Trump's Friend Boris Johnson, Set to Become U.K. PM, Denies He's a Right-Wing Populist: 'It's Complete Hysteria'

Boris Johnson, the Conservative Party politician on course to become Britain's next prime minister, denied accusations that he is a right-wing populist over his hardline position on Brexit and his history of offensive remarks.

Johnson, 55, has written a number of controversial articles during his time as a journalist, including referring to black people in one satirical piece as "piccaninnies" with "watermelon smiles" and describing Muslim women who wear the burqa as "letterboxes" in another.

On the issue of Brexit—Britain's exit from the European Union (E.U.)—Johnson is willing to leave with no deal, an event that many economists believe would be disastrous for the U.K., and has espoused populist abstractions, claiming that Britain need only believe in itself for Brexit to succeed.

At a Conservative Party leadership hustings in Northern Ireland, Johnson was asked by the moderator if he gets frustrated by the characterization of himself as "some sort of right-wing populist" when "particularly on social issues, you're about as liberal as you can get?"

"I don't know where it all comes from. It's complete hysteria. But there you go. People will say all sorts of extraordinary things and you just have to keep trying to correct them," said Johnson, who is the frontrunner to win the leadership ahead of rival Jeremy Hunt, the foreign secretary.

The Member of Parliament for Uxbridge then claimed that he won over lots of left-wing supporters during his two terms as mayor of London between 2008 and 2012.

"I tell you what, I remember before I became mayor in 2008 there were a whole bunch of lefties who promised, faithfully, to leave the city or the country if I was elected...And at the end of eight years, most of them were working for me, actually, and certainly supporting me," Johnson said.

"But I remain a proud free-market, low-tax conservative. I just happen to think that our country does better when we send out a signal to the world that we're inclusive and tolerant and generous in our approach to other people. That is one of the reasons why the UK economy is so massively successful."

Johnson counts U.S. President Donald Trump among his fans. Trump has tipped Johnson as someone who would "be a great prime minister", referring to him as a friend. The British parliamentarian has also met with Steve Bannon, the former White House chief strategist and Trump 2016 campaign chairman who wants to help spur on a populist uprising in Europe.

Public polling suggests Johnson is well ahead of Hunt in the leadership election. Conservative Party members are set to choose between the two men before the end of July. Whoever wins will take over from the outgoing prime minister, Theresa May, who resigned over her failure to get her deeply unpopular Brexit deal through Parliament after multiple attempts.

Boris Johnson Conservative Party Prime Minister UK
Conservative Party leadership contender Boris Johnson speaks during a party leadership hustings on July 2 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. WPA Pool/Getty Images
Trump's Friend Boris Johnson, Set to Become U.K. PM, Denies He's a Right-Wing Populist: 'It's Complete Hysteria' | World