Johnson labelled ‘bottler Boris’ for ducking TV debate

Boris Johnson has been branded a “bottler” by allies of Jeremy Hunt for ducking a planned TV showdown.

Sky News invited the leadership rivals to take part in the head-to-head debate on Tuesday night hosted by Kay Burley but said it would be cancelled due to Mr Johnson’s decision not to attend.

The broadcaster has now invited both men to take part in a debate on July 1.

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The head-to-head format meant it would not have been possible for Mr Johnson to be replaced by an empty podium on Sky as he was in a Channel 4 debate earlier in the leadership contest.

An ally of Mr Hunt said: “Bottler Boris and his complacent campaign have shown they can’t trust their candidate to turn up and perform.”

A Sky News spokesman said: “Jeremy Hunt has agreed to take part, but Boris Johnson has so far declined the invitation.

“We stand ready to host a debate tomorrow evening if both candidates make themselves available.

Tory leadership contest timetable.
Tory leadership contest timetable.

“Without both candidates, tomorrow’s debate will not take place.

“But we will reissue our invitation for Mr Hunt and Mr Johnson to debate live on Sky News next Monday, July 1.”

A spokesman for Mr Hunt’s campaign said: “Whoever wants to be prime minister must face up now to the intense scrutiny that comes with the job, anything less is deeply disrespectful to our members.

Facing the media this morning. This contest isn’t about personal lives, but if you want to lead this country you have to show up and answer questions on your plans for Britain. Our Prime Minister should be held to account.

— Jeremy Hunt (@Jeremy_Hunt) June 24, 2019

“Trying to duck debates and run down the clock until after postal ballots have been returned is just cynical and complacent.

“Boris Johnson must stop trying to slink into No 10 through the back door and come clean about his programme for government.”