senior party figures told The Mail on Sunday that Mrs May had voted for ultra-Remainer Rory Stewart in Thursday’s ballot of MPs, which led to a landslide victory for Mr Johnson.

Mrs May, who says she will stay on as an MP after she leaves Downing Street next month, has suggested she would join forces with pro-Remain Ministers such as Chancellor Philip Hammond and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd to try to stop Mr Johnson from leaving after the October 31 deadline ‘Deal or No Deal’. 

What happens next? ‘Stop Boris’ Tory leadership hopefuls now locked in a battle for second place to make it onto the final ballot paper

The field of Tory leadership challengers has been whittled down to six after three candidates were ousted at the first ballot of MPs on Thursday and Matt Hancock opted to withdraw on Friday.

Those still standing now have two days in which to persuade more of their Conservative colleagues to back their bids before the second round of voting takes place on Tuesday.

At this point the race is entirely about momentum. Boris Johnson has cemented his status as the prohibitive favourite after he secured 114 votes – enough to effectively guarantee he is one of the final two candidates.

But for the remaining five candidates, it is all still to play for.

Four Tory leadership challengers are now out of the race for Number 10. Esther McVey, Andrea Leadsom and Mark Harper were eliminated in the first round of voting while Matt Hancock has chosen to withdraw from the race

What happens on Tuesday?

Tory MPs will vote for the second time in what is likely to be a make or break moment in the race to succeed Theresa May.

There will be six candidates to choose from but only Mr Johnson will have any certainty about making it to the next stage.

Anyone not named Mr Johnson will now have the same goal: To finish in second place and make it onto the final ballot paper alongside Mr Johnson.

Jeremy Hunt came second in Thursday’s vote with the support of 43 of his colleagues.

But none of the other remaining candidates are too far behind and all of them will be hopeful of hoovering up at least some of the MPs who backed the four candidates who are no longer in the race.

They will need at least 33 votes to progress to the third vote but if all of the six candidates manage to get past that threshold, whoever has the fewest votes will be eliminated.  

The Foreign Secretary came second in the first round of voting and will now be hoping to persuade Tory MPs that he is the candidate capable of challenging Boris Johnson

What happens after the second round of voting on Tuesday? 

It is the job of Tory MPs to cut the list of candidates to two and after Tuesday’s vote there will then follow further ballots on Wednesday and, if necessary, on Thursday, until the chosen pair remain.

The number of further ballots needed will be determined by whether trailing candidates opt to withdraw from the contest. 

What happens once there are two candidates left? 

Conservative Party members will be asked to choose who they want to be their next leader. 

The final two will have to face 16 leadership hustings events across the nation with the first due to be held in Birmingham on June 22 and the last one taking place in London in the week starting July 15.

Ballot papers are expected to sent out to members between July 6-8. 

The overall winner of the contest is due to be announced in the week of July 22.  

Who could the MPs who supported the four eliminated candidates now back?

Dominic Raab, who finished fourth with 27 votes, will be hopeful of securing the support of many of the MPs who backed Esther McVey and Andrea Leadsom.

Both have advocated a similarly hardline approach to Brexit as Mr Raab but Mr Johnson will also have his eye on winning over a lot of their backers with his own pledge to deliver Brexit on October 31.

The 10 MPs who backed Mark Harper, a candidate with a softer approach to Brexit, will be targeted by the likes of Mr Hunt and Sajid Javid. 

Mr Javid will also be hopeful of securing the support of the 20 MPs who backed Mr Hancock.  

Boris Johnson is now the prohibitive favourite to succeed Theresa May after securing the support of 114 Tory MPs in the first round of voting

So does Boris have it sewn up?

Previous Tory leadership contests have shown that the person who leads the race at the start of the process does not always finish in first.

Leadership campaigns are also volatile and it is distinctly possible that an unforeseen event in the coming weeks could radically shake up the battle for Number 10.

Mr Johnson is in pole position but there is still plenty of time for that to change. 

‘I’m the Chumbawumba candidate!’ Gove claims he CAN revive flagging Tory leader bid despite cocaine admission saying he ‘gets knocked down but gets up again’

Michael Gove has styled himself the ‘Chumbawamba candidate’ for the Tory leadership, referencing the anarchist band’s 1997 hit which repeats the lyrics: ‘I get knocked down, but I get up again, you’re never gonna keep me down.’

The Environment Secretary certainly got knocked down last week, following his admission last Saturday – ahead of a revelation in a forthcoming biography serialised in the Mail – that he took cocaine on several occasions as a journalist in his 30s. The admission, and subsequent howls of hypocrisy, led to many discounting the prominent Leave campaigner as a potential ‘stop Boris’ candidate.

But his robust showing of 37 votes in Thursday’s first-round ballot for his party leadership – hopelessly behind Johnson but within striking distance of Jeremy Hunt in second place – suggests the combative Scot has, at least, ‘got up again’.

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Michael Gove outside his house in West London this morning

Mr Gove has insisted his campaign remains viable – that he is ‘the Chumbawamba candidate’

He told the Sunday Times: ‘At the beginning of last week people said I was going backwards. We put on votes in the course of the week — I’m well placed now.’

He said he had been told: ‘Michael, you are the ‘Comeback Kid’. You are the Chumbawamba candidate. You get knocked down, but you get up again.’

Mr Gove, who was spotted outside his home holding newspapers, has also today picked up endorsements from two further cabinet ministers: Northern Ireland secretary, Karen Bradley, and the Scottish secretary, David Mundell. 

In the interview he set out his plans for housing reform, calling for a national housing fund created by issuing Brexit bonds, and the use of ‘citizens’ juries’ to ensure good design codes.

He pointed to his record at Education, Justice, and now Environment – where he has led a crusade against single-use plastics – as evidence of his ability to make things happen even in usually sclerotic departments, saying: ‘Two years on, I would say that Defra has been the most pro-active, energetic, policy-rich department in the government.’

His newfound zeal for the housebuilding programme could be a pitch for the Communities Secretary job in a Johnson government, which will need to offer bold popular policies on housing.

Boris Johnson is the runaway leader in the race but – assuming his campaign does not implode – any one of the other five candidates could still join him on the ballot of party members

Mr Gove found himself in third place after the first round of MP’s voting on Thursday 

But Mr Gove continued to criticise Johnson’s vow to leave the EU on October 31 with or without a deal, saying: ‘If we are 95 per cent of the way there, and it just requires a few more days and weeks, I think it would be a mistake to say, ‘That’s it.’

‘It would be like if you ordered a new kitchen and you had the fridge and the dishwasher in and you hadn’t had the hob fitted and you say, ‘You said it was all going to be in by Friday, the hob’s not here, let’s rip it all out.’ ‘

But he insisted he ‘would absolutely work with Boris in any way that he wanted to work with me’ – a noteworthy softening of his position after insisting in 2016 his former ally was not up to the top job.

Mr Gove, who was adopted as an infant, also told the paper he was considering contacting his birth mother for the first time, after his biographer shared her details with him.

Where do they stand this morning? What the candidates for Tory leader said as they gear up for the debate

Michael Gove

Declared himself the ‘Chumbawumba candidate’ following a decent showing in the first round of voting despite his cocaine revelations, in a reference to a 1997 hit by the anarchist band with the lyrics ‘I get knocked down, I get back up again, you’re never going to keep me down’. How familiar Tory members will be with the tune waits to be seen.

In the Sunday Times he put forth a proposal for a national housing fund paid for by ‘Brexit bonds’, with home designs to be approved by citizens juries – all of which which has been interpreted as a pitch for the election-battleground portfolio of Communities Secretary in a possible Johnson administration.

Mr Gove, who in 2016 said Mr Johnson was not up to the top job, scuppering his former ally’s campaign, added: ‘I would absolutely work with Boris in any way that he wanted to work with me. No question’

Sajid Javid

Declaring himself one of only two ‘change’ candidates in the race, along with Boris, the Home Secretary used an interview in the Sunday Times to point out all his rivals went to Oxford University, while he grew up above his parents’ shop and was the first member of his family to go to university.

He said he was the leader who could ‘look the British public in the eye’ as a fellow consumer of state services.

In a possible bid to enter the door of Number 11 as Mr Johnson’s neighbour, Mr Javid set out his economic credentials, outlining plans for an emergency ‘no-deal budget’.

Clockwise from top left: Boris Johnson, Jeremy Hunt, Rory Stewart, Dominic Raab, Michael Gove and Sajid Javid, the six remaining Conservative leadership contenders.

Rory Stewart

The International Development Secretary told the Sunday Telegraph: ‘The other candidates aren’t prepared to talk about how they’re going to get Brexit done’, adding: ‘They’re just basically saying, Brexit, deliver Brexit. When you say how, answer comes there none. Trust me I’m going to deliver Brexit.’

This morning he asked the BBC’s Andrew Marr ‘How is Boris going to deliver Brexit?’

He added: ‘I don’t even know what he believes. He won’t talk to me, he won’t talk to you, he won’t talk to the public,’ as it emerged the front-runner will be empty-chaired at tonight’s Channel 4 debate.  

Dominic Raab

Mr Raab, the contest’s other remaining hard-Brexiteer, this morning accused rivals of going ‘weak at the knees’ and defended his decision not to rule out suspending Parliament to push through a no deal Brexit if needs be.

He told Sky: ‘We gave people a decision. Now Parliament is trying to steal it back away from them. When people voted, they voted to leave.’

He added: ‘The big mistake we made in these negotiations was taking no-deal off the table. When we start ruling things out we only weaken our chances of getting a deal.’ 

Jeremy Hunt 

The Foreign Secretary, who came second to Mr Johnson in last week’s ballot of Tory MPs, announced an eye-catching policy of offering financial incentives to families who build accommodation for elderly relatives – to help ease the growing social care and childcare burden on the taxpayer. 

Mr Hunt, who was a distant second in the first round, insisted in the Mail on Sunday he had still not given up hope of winning in the final postal ballot of party members.

‘I am the insurgent in this race,’ he said. ‘I am in it to win it because we have to give the country better choices given the crisis that we’re in now.’

Today he said he would exhaust all options before contemplating No Deal.

‘The difference between me and Boris is I would try for a deal,’ he told the BBC’s Andrew Marr show.

Boris Johnson

Mr Johnson remains tight-lipped as his team seeks to avoid doing or saying anything which could undermine their candidate’s huge lead among MPs.

Mr Johnson was criticised yesterday for busting into a hustings event in London without taking questions from journalists – and sneaking out the back door afterwards.

By contrast his rivals stopped to talk to reporters. All six have agreed to take part in the Channel 4 show this evening – but Mr Johnson has made clear he will stay away.




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