In a live debate on ITV Tory leadership candidate Boris Johnson said that he had grave reservations about the planned expansion of Heathrow Airport and that he was watching the legal challenges with interest – the clear implication being that he is still against it. On HS2 he said that he would not immediately scrap it on becoming PM but he would review it and believed that the money could be better spent.
By contrast, his rival for the top job, foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt, stated unequivocally that he totally supported both Heathrow expansion and HS2.
These responses were largely typical of the answers given by the two men: Hunt, the underdog, generally being able to answer yes or no to straight questions, while Johnson, whom polls suggest most Conservative party members would prefer to take over from Theresa May as prime minister, opted for his characteristic bluster and prevarication in a bid to avoid being held hostage to fortune.
For example, Hunt said that he would not fire Kim Darroch, the UK ambassador to the USA who has recently been revealed to have expressed frank opinions to ministers about Donald Trump’s competence, as is his job. Johnson was not prepared to defend the UK ambassador and made no commitment to Darroch’s job security.
And on plans for Northern Ireland border controls, Hunt said he would implement the recommendations of the Alternative Arrangements Commission report. Johnson said that that was one of a range of options available.
As member of parliament for Uxbridge and mayor of London, Boris Johnson has previously sought to woo local voters by promising to lie down in front of bulldozers to prevent a third runway being built at Heathrow. Since running for prime minister, he has gone conspicuously coy on the subject until being forced out into the open in this live television debate.
One leading bookmaker has Johnson as 1-25 to win the Tory leadership race, while it is offering 14-1 on Hunt.