Boris Johnson made a “do or die” commitment to pull the UK out of the European Union by October 31 as he sought to get his campaign to be the next prime minister back on track.
The former foreign secretary repeatedly avoided questions about his personal life as he stepped back onto the campaign trail following a late-night row with partner Carrie Symonds that saw police called to their home last week.
He used a series of broadcast interviews to set out his plans for Brexit, insisting that the shock of the European election results would force both the Tories and Labour to acknowledge that the current impasse could not continue.
Mr Johnson will find out whether he has achieved his ambition of becoming Tory leader when the results of the contest are announced on July 23 under the timetable set out by the Conservative Party.
He told TalkRadio the UK would be leaving the EU on the Halloween deadline “do or die, come what may”.
He said some “positive energy” would help deliver Brexit, hitting out at the “pathetic” efforts of Theresa May’s administration – a government in which he served as foreign secretary for two years until July 2018.
“I’ve never seen such morosity and gloom from a government,” he said.
“For three years we’ve been sitting around wrapped in defeatism telling the British public that they can’t do this or that. It is pathetic, it’s absolutely pathetic.”
But Mr Johnson could not escape continued questions about his private life after the events in the early hours of Friday morning when police were called to his home by neighbours.
On LBC Radio, he was repeatedly challenged about whether his campaign was behind the release of a picture of him with Ms Symonds in an attempt to show their relationship was going strong.
Asked where the photograph had come from, Mr Johnson said: “The longer we spend on things extraneous to what I want to do … the bigger the waste of time.”
In testy exchanges, he said there are “all sorts of pictures of me out on the internet which pop up from time to time”.
When host Nick Ferrari suggested his hairstyle indicated it was an old picture, he said: “This conversation is now descending into farce.”
Turning to Brexit, Mr Johnson said “politics has totally changed” since March 29 and “we are staring down the barrel of defeat” which would focus minds in Parliament.
“People are looking at this thing and thinking ‘Parliament is just not going to do this’. But, actually, I think they are.”
He said that “it is vital as a country that we get ready to come out without an agreement if we must”, but argued that it would be “bizarre” for the European Union to impose tariffs on trade in that event if the two sides were looking at a future deal.
In a BBC interview, Mr Johnson called for “creative ambiguity” over the £39 billion cost of the UK’s Brexit divorce deal, suggesting this could break the deadlock.
The former Vote Leave leader, who hopes to become prime minister, also called for a “commonsensical” no-deal Brexit to be left on the table to allow the “incubus” to be “pitchforked off the back of British politics”.
Mr Johnson’s campaign was stepping up a gear following claims he was a “coward” from leadership rival Jeremy Hunt for shying away from debates, including a Sky News head-to-head originally scheduled for Tuesday night.
Mr Hunt said he would answer questions on Twitter instead, saying Mr Johnson’s refusal to take part was not fair on the public.
“Tonight I was meant to be debating Boris Johnson on Sky, answering questions about our plans for Britain.
“Sadly, Boris has pulled out – which I don’t believe is fair on you, the public.”
Tonight I was meant to be debating Boris Johnson on Sky, answering questions about our plans for Britain. Sadly, Boris has pulled out – which I don't believe is fair on you, the public. So from 8pm I will be answering as many of your questions as poss – tweet me using #BoJoNoShow
— Jeremy Hunt (@Jeremy_Hunt) June 25, 2019
Mr Johnson had largely kept out of the public eye since the news broke about the row with Ms Symonds.
Police were called by worried neighbours after his partner was heard screaming and shouting “get off me”.
On the BBC, Mr Johnson said: “I do not talk about stuff involving my family, my loved ones.
“And there’s a very good reason for that. That is that, if you do, you drag them into things that … in a way that is not fair on them.”
Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd, who is supporting Mr Hunt, called on Mr Johnson to spell out the details of his Brexit plan.
“This is an incredibly difficult situation and Boris needs to explain how he will deal with both sides of the Conservative Party that have concerns and try and break the impasse with the European Union,” she told BBC Radio 4’s Today.
“Enthusiasm and optimism is not sufficient.”