What did we learn from Boris Johnson at the first hustings?

Boris Johnson was asked about taxes, tariffs and, of course, Brexit, at the first hustings for the final two leadership contenders.

So, what did we learn?

He does not want to speak about his private life

Mr Johnson will have been well aware he would be asked about police being called to the London home he shares with his partner Carrie Symonds.

But he refused to answer questions about the incident, saying: “I think what people want to know is whether I have the determination and the courage to deliver on the commitments that I’m making, and it will need a lot of grit right now.”

Later, when asked what the biggest personal crisis he had faced was, Mr Johnson said the London riots, which happened in 2011 when he was the city’s mayor.

When hustings moderator Iain Dale pointed out that he had asked about a personal crisis, Mr Johnson said: “Yeah, I was on holiday.”

The answer prompted laughter and applause from the audience.

Boris Johnson
Boris Johnson

He is keeping potential Cabinet appointments close to his chest

Asked whether one-time leadership rival Michael Gove would be part of his top team, Mr Johnson said: “There are plenty of candidates here in this room and it would be invidious of me to speculate about that.”

Mr Johnson still appears to have hope for existing tariff arrangements to remain in place post-Brexit

Bank of England governor Mark Carney has rejected claims by Mr Johnson that a trade rule known as Gatt 24 would allow existing tariff arrangements to apply following a no-deal Brexit until a new agreement is reached with Brussels.

But Mr Johnson said it is not in the interests “of our friends and partners, I believe, unilaterally to impose tariffs if we decide not to”.

He added: “If the EU decided unilaterally to impose tariffs on goods for the United Kingdom, it would probably be the first time since the Napoleonic continental system that there had been such a pointless interruption of trade between us. And I don’t think that they would want to go down that route.”

An air of mystery will remain for now around payment of the Brexit divorce bill

Mr Johnson said: “People will expect us to pay the £39 billion on the nose.”

Asked if he accepted the UK would have to pay some of it, he said: “I think it is important that as the UK’s negotiator we should retain some creative ambiguity about the money until such time as we get a resolution.”

He is a big fan of Crossrail 2, but less so of HS2

He described Crossrail 2 as a “fantastic project”, which he said would solve problems for commuters coming into south-west London and allow about 200,000 homes to be built.

But he said the new high-speed railway to link London and the Midlands and north of England is “going to cause a great deal of difficulties for my constituency”.

He said he has “anxieties” about the business case for HS2 and would have a review of the project that would not interrupt the current timetable.

Mr Johnson is not shy about lowering taxes for middle earners

Having pledged to increase the threshold for the 40p rate of income tax from £50,000 to £80,000, Mr Johnson was asked how that would fit with lowering taxes for the lower paid.

He said: “It would be part of a package where we would lift up allowances for the low-paid to help relieve the burden on the low-paid and obviously continue to work on expanding the living wage.

“But I don’t think that we Conservatives should be at all shy of discussing the way in which people on middle incomes, and I’m talking about nurses or heads of maths departments or police inspectors, who are being captured in the higher tax rates, and that seems to me to be something that we Conservatives should take an interest in.”