Tory leadership race: Johnson absent as candidates face questions

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Conservative leadership contenders have faced further questions about Brexit and their personal beliefs ahead of Tuesday’s second ballot of MPs.

Boris Johnson skipped the hustings of Westminster journalists, having also missed Sunday’s Channel 4 TV debate.

Rory Stewart would not say how he would vote if there was another referendum, but having one would be a “failure”.

Dominic Raab suggested the current “paralysing uncertainty” was worse than a no-deal exit from the EU.

Mr Johnson, former foreign secretary, is the clear frontrunner in the race after topping the first ballot with 114 votes.

On Monday, he got a fresh boost after he was endorsed by Health Secretary Matt Hancock – who pulled out after coming sixth in last week’s vote.

But Mr Johnson’s low visibility in the campaign so far continues to attract criticism from his rivals and their supporters.

Justice Secretary David Gauke, who is supporting Mr Stewart, said the public was “entitled” to expect every candidate to subject themselves to rigorous scrutiny.

“At the moment Boris Johnson is not doing that,” he told BBC News.

He also accused Mr Johnson of making a series of pledges to cut tax or spend more – via his newspaper column – without answering the question “where is the money coming from?”

Mr Johnson has agreed to take part in a BBC TV debate after Tuesday’s ballot while he is also expected to attend a hustings organised by the 1922 Committee of Tory backbenchers later.

The five remaining candidates – also including Jeremy Hunt, Michael Gove and Sajid Javid – were grilled by lobby journalists on Monday morning in a closed-door session.

Ahead of the hustings, Mr Hunt urged Mr Johnson to show “Churchillian spirit” and turn up. Mr Raab started his hustings slot by describing the event as an “essential gauntlet” in an apparent dig at his erstwhile rival.

Mr Gove, who famously fell out with Mr Johnson after the 2016 referendum, said “Boris could be a good prime minister, but I think I could be a better one.”

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