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Hunt Says Johnson Dodges Scrutiny as Race for U.K. PM Heats Up

Lucy Meakin
Hunt Says Johnson Dodges Scrutiny as Race for U.K. PM Heats Up

(Bloomberg) -- Boris Johnson faces mounting pressure to submit to public scrutiny, after his rival in the race to be U.K. prime minister tried to turn questions about the front-runner’s character to his advantage.

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, the underdog candidate in the contest to lead the ruling Conservative Party, called on Johnson to take part in more media interviews and debates after he refused to answer questions this weekend about a noisy row with his partner that brought police to a London house.

"A new prime minister needs the legitimacy of having made his arguments publicly and having them subjected to scrutiny," Hunt wrote in the Times on Monday. "Only then can you walk through the front door of No 10 with your head held high instead of slinking through the back door, which is what Boris appears to want."

The furor has thrown open a race that was previously expected to be more of a coronation than a contest. A poll published Sunday showed Johnson’s lead among Conservatives shrinking in the days following the domestic incident, and fellow lawmakers took to the media to demand he provide reassurances about what happened. 

Leader Campaign

The two candidates are crisscrossing Britain before a Tory membership ballot in July that’ll point the way to Prime Minister Theresa May’s replacement. In a contest dominated by Brexit, the pair are making their appeal with alternative visions.

Hunt, who voted to remain in the European Union in 2016 but now says he backs leaving, is open to delaying exit day if it helps deliver a deal and an orderly departure. Johnson, however, says the U.K. must and will leave on Oct. 31 -- a message he reiterated in his Daily Telegraph column Monday.

Hunt said on Twitter late on Sunday: “I have no interest in his personal life, but I do have a real problem with him avoiding public scrutiny.” He is set to be interviewed on ITV’s “Good Morning Britain,” with its host Piers Morgan challenging on Johnson to follow suit. 

Police officers were called to the home Johnson shares with his partner Carrie Symonds early Friday, about six hours after his confirmation as front-runner in the race to succeed May.

While he drew cheers from Conservatives on Saturday as he dodged questions about the domestic incident, polling by Survation for the Mail on Sunday newspaper found that, among the general public, Hunt has now overtaken his rival in popularity.

Among those who identified as Conservative supporters, Johnson’s lead had narrowed since Thursday, it said. A separate ComRes survey of 510 Tory councillors for the Sunday Telegraph, however, showed 61% intended to vote for the former London mayor.

Conservative politicians are seeking greater clarity on the two candidates’ Brexit policies, as members who want to avoid a no-deal split are said to be considering options including quitting the party and mounting a rebellion to bring down the government.

The fear among some Tories in Parliament is that Johnson, in particular, will find himself boxed into a corner where he has to carry out his threat to leave without a deal. There has been talk of a vote of no-confidence in the government, potentially as soon as Johnson takes office in late July.

Read more: Tories Plot Against a Possible Johnson-Led No-Deal Brexit

To contact the reporter on this story: Lucy Meakin in London at lmeakin1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Paul Gordon at pgordon6@bloomberg.net, Steve Geimann, Emma Ross-Thomas

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