Boris Johnson will not say who released photo with partner, or when it was taken

Tory leadership frontrunner refuses to comment on picture that emerged in wake of row

Tory leader hopeful Boris Johnson refused to give any details on a photo that appeared across the media in recent days. Video: LBC

 

Boris Johnson has repeatedly refused to say whether his campaign team passed a photograph of him and his partner to newspapers as a PR strategy during a radio interview which saw the Tory leadership frontrunner quizzed again about his personal life.

Speaking to LBC, Mr Johnson refused at least half a dozen times to comment on the photo of himself and Carrie Symonds seemingly sitting in the garden of a pub. He would not answer when the host, Nick Ferrari, pressed: “This is quite an old picture isn’t it?”

The interview also saw Mr Johnson argue that the country should be “more positive” on the prospects of a good Brexit outcome, and seemingly roll back on his plan to focus tax cuts on high earners.

The pictures appeared in selected newspapers on Monday, and were reprinted on several front pages on Tuesday, without any details of where and when they were taken, or by whom.

[London Editor Denis Staunton talked to Foreign Editor Chris Dooley about Boris Johnson's leadership campaign. To listen, click here

The presumption was they were put out by Mr Johnson’s team as a PR move in the wake of a damaging weekend of headlines. Police were called to the London home he shares with Ms Symonds in the early hours of Friday after neighbours heard a furious row – an event Mr Johnson has repeatedly refused to comment on.

Quizzed by Ferrari, Mr Johnson said he understood why the event had prompted media interest. “Yes, of course, and I readily accept that and understand that. Newspapers and other media outlets, of course, are going to want to print and to speculate what they choose,” he said.

Insisting again he would not disclose details about those close to him, Mr Johnson refused repeatedly to say how or why the photos of him and Ms Symonds had reached the press, trying numerous times to change the subject.

“Newspapers will print whatever they are going to print,” he said. “The longer we spend on things extraneous to what I want to do, the bigger the waste of time.”

Pressed by Ferrari, he said: “There are all sorts of pictures of me on the internet, which pop up from time to time.” Asked if he knew the picture was coming out, he said: “I am aware of all sorts of pictures of me out on the internet, and it is entirely up to newspapers to decide what they want to print.”

Conservative party leadership candidate Boris Johnson taking part in a radio interview with Nick Ferrari at LBC in central London. Photograph: PA Wire
Conservative Party leadership candidate Boris Johnson taking part in a radio interview with Nick Ferrari at LBC in central London. Photograph: PA Wire

Mr Johnson also declined to say where and when the photo was taken, saying: “It’s not a state secret; it just happens to be something that I don’t want to give to you.” Asked why his hair seemed longer in the photo than it is currently, he said: “This is beyond satire.”

Brexit plans

On the substance of his Brexit plans, Mr Johnson dismissed the idea he could be hampered by Tory rebels, saying the party was “staring down the barrel of defeat” if it did not deliver a departure plan, which would focus minds.

Mr Johnson said he would “disaggregate the elements of the current withdrawal agreement – you need to take the serviceable bits” to seek a new arrangement with the EU, and prepare for possible no deal as “the other leg of the proposal”.

He insisted no deal would not cause a hard border in Northern Ireland, but gave no details on how this would be avoided beyond the general idea of so-called maximum facilitation checks using technology, which would not be ready for several years.

Mr Johnson also argued against the view of the Bank of England governor, Mark Carney, that the UK would be hit automatically by tariffs on exports to the EU in a no-deal Brexit, arguing the country could rely on article 24 of the general agreement on tariffs and trade (Gatt).

“He’s wrong in thinking that it’s not an option. It’s certainly an option,” Mr Johnson said, adding: “Let’s be more positive about this. It’s time this country stopped being so down about it’s ability to get this done.”

Responding to listeners’ calls, Mr Johnson defended his tenure as London mayor, and as foreign secretary, repeating his contentious claim that a gaffe he had made about the status of the jailed British-Iranian woman Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe had made no difference to her plight.

On tax, Mr Johnson dismissed an analysis that his plan to raise the earnings threshold for the higher 40p rate of tax from £50,000 to £80,000 would most benefit the richest 10 per cent of households, saying: “I don’t recognise those figures.”

Mr Johnson indicated any future tax policy would be more broad, saying: “We will bring forwards a tax proposal that actually begins by lifting thresholds for those on lowest pay.”

‘Codswallop’

In response to another question, he dismissed the idea of links to Steve Bannon, Donald Trump’s controversial former campaign manager, as “the biggest load of codswallop I have ever heard”.

Video footage of Mr Bannon has emerged in which he discusses having had regular consultations with Mr Johnson last year.

Mr Johnson said: “It is perfectly true that when the president came to this country last year, Steve Bannon texted me on a couple of occasions, trying to fix a meeting. I texted back to say it was not possible.”

Later on Tuesday, Mr Johnson tweeted a picture of a letter he had sent to his Conservative Party leadership rival Jeremy Hunt, urging his opponent to guarantee an EU departure on Halloween.

He tweeted: “If I become PM, we will leave the EU on 31st October, deal or no deal. Today I have asked Jeremy_Hunt whether he will also commit to this date, no matter what.

“We must keep our promises to the British people and deliver Brexit – no ifs, no buts, and no second referendum.” – Guardian/PA