The E.U.’s Brexit coordinator on Friday accused British prime ministerial hopeful Boris Johnson of spreading “untruths” about leaving the E.U. after a report that the front-runner called the French “turds” over their stance on the issue.
“As is often the case with populists, reality does not square with Johnson’s enticing combination of false promises, pseudo-patriotism and foreigner-bashing,” Belgian MEP Guy Verhofstadt wrote in a column for the Guardian newspaper.
Johnson is the runaway favorite to replace Theresa May as prime minister, enjoying a 36 percentage point lead in the latest poll among Conservative Party members, who will decide the contest. The Brexit campaigner has vowed that Britain will leave the E.U. on Oct. 31, “do or die,” and said that he is the best person to renegotiate May’s unpopular divorce deal struck with the bloc.
“Though Johnson will most likely soon find himself in a position where he must make good on his promises, he continues to spread untruths,” wrote Verhofstadt in the column published on Friday. “Chief among them is the myth that Britain can tear up the withdrawal agreement that May negotiated with the E.U., withhold its financial commitments to the bloc, and simultaneously start negotiating free-trade deals.”
Verhofstadt has been a long-time vocal opponent of Britain’s decision to leave the E.U., and campaigned with Britain’s Liberal Democrats during recent European elections, a party that wants to reverse the vote.
Johnson is currently facing party members as part of the month-long contest to decide whether he or Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt will become the next prime minister. He still enjoys widespread support among the party’s grassroots members, despite questions over his private life after police were called to check on a domestic disturbance at his house last week.
It also emerged on Friday that footage of Johnson calling the French “turds” over their Brexit stance was cut from a BBC documentary following a request from the Foreign Office.
The comments were made during Johnson’s time as foreign minister, and were cut out of the fly-on-the-wall documentary Inside the Foreign Office, which aired earlier this year, the Daily Mail reported on Friday. A Whitehall memo seen by the paper said the department asked for the footage to be cut, saying it would make Anglo-French relations “awkward” and make Brexit negotiations more difficult.
Johnson responded to the claims during a campaign event in southwest England on Friday, saying he had “no recollection” of making the comments. He resigned as foreign secretary in July last year in protest at Theresa May’s Brexit plan.
“The production team made judgments about what was in the program and they are satisfied that the program achieves its ambitions and has the content they wanted,” a spokeswoman for the BBC told the Mail.