Boris Johnson defended comments comparing veiled Muslim women to letterboxes and refused to clarify his past illegal drug use as he launched his leadership campaign with a warning the Tories will face “mortal retribution” if the UK doesn’t leave the EU by 31 October.
While Michael Gove has faced calls to quit the race over an admission of past cocaine use, and other candidates have revealed their histories with illegal substances including cocaine and opium, Mr Johnson appeared to side-step the issue when challenged by journalists.
The front-runner to become the next Prime Minister has been accused by rivals of “hiding in a bunker” because he has only faced media questions once this year, and took just six questions from reporters.
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Mr Johnson said he "cannot swear that I have always observed a top speed limit, in this country, of 70mph" when asked whether he had ever done anything illegal.
Sky News political editor Beth Rigby was booed and jeered by supporters of Mr Johnson, including some MPs in the audience, as she asked about a newspaper column in which he wrote that “it is absolutely ridiculous that people should choose to go around looking like letter boxes."
Mr Johnson said that “of course I’m sorry for the offence that I have caused”. But he went on: “Occasionally some plaster comes off the ceiling as a result of a phrase I may have used, or as a result of the way that phrase has been wrenched out of context and interpreted by those who wish for reasons of their own to caricature my views.
“But I think it’s vital that we as politicians remember that one of the reasons why the public feels alienated now from us all as a breed, is because too often they feel we are muffling and veiling our language, not speaking as we find - covering everything up in bureaucratic platitudes, when what they want to hear is what we really think.”
The former foreign secretary presented himself as the one candidate among the contenders bidding to succeed Theresa May who could stop Jeremy Corbyn seizing the keys to No 10.
"I think maturity and a sense of duty will prevail. I think it will be very difficult for friends in Parliament to obstruct the will of the people and simply to block Brexit," Mr Johnson said.
"I think if we now block it, collectively as parliamentarians we will reap the whirlwind and we will face mortal retribution from the electorate."
Mr Johnson insisted he wanted a "sensible, orderly" departure from the EU but said the country had to be ready for a no-deal Brexit if it was to get the terms it needed from Brussels.
"It is only responsible to prepare vigorously and seriously for no-deal," he said.
"The best way to avoid that is to prepare for it and be absolutely clear to our friends and partners that we are prepared to do that."
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He warned that failure to deliver on the referendum result would create an "existential threat" for both Labour and the Conservatives.
"Around the country there is a mood of disillusion, even despair, at our inability to get things done," he said.
"After three years and two missed deadlines we must leave the EU on October 31."