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Boris Johnson launches bid to become UK Prime Minister

By Rob Picheta, CNN

Updated 7:14 a.m. ET, June 12, 2019
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7:14 a.m. ET, June 12, 2019

What Boris Johnson said -- and what he didn't


Boris Johnson's launch event has wrapped up -- but it's unclear whether it left the public much the wiser on what a Johnson premiership would look like.

Reporters quizzed him more than once on his past controversial and offensive comments and his Brexit approach.

Johnson offered a few answers and made a few awkward dodges. Here's what we learned.

What Johnson said:

  • He doesn't want a no-deal Brexit -- but he'll prepare for one anyway: It was a slightly mixed message on Brexit, with Johnson refusing to vigorously pursue a no-deal Brexit but adding that the UK can only get a good deal from Europe if it prepares for such an outcome. The only problem? That was also the line Theresa May took, before she ran into political reality. It's still difficult to see how Johnson will navigate a Parliament that is stringently opposed to crashing out.
  • He can defeat Jeremy Corbyn: Johnson was gung-ho in taking the fight to Labour, arguing that he is the best-placed candidate to defeat Jeremy Corbyn's party. "We cannot let them anywhere near Downing Street," he said, noting that he defied a London-wide swing to Labour in the 2017 general election. That's true -- but his majority was cut in half during that poll, and Brexit remains unpopular in the capital.
  • He's sorry for causing offence -- sort of: "Of course I'm sorry for the offence that I've caused," Johnson said, adding that racially divisive comments he has made in the past have caused some "plaster to come off the ceiling." But he defended speaking "directly," arguing that such an approach is what the public wants. His supporters jeered as reporters brought up comments he has made in the past, but they won't sit well with much of the public if he makes similar slips as prime minister.

What he didn't say:

  • How often he's taken drugs, and whether he regrets it: Johnson's most glaring swerve during his Q&A with the media came when he was pressed on his past drug use. He's admitted in the past to taking cocaine, but he said the issue has been brought up "many times" and made an uneasy pivot towards his record on knife crime when he was asked to elaborate.
  • Whether he'll resign if he fails on Brexit: Theresa May has already been put to the sword over her failure to deliver Brexit, and her successor will walk into the same political impasse that she struggled to smash. But despite promising to leave the EU in October, with or without a deal, Johnson didn't elaborate on what his Plan B would be. One of those could come in handy if he's unable to sway the EU or lawmakers in the House of Commons towards his position.

6:54 a.m. ET, June 12, 2019

Johnson admits Brexit process won't be "plain-sailing"

Johnson is asked about another comment he's made in the past, when he was revealed to have said "F--- business" in response to opposition from business leaders to Brexit.

He says he has stood up for business throughout his career. "I will stick up for every business in this country," he says, before referencing his duties as Foreign Secretary. "You have to sell the UK abroad" in the role, and no-one would be a better salesman for the UK than him, Johnson says.

The final question returns to Brexit -- he is asked what he will do if Parliament cannot agree to his plan for Brexit, and if he will commit to resign if he cannot meet his own October 31 deadline for the UK's exit.

He replies that an "existential threat" faces both Conservative and Labour if they cannot pass Brexit, and that he does not expect lawmakers to "obstruct the will of the people."

"If we now block it ... we will reap the whirlwind, and we will face mortal retribution from the electorate."

"Let's come together and get this thing done," he says to colleagues in the House of Commons -- including those in the Labour Party that he attacked as Marxists a few minutes ago.

"There may be bumps in the road" on Brexit, he admits. But he swerves the question of whether he will resign if he can't follow through on his pledge -- a question which may well rear its head again should Johnson take the keys to Number 10.

6:44 a.m. ET, June 12, 2019

Johnson dodges cocaine question


"I cannot swear that I've always observed a top speed limit in this country of 70 mph," Johnson says after being asked by ITV if he has done anything illegal.

The question was a nod to rival contender Michael Gove's admission that he took cocaine as a young journalist.

But Johnson goes on to swerve the query, saying the key issue is that he does what he promises to do as a politician, listing some more of his policies as Mayor of London.

He says his team did an "astonishing job" on cutting knife crime, and praises the police across the UK.

Another reporter picks up the line of questioning, noting Johnson has previously admitted to taking cocaine.

Johnson says the encounter has been brought up "many, many times" and says the country is more interested in "what we can do for them."

That's a second dodge of the drug question.

6:39 a.m. ET, June 12, 2019

Johnson defends speaking "directly" after being confronted over offensive remarks

Johnson is facing more grilling on language he has used in the past. There is a loud groan in the audience when Sky News Political Editor Beth Rigby brings up his past comment in which he likened Muslim women to bank-robbers.

"Of course, occasionally some plaster comes off the ceiling" as a result of a phrase he uses, Johnson says.

But he adds that one of the reasons the public feels alienated from politicians is that they feel they are "not speaking as we find, covering everything up in bureaucratic platitudes."

"Of course I'm sorry for the offence that I've caused, but I will continue to speak as directly as I can," he adds, to applause.

6:36 a.m. ET, June 12, 2019

Johnson's previous comments scrutinised during news conference

Johnson is probed on his past record on Brexit and on his racially divisive comments. "If you want to be prime minister, can the country trust you," asks BBC Political Editor Laura Kuenssberg.

Johnson says that he has not been inconsistent by saying that the UK should prepare for no-deal Brexit even though he does not want such an outcome.

"If we have to go down that route, the best way to avoid it is to, of course, prepare for it," Johnson says.

"The team that I hope to build will hit the ground running ... we will engage in the friendliest possible way" with the EU, he says, adding that Brussels will respond to a new government.

Those predictions, of course, were made by Theresa May three years ago -- before a series of torturous negotiations led to her downfall.

6:29 a.m. ET, June 12, 2019

Johnson launches attack on Labour

Johnson closes his speech by pitching himself as the best-placed candidate to defeat Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn in an election.

"I know the London Labour left ... I know who they are," Johnson says, attacking Corbyn and the Labour Party for fostering anti-Semitism and for its economic policies.

The group has a "contempt for the normal aspirations of millions to improve their lives," Johnson says. "We cannot let them anywhere near Downing Street."

He will now take questions from the media.

6:25 a.m. ET, June 12, 2019

Johnson says he will bridge the UK's "opportunity gap"

"We are somehow achieving Grand Prix speeds, but without firing on all cylinders," Johnson says, arguing that Brexit will improve economic and technological opportunities for the UK.

He starts going through the headline jobs on his CV, noting a number of policies he put in place as the Mayor of London.

"I took this city through riots and strikes, and all the teething problems of the Olympics," he says, describing organizing the 2012 event as "no picnic."

Johnson is also widening his message from Brexit, describing what he calls an "opportunity gap" in British society and saying he will "re-knit the bonds" of the country.

"It's time to end this debilitating uncertainty," he says, before thanking his backers watching his event.

6:17 a.m. ET, June 12, 2019

We must leave the EU in October, Johnson says

Johnson says he is not aiming for a no-deal Brexit, and he does not expect such a scenario to happen.

But he adds that Britain must leave the EU on October 31, its current deadline, with or without a deal. He says the UK cannot secure a good deal with Brussels unless it is serious about preparing for a no-deal break.

"After three years and two missed deadlines, we must leave the EU on October 31," he says. "Delay means defeat. Delay means Corbyn. Kick the can again, and we kick the bucket."

6:16 a.m. ET, June 12, 2019

Johnson: there is a mood of despair around the country

Johnson has started his pitch to become Conservative party leader. He says that the UK's economy has grown since Britain voted leave the European Union.

"Yet we cannot ignore the morass at Westminster," he adds. "Around the country there is a mood of disillusion, even despair" at politicians' inability to get things done, he says.

"Now is the time to remember our duty to the people and the reasons for the Brexit vote," Johnson says, adding that people who voted to leave "wanted to be heard."

"Now is the time to unite this country and unite this society," he adds.