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Boris Johnson: Tory leadership favourite in campaign media blitz

Boris Johnson speaks to members of the public on a visit to the Royal Horticultural Society as Wisley

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Boris Johnson has responded to criticism of his Tory leadership campaign by undertaking a succession of media and public appearances.

The favourite to succeed Theresa May as prime minister told Talk Radio Brexit would happen on 31 October “do or die”.

In an apparent change of strategy following attacks from his rival Jeremy Hunt, Mr Johnson met members of the public in a walkabout in Surrey.

He has also raised eyebrows by making a series of uncosted spending pledges.

Areas ranging from social care and schools to infrastructure and broadband are all set for investment if he becomes prime minister, Mr Johnson has said.

On a visit to the Royal Horticultural Society gardens at Wisley, he said there was a “massive opportunity” to put Brexit “to bed” and focus on other issues crying out for attention.

But the former foreign secretary’s plan to get the EU and MPs on side in time to enable the leave to with a deal on Halloween continues to attract criticism.

On Brexit, he insisted the 31 October deadline would be met “come what may – do or die”, and he would “not rest” until the UK left.

He said there was a new dynamic in place in Brussels and London since last month’s European elections, which saw a surge in support for populist anti-EU parties, and there was “goodwill” on both sides to reach an agreement.

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He insisted getting rid of the Irish backstop – the controversial insurance policy designed to maintain an open border on the island of Ireland – was a precondition to a renegotiated agreement even though the EU has ruled this out on many occasions.

He suggested he would be willing to “suspend” the £39bn “divorce bill” the UK has agreed to pay the EU until he had secured commitments on trade and the border.

Pressed over why the EU would agree to this, the former Mayor of London said “what I bring is the ability to change the equation”.

However, he conceded his plan to maintain frictionless trade with the continent after Brexit through Article 24 of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) would require the approval of the rest of the EU and could not happen unilaterally.

Energy Minister Claire Perry, who is backing Mr Hunt, accused his rival of peddling unicorns.

During an interview with LBC earlier on Tuesday, Mr Johnson declined to answer questions about Friday’s row with his girlfriend Carrie Symonds.

There has been speculation about whether a picture of the couple sitting happily in a beer garden, which appeared in Monday’s newspapers, was actually taken over the weekend.

Asked whether the picture was actually much older, Mr Johnson repeatedly refused to comment on its “antiquity or provenance” and said the persistent line of questioning was “farcical”.

Meanwhile, Mr Hunt has promised a 25% increase in defence spending over the next five years, a move he said would underline post-Brexit Britain remain a confident, global power.

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