- Boris Johnson has caved to pressure and agreed to participate in Tory leadership TV debates as his rivals try to close the gap on the runaway favourite to become prime minister.
- The former foreign secretary’s team have been concerned he could make a gaffe on national television which might derail his bid.
- Matt Hancock has pulled out of the race and will probably back one of Johnson’s rivals, most likely Jeremy Hunt or Michael Gove.
LONDON – Boris Johnson has caved to pressure and agreed to take part in televised debates for the Conservative leadership, amid fears from his campaign team that the gaffe-prone MP could derail his own bid for Downing Street.
The former foreign secretary’s six remaining rivals in the race to become prime minister on Thursday teamed up to write an open letter outlining their commitment to taking part in all of the upcoming television debates.
Johnson, who is the runaway favourite to succeed Theresa May, initially refused to take part in the debates but agreed to do so on Friday amid intense media scrutiny and pressure from rivals.
He said in an interview that he was “very keen” on TV debates but was worried about viewers being turned off by too much “blue-on-blue action.”
He confirmed in an interview that he would participate in next Tuesday’s televised debate on the BBC, but refused to confirm whether will participate in a debate which Channel 4 has broadcast on Sunday. The broadcaster has threatened to “empty chair” Johnson if he fails to turn up.
He answered just six questions from journalists at his campaign launch this week and has been criticised for failing to match his leadership rivals’ engagement with the British media.
The frontrunner has instead run a low-key campaign, which has proven to be effective. He picked up 114 votes from Conservative MPs in the first round of voting on Thursday, with Jeremy Hunt trailing on second on just 43.
Thank you to my friends and colleagues in the Conservative & Unionist Party for your support. I am delighted to win the first ballot, but we have a long way to go.https://t.co/tGRXu94CmT | @BackBoris pic.twitter.com/zVBNls2rew
— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) June 13, 2019
Johnson told BBC Radio 4’s World at One he had joined many TV debates during his two victorious London mayoral campaigns and was “pretty bewildered” by claims he was avoiding media scrutiny.
“I think it is important that we have a sensible, grown-up debate,” he said.
“My own observation is that in the past when you’ve had loads of candidates, it can be slightly cacophonous and I think the public have had quite a lot of blue-on-blue action, frankly, over the last three years.”
“We don’t necessarily need a lot more of that, and so what I think the best solution would be would be to have a debate on what we all have to offer the country.
“The best time to do that, I think, would be after the second ballot on Tuesday and the best forum is the proposed BBC debate. I think that’s a good idea.”
Meanwhile, Health Secretary Matt Hancock pulled out of the race on Friday morning and is ready to back one of Johnson’s rivals, thought most likely to be either Jeremy Hunt or Michael Gove.
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