Boris Johnson’s final rival in the race to become Britain’s next prime minister has accused him of being a coward for avoiding public scrutiny, as Johnson remains under pressure over an alleged altercation at the London apartment he shares with his girlfriend.
Jeremy Hunt wrote in a piece for UK newspaper The Times Monday that he was “not interested” in the leadership frontrunner’s private life, but challenged Johnson to meet him in a debate and tell the public what his policies will be.
“Don’t be a coward Boris, man up and show the nation you can cope with the intense scrutiny the most difficult job in the country will involve,” Hunt wrote.
Hunt asked Johnson to take part in Sky News’ televised leadership debate on Tuesday. Hours after the article went to press, Sky News said the debate had been postponed as “Johnson has so far declined the invitation.”
Hunt and Johnson are the last two candidates standing in the race, with the winner due to be announced at the end of July, when 160,000 Conservative party members pick their favored candidate in a ballot.
Johnson has pitched the hardest line on the UK’s scheduled departure from the European Union, and committed that the country will leave the bloc on October 31. Hunt – who replaced Johnson as Foreign Secretary after his predecessor resigned in protest at outgoing UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit plan – has also said he would support a no-deal exit if necessary.
In the Times article, Hunt criticized his rival for evading the media and “slinking through the back door, which is what Boris appears to want,” he wrote.
“Boris (Johnson) has done just one interview on Today (radio show) in the past year. I have done 16. He has not appeared on The Andrew Marr Show (TV talk program) this year and his one broadcast interview of this campaign, with World at One (radio show), was arranged with just ten minutes’ notice so (presenter) Mark Mardell had no time to prepare questions,” Hunt wrote.
“Scrutiny of the candidates matters. One of the strengths of our system is that we scrutinize our politicians with more intelligent ferocity than anywhere in the world,” Hunt wrote.
CNN has contacted to Johnson’s campaign team for comment.
This comes as Johnson faced questions for not providing an explanation for the alleged dispute with his girlfriend, Carrie Symonds, which was reported by the Guardian newspaper on Friday.
Tom Penn, a neighbor of Symonds, told the paper he had heard an argument from her apartment in the South London neighborhood of Camberwell. He knocked on the door, got no response, and called the police.
The neighbor, who reportedly recorded the altercation, told the Guardian that Symonds could be heard telling Johnson to “get off me” and “get out of my flat.”
In the recording, Symonds said Johnson had ruined her sofa with red wine. “You just don’t care for anything because you’re spoilt. You have no care for money or anything,” she said, according to the Guardian.
Johnson was also heard saying “get off my f***ing laptop” before a loud crashing noise, the paper reported.
London’s Metropolitan Police said it went to the home and was not taking any further action.
Johnson supporters have rallied around him after the reported incident.
Priti Patel, former international development secretary, told the BBC on Monday that the recording of the incident was part of “a very clear, politically motivated series of attacks.”
“That is not the type of behavior that you’d expect in our country, that’s the type of behavior associated with the old Eastern bloc.”
Some of the UK’s Conservative Party-backing tabloid newspapers suggested over the weekend that Penn and his wife had recorded the incident because of their political leanings.
The Sun newspaper called the couple “left-wing playwrights” and the Daily Mail reported they had seen anti-Conservative tweets on her Twitter account, which has now been deleted.
Penn declined to comment to CNN on the story, referring to a statement he issued to the Guardian, in which he defended his decision to record the alleged argument.
At least 12 British organizations that address domestic abuse weighed in on the incident on Monday and defended Penn for taking action.
“It’s not for us to judge what happens in anyone’s relationship, but it is for us all to take action if we are concerned about someone’s safety,” the organizations said in a joint statement. “That’s a natural human instinct. Let’s support it rather than challenge it.”
CNN’s Sarah Dean, Emmet Lyons and Arnaud Siad contributed to this report.