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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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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.

6:11 a.m. ET, June 12, 2019

HAPPENING NOW: Boris Johnson speaking to media

Johnson is beginning his launch event, and will take questions from the media after concluding his speech.

He is being introduced by Geoffrey Cox, the UK's Attorney General and a surprise backer for his campaign.

Watch the event live at the top of this page.

6:02 a.m. ET, June 12, 2019

The questions Boris Johnson could face

Boris Johnson has kept an unusually low public profile so far this year, with his upcoming press conference marking the first time in months that he will go face-to-face with the media.

Here are some of the questions Johnson could be asked.

What is your Plan B for Brexit? Johnson has made it clear he will go for a no-deal Brexit if he can't renegotiate an agreement, but Parliament has so far refused to endorse such an approach. If Johnson isn't open to another strategy, he could be undone by the same parliamentary gridlock that caused Theresa May's demise.

What illegal drugs have you taken, and when? The past drug use of candidates in the race has taken center stage on British newspaper front pages in recent days, after Michael Gove admitted to taking cocaine as a young journalist.

Do you regret making racially divisive comments? Johnson has called Africans "piccaninnies" and Papua New Guineans "cannibals," and once referred to Hillary Clinton as a "sadistic nurse in a mental hospital." He has also likened Muslim women wearing veils to postboxes and bank robbers. Those comments are likely to face another round of scrutiny now that Johnson is setting his sights on the top job.

6:00 a.m. ET, June 12, 2019

Jacob Rees-Mogg arrives at Johnson's launch event

Jacob Rees-Moog.
Jacob Rees-Moog. Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Boris Johnson looks like he's already secured a high-profile backer in his bid to become prime minister.

Jacob Rees-Mogg, a hard Brexiteer and a favorite of the Conservative grassroots membership, has arrived at his launch event and greeted members of the media.

Also present is Gavin Williamson, the former Defense Secretary, and Johnson's brother Jo -- who quit Theresa May's government last year but, unlike Boris, backs a second Brexit referendum.

Johnson is expected to make his appearance soon.