JEREMY Hunt has told Tory leadership frontrunner Boris Johnson to 'man up and show the nation you can cope with scrutiny'.

The Foreign Secretary, writing in today's Times, suggested his predecessor was a coward who avoided tough interviews and debates.

Mr Hunt, fresh from a day campaigning in North-east Scotland, stepped up attacks on Mr Johnson whose lead in the polls has been dented by a series of stories about his private life.

Mr Johnson has refused to answer questions about a row with his girlfriend that brought police to her flat on Thursday night.

READ MORE: Jeremy Hunt: Preserving the Union comes before Brexit

In his Times column, Mr Hunt did not refer tJeremy Hunt: Preserving the Union comes before Brexito the incident. However, he put Mr Johnson's character in to question, saying the next prime minister would be taking charge of the "Brexit negotiations, perhaps the biggest challenge we have faced in peacetime".

He added: "So scrutiny of the candidates matters. One of the strengths of our system is that we scrutinise our politicians with more intelligent ferocity than anywhere in the world. 

"But in this case, it just is not happening."

HeraldScotland:

Today's Camley Cartoon in The Herald

Mr Hunt said Mr Johnson had done just one interview on BBC Radio 4's Today programme in the last year while, he, Mr Hunt, had been grilled on the show 16 times.

He concluded: "The first debate that Boris has been invited to will be on Sky News tomorrow evening. I'll be there. So don't be a coward, Boris. man up and show the nation you can cope with the most intense scrutiny the most difficult job in the country will involve."

Mr Hunt earlier said he would put the Union before Brexit, despite 63% of Tory members saying they would push ahead with leaving the EU even if this meant Scotland being independent. The Foreign Secretary underlined his personal links with Scotland by visiting his 99-years-old Aberdonian great-aunt, a lifelong Tory and unionist.

READ MORE: Majority would back Scottish independence if Boris becomes PM, poll suggests

His rival, meanwhile, published his own regular column in The Telegraph, saying he would not "bottle" Brexit and insisted that the UK would leave the EU on Halloween.  The next PM. he wrote, would have to focus on 'turbocharging' the UK economy. "What do you want?' he wrote. "Higher pay under the Tories or higher taxes under Labour." He added: "The oasis is finally in sight."

Three Scottish Tory MPs, meanwhile, also published an article in The Telegraph, suggesting First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was focusing her fire on Boris Johnson because he posed the biggest threat to independence. A poll at the weekend, in fact, suggested a Johnson premiership would be enough to flip support for independence from 49% to a narrow majority.