Asked about comments he made last year, before the pair took opposing sides in the EU referendum campaign, Cameron said: “I wouldn’t withdraw any of the things I’ve said – the Conservative party is lucky to have big, substantial figures within it.”
When Cameron first revealed that he would not be standing for a third term, in March 2015, he said: “There definitely comes a time where a fresh pair of eyes and fresh leadership would be good, and the Conservative party has got some great people coming up – the Theresa Mays and the George Osbornes and the Boris Johnsons. You know, there’s plenty of talent there. I’m surrounded by very good people.”
More recently, when asked about whether Osborne might succeed him, Cameron said he had led the country in partnership with the chancellor, whom he called a “great talent”. But he said it was not his role to pick the next leader.
Johnson is one of the favourites to replace Cameron, and is likely to get widespread support from Eurosceptics after deciding to campaign for Britain leaving the EU.
That decision has resulted in a strained relationship with the prime minister, although Cameron is expected to promote Johnson in the aftermath of the referendum in late June.
Speaking in Japan, Cameron stood by his previous statement but said that in the EU debate he thought Johnson was on the wrong side.
“The arguments for Britain being stronger in the world, being able to get things done, being safer against terrorism, but crucially for having the sort of strong, growing economy that we want. Being able to trade inside a market of 500m people and to reach out and trade with the rest of the world,” he said. “He’s wrong, but I’m not changing anything that I’ve said.”
Earlier, Cameron refused to defend Johnson after one of the most senior officials in the EU grouped him together with Marine Le Pen and Donald Trump. Martin Selmayr, chief of staff to the European commission president, Jean-Claude Junker, suggested it would be a “horror scenario” if Johnson were to become prime minister.
Asked whether he would publicly disagree or defend his Conservative colleague, Cameron said: “I’m only ever going to make arguments from now on when it comes to other Conservatives and things they say or what’s said about them.
“I’ve got a self-denying ordinance for 30 days and maybe longer. I will make the arguments about Britain’s future in a reformed European Union and ignore any other issues.”
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