Boris Johnson dodged questions about his confession he took cocaine as a student as he launched his bid to be the next prime minister.
Asked about his admission he tried the Class A drug at university, Mr Johnson said: “I think the account of this event when I was 19 has appeared many, many times.”
The question referred to a 2007 interview with GQ magazine in which the former foreign secretary said: “I tried it at university and I remember it vividly. And it achieved no pharmacological, psychotropical or any other effect on me whatsoever.”
Mr Johnson quickly swerved the topic, telling the crowd: “I think what most people in this country want us to really focus on in this campaign, if I may say so, is what we can do for them and what our plans are for this great country of ours.”
Fellow leadership hopeful Michael Gove’s campaign was mired in scandal this week after it emerged he took cocaine a number of times before becoming a politician.
Mr Gove faced calls to pull out of the race after he was forced to deny misleading officials about his drug use.
Asked if he should have gone to prison for the crime, Mr Gove said: “I was fortunate in that I didn’t, but I do think it was a profound mistake and I have seen the damage drugs do.
“I have seen it close up and I have also seen it in the work that I have done as a politician. That is why I deeply regret the mistake that I made.”
Sajid Javid, who also launches his bid to be Prime Minister today, hit out at ‘middle class drug users’ in the wake of the admission, though he did not comment directly on Mr Gove’s drug use.
Leadership candidate Rory Stewart admitted smoking opium at a wedding, also calling the decision a ‘mistake’.
Mr Johnson, the runaway favourite to win the Conservative Party leadership election, officially launched his campaign today after months of avoiding the media.
In the speech he watered down his previous support for a no-deal Brexit, stressing he he would not deliberately aim to leave the EU without an agreement - but insisting it would be ‘irresponsible’ to rule it out as an option.
He said it is essential that Britain leaves the EU at the end of October to prevent the mood of “disillusion, even despair” in the country from spreading.
Delaying Brexit again would hand the keys to Number 10 to Jeremy Corbyn, he said.
“After three years and two missed deadlines, we must leave the EU on October 31,” he told the room.
“Delay means defeat. Delay means Corbyn. Kick the can and we kick the bucket.”
The first round of voting by Tory MPs will take place tomorrow (Thursday) with the least popular candidates eliminated.
MPs will continue to hold votes until two candidates remain, and Conservative Party members will then choose the next leader who becomes PM automatically.