Boris Johnson’s top ally has squirmed live on-air after she was grilled repeatedly over the MP’s ‘sacked for lying’ past.
Liz Truss claimed the Tory leadership frontrunner was “brilliant” despite being confronted with his outright lies in excruciating radio and TV interviews.
The humiliating clashes come as Mr Johnson finally surfaces to launch his leadership campaign at 11am.
Polling for the Daily Telegraph has suggested the Tories would win an election with Mr Johnson as leader. But last night his rival Rory Stewart asked Brits to think carefully if they wanted him in charge of nuclear weapons.
The mop-haired Brexiteer – who usually filters his opinions through a £5,000-a-week Telegraph column – will face press questions for the first time in a year.
And today’s clashes with Ms Truss, who signed at the very top of his nomination papers and is tipped for a plum Cabinet job if he wins, give a taste of what’s to come.
The Chief Secretary to the Treasury was confronted over Mr Johnson’s sacking from the Tory frontbench in 2004 over claims he lied about an affair.
Unapologetic Mr Johnson said in 2013: “I don’t propose to go into all that again. Why should I? I’ve been through, you know, that question a lot… Why don’t we talk about something else?”
She was also questioned about the fact he was sacked from the Times as a young journalist for making up a quote.
He admitted in 2013: “I ascribed events that were supposed to have taken place before the death of Piers Gaviston to events that actually took place after the death of Piers Gaviston.
“I mildly sandpapered something somebody said, and yes it’s very embarrassing and I’m very sorry about it.”
And she faced a grilling about the now-infamous bus in the 2016 Vote Leave campaign – endorsed by Mr Johnson – that falsely said the UK sends the EU £350m a week.
Sky News interviewer Sarah-Jane Mee said: “How can we trust what Boris Johnson says?
“He lies about his private life. He makes up quotes.
“Is this a man that will say anything to win a vote, and then go back on it?”
BBC Radio 4 Today programme interviewer John Humphrys followed a similar line of questioning.
He said: “He has lied Ms Truss, that is the point.
“He was sacked by a former leader of your party from the front bench because he told lies about an affair he had and denied having.
“I’m talking about him lying about an affair,
Squirming Ms Truss was forced to defend the comments by admitting her new favourite MP was “not beige” and was “not a finger wagger, not a moraliser”.
She claimed: “I do not think the British public are interested in Boris’s personal life.
“What they’re interested in is who is going to deliver on Brexit .”
Despite Ms Truss’s comments, the past lies raise questions about the reliability of Mr Johnson’s biggest new pledge – to deliver Brexit, deal or no deal, on October 31.
BBC interviewer Mr Humphrys pressed on: “I’m not talking about his personal life.
“I’m talking about him lying in public about a pretty serious allegation, for which his party leader sacked him.
“I wonder how you justify that?”
Ms Truss replied: “Well I think he was a brilliant mayor of London, if you look at the Olympics…
“I’m answering the question two questions ago which you haven’t let me answer which is what is his record”
She admitted: “Yes there were issues in the past with Michael Howard, over his personal life.
“To me that is not what the public’s priority is here.”
And she claimed the “excellent [former] Foreign Secretary” was getting flak because people “out there” want the Tories “not to change”.
Mr Johnson endangered jailed mum Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe in Iran, called black people “piccaninnies” , rugby tackled a 10-year-old boy on a business trip, accused the President of Turkey of defiling a goat, called Barack Obama “part-Kenyan”, said a Libyan city would be great once they “clear the dead bodies away”, and boasted about whisky tariffs at a Sikh Temple .
He was also sacked from the Tory frontbench in 2004 over claims he lied about an affair and sacked from the Times as a young journalist for making up a quote. He joked about gay people as “tank-topped bum boys” and mocked Muslim women as “letterboxes”, and he has questions to answer over his conflicting accounts of whether he ever took cocaine.
Sir Alan Duncan, Mr Johnson’s number two at the Foreign Office, has told how being his “pooper scooper” was “a full-time activity”.
Yet brazen Ms Truss claimed those were the comments of someone who does not “like Boris Johnson” and who does not want the Conservative Party to change.
She said: “I think it’s a sign – that he is being attacked shows the huge public appeal he has, the huge power he has to communicate.
“His record is of being the most successful mayor of London we have had, of being an excellent foreign secretary who got countries around the world to take action against Russia by expelling their diplomats.”
She also denied Mr Johnson is to blame for the continuing imprisonment in Iran of British mother Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe because he had suggested she was training journalists.
Ms Truss said: “I think this is a complete misplacement of blame.
“The people who are keeping Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe in jail are the Iranians.
“This is an oppressive Iranian regime – I think it’s apologists for that regime who are putting the blame on Boris Johnson…
“The fact is he did a brilliant job in my opinion as foreign secretary… and in the case that you’ve just mentioned, it’s the Iranian regime who have held this innocent women in jail – let’s put the blame where it is really deserved.”
Tory MPs hold their first knockout round of voting tomorrow and 160,000 members will decide the next leader – and Prime Minister – by the end of July.