“I’d rather be dead in a ditch,” he said. “What on earth is the point of further delay?”
Johnson’s public appearance on Thursday, in front of ranks of new police officers in Yorkshire, came hours after his brother and Conservative minister Jo had announced he would quit the government and politics, implying it was because the Prime Minister’s policy on Brexit was not in the national interest.
And it came as rumours grew that Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Opposition would continue to deny Johnson the election he desperately needs to break the Brexit bonds about to be imposed on him.
Conservative sources were speculating that, ultimately, Johnson might have to resign as the only alternative to being forced to go to Brussels and ask for a Brexit extension.
Johnson’s address and press conference was a ramshackle affair, in which the Prime Minister apparently improvised a speech and pressed the case for a snap election. He also tried and failed to recall the official police caution – getting as far as “you do not have to say anything, but if you fail to mention something which you later rely on, hang on let’s get this right”.
Downing Street has decided to consider itself in election mode, despite the fact that it failed to get the necessary numbers in Parliament on Wednesday to call an election.
Johnson said the people of the UK should be allowed to choose who represented them in Brussels before the country was forced into a situation of accepting an EU-mandated Brexit delay.
The government plans to try for another election trigger vote on Monday, after the Brexit extension legislation is passed into law.
If an election is called on Monday night then it will take place on October 15, just enough time for the new Prime Minister to go to Brussels for a crucial EU Council meeting to strike a last-minute Brexit deal – and also enough time for a re-elected Johnson to use a new Parliamentary majority to give him the power to opt for a no-deal Brexit.
But Labour is divided over whether to allow Johnson this election, as many MPs do not trust Johnson not to run down the clock, make sure no last-minute Brexit deal is possible, and then if he wins the election crash the country out of the EU without a withdrawal deal – a prospect predicted to deliver short and long term damage to the UK’s industry and economy.
During the press conference Johnson was repeatedly asked why the public should trust him given his brother clearly did not.
Johnson paid tribute to his brother, a “fantastic guy” who “doesn’t agree with me about the European Union”.
Brexit was an issue that “divides families and divides everybody”, the Prime Minister said. “I think Jo would agree we need to get on and sort this out.”
Late in his speech, after a policewoman behind him had to sit down after being close to fainting, Johnson insisted he could be trusted to hold an election before Brexit, on October 15.
“Let’s crack on with it,” he said.
Nick Miller is Europe correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age