Johnson gains support for Tory leadership

Boris Johnson's campaign for the UK Tory leadership gathers strength, despite no-show in TV debate.
Boris Johnson's campaign for the UK Tory leadership gathers strength, despite no-show in TV debate.

Boris Johnson's bid for the UK Tory leadership has received a new boost with the backing of a former rival, Health Secretary Matt Hancock, who pulled out of the contest last week.

His endorsement came after Johnson was criticised for failing to appear in the first of the televised leadership debates staged by Britain's Channel 4 on Sunday evening.

Writing in The Times, Hancock said: "I'm backing Boris Johnson as the best candidate to unite the Conservative party, so we can deliver Brexit and then unite the country behind an open, ambitious, forward-looking agenda, delivered with the energy that gets stuff done."

He said he believed Johnson had a "unique personality" which would bring the Tories together behind a Brexit deal.

However, it is far from clear whether the 20 MPs who supported Hancock in the first ballot will now follow him in backing Johnson.

Rival contender Michael Gove said Johnson needs to be put to the test.

"At the moment, yes, of course, it is the case that Boris is the front-runner," Gove told BBC radio on Monday.

"But we need to make sure that he is tested and that we have two candidates who go forward, if Boris is one of them, who we know are capable of being prime minister from day one."

Gove said Johnson was capable of being prime minister but the key question was who had the best record in office and the clearest vision of the future.

Johnson, who has been under fire over his reluctance to face media scrutiny, is likely to face further criticism after refusing to take part in a hustings event on Monday organised by political journalists at Westminster.

Instead he chose to use his column in The Daily Telegraph to announce plans to extend full-fibre broadband to every home in the country within five years, nine years ahead of the Government's 2033 target.

"A fast internet connection is not some metropolitan luxury. It is an indispensable tool of modern life," he said.

"It is therefore a disgrace that this country should suffer from a deep digital divide, so that many rural areas and towns are simply left behind."

Johnson has said he will take part in a BBC debate on Tuesday, after the second round of voting, when the field of candidates will have been whittled down further.

However he was taunted about his absence at Sunday's event by Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt who said it raised questions about his ability to take on the job of prime minister.

"Where is Boris? If his team won't allow him out with five pretty friendly colleagues, how is is he going to fare with 27 European countries?" he said.

Australian Associated Press