Boris Johnson launches Tory leader campaign by insisting he does not want no-deal Brexit

Andy Wells
Freelance Writer

- Former Foreign Sec is bookies’ favourite to win Tory leadership race

- Johnson warns MPs will face ‘mortal retribution’ if they try to stop Brexit

- Former London Mayor fielded series of questions about his past comments and character - avoiding answering several

- Johnson rejected claims of ‘untrustworthiness’ from rivals and press

- Says he wants a ‘sensible, orderly’ EU departure - but that UK should still prepare for No-deal .

Boris Johnson officially launched his campaign to be the next Prime Minister by insisting he does not want a no-deal Brexit - but will prepare for it.

The former Foreign Secretary told a gathering in central London that he wants Britain to leave the EU by 31 October, with or without a deal, saying that “now is the time to unite the country”.

However, he said he would rather Britain left with a deal, while preparing for a “managed exit” if one could not be struck.

Starting gun: Johnson launches his campaign in front of supporters and media on Wednesday afternoon. (TOLGA AKMEN/AFP/Getty Images)
Boris Johnson has officially launched his campaign to be Tory leader with a vow to deliver Brexit (PA)

Mr Johnson said “now was the time to remember our duty” when it came to the results of the EU referendum.

He told guests: “The commercial dynamism of the British people is insulating them from the chaos of British politics.”

Mr Johnson’s comments came as a leaked Cabinet note revealed Britain is “in no way ready for no-deal Brexit”, while it would take “six to eight months” to build up medicinal supplies, according to the Financial Times.

The note said that the “core no-deal plans” of Government departments provided only “a minimum viable level of capability”.

Chancellor Phillip Hammond, who voted for Remain, also said Mr Johnson’s Brexit plan is “impossible”, adding: “Parliament will not allow a no-deal exit from the EU and our experience has suggested it may not be that easy to secure a deal in parliament.”

Referring to another potential Brexit delay, Mr Johnson went on: "We simply will not get a result if we give the slightest hint that we want to go on kicking the can down the road with yet more delay.

"Delay means defeat. Delay means Corbyn. Kick the can and we kick the bucket."

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“We have made tensions worse with delay. When we come up with that better deal there will be a relief that Brexit is off the front pages...

“If we are to respond to the profound message of that Brexit vote then we must fight now for those that feel left behind.”

In a withering attack on Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, Mr Johnson said: “He and what he stands for are a real threat to our fundamental values and way of life.”

Mr Johnson listed his achievements as London Mayor (AP)
Several prominent Tory MPs turned up to watch Mr Johnson's speech (PA)

Following the speech, Mr Johnson was asked if he was keeping a no deal Brexit on the table.

He said: “Yes of course. It's right for our country to prepare for that outcome. What most people understand is that the best way to avoid a no-deal outcome and a disorderly Brexit is to make the preparations now so we can leave in a managed way if we have to.

“We will carry the conviction with our friends and partners that we can make such an exit if we have to, which would be a last resort.

“That is the way we'll get a deal that is sensible for both sides of the Channel. We will engage in the friendliest possible way with our friends across the Channel... a new optimism and confidence in what Britain can do, and I think they'll respond to that.

“It isn't good for the UK or our partners to continue with this uncertainty. It's important to be robust and committed now.”

The former Foreign Secretary is the favourite to win the leadership contest (Getty)

Questioned over his description of Muslim women as “letterboxes”, Mr Johnson responded: “Of course occasionally the plaster comes off the ceiling as a result of a phrase I've used.

“It's vital we as politicians remember the reasons the public feel alienated from us is we feel we're muffling and veiling our language, not speaking as we find, when what they want to hear is what we genuinely think.

“If in doing that I sometimes cause offence I apologise, but I'll continue to speak as directly as I can.”

Asked if he had done anything illegal, Mr Johnson said he had “not always observed the 70mph top speed limit in this country”.

The leadership hopeful side-stepped a question about cocaine use (PA)

Mr Johnson swerved further questioning on his cocaine use while at university, saying: “The canonical account of this has appeared many many times and what people in this country want us to focus on is what we can do for them and what out plans are for this country... all the rest of it is in danger of blowing us off track.”

Asked about how he would deliver a no-deal Brexit if it was blocked by Parliament, Mr Johnson said that he believed “maturity would prevail”.

He added: “A sense of duty will prevail. It will be very difficult for colleagues in parliament to obstruct the will of the people and block Brexit.”

The latest odds in the race to be the next Tory leader (PA)

A smattering of anti-Brexit protesters gathered to picket outside the venue for Mr Johnson's campaign launch in central London, while shouts of “Stop Brexit” could be heard from outside the room during the speech.

Attendees at the launch were offered “Boris bacon butties” and “Boris eggs Benedict” inside the venue.

They were also invited to wear “Back Boris” badges.

With 80 Tory MPs already backing the former Foreign Secretary, he currently stands as the favourite to take over from Theresa May next month.

While Mr Johnson has proved popular with many MPs, he nevertheless remains a divisive figure in his own party.

Ahead of his launch, Cabinet minister Liz Truss defended the former London Mayor as a "brilliant" Foreign Secretary who deserves to be PM.

The timetable of the Tory leadership contest (PA)

Chief Secretary to the Treasury Ms Truss attempted to bat away a string of criticisms about how Mr Johnson may not be a fit and proper person to hold office.

When the accusation that Mr Johnson was "the worst Foreign Secretary in living memory" was put to her by the BBC Radio 4 Today programme, she said such attacks were due to his "huge public appeal”.

She said: "I think it's a sign - that he is being attacked shows the huge public appeal he has, the huge power he has to communicate.

"His record is of being the most successful mayor of London we have had, of being an excellent foreign secretary who got countries around the world to take action against Russia by expelling their diplomats.”

Ms Truss also defended Mr Johnson when asked about his sacking for "lying in public" about an affair, saying: "I do not think the British public is interested in Boris's personal life.”

Mr Johnson is the current favourite to become Tory leader (PA)

Defending the Tory leadership hopeful from accusations that he is refusing to speak to journalists during his campaign for the top job, she said: "He has got nothing to hide.

"This is the parliamentary stage of the process. The important thing is he is talking to parliamentary colleagues."

Mr Johnson’s path to securing Brexit may hit a major stumbling block before a new PM is even voted in as Parliament is set to vote on Labour’s plans to stop leaving without a deal later today.

Mr Johnson’s potential stumbling block could force him to hold a snap election shortly after entering Downing Street.

A new poll shows that the Tories would win a thumping majority if Mr Johnson was in charge during an election - meaning he may be persuaded to take Brexit to the country in a General Election.

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