Boris Johnson defended his right to “speak out” over articles he wrote as a journalist which compared veiled Muslim women to “letterboxes” and referred to “watermelon smiles”, “flag-waving piccaninnies” and “tank-topped bum boys”.
The Prime Minister was forced to defend his past work during the leader’s special on BBC Question Time on Friday evening.
An audience member asked him: “Racist rhetoric is completely rife in this country, will you admit that you have personally contributed to this, and say the words, I’m sorry.”
Mr Johnson replied: “I have written many millions of words in my life as a journalist and I have… genuinely never intended to cause hurt or pain to anybody and that is my intention.
“What I will say because I think you are referring to a particular article of a year or so ago.”
Host Fiona Bruce stepped in to say: “To be fair, there’s a few articles. So there’s the Muslims going around looking like letterboxes, which was last year, you referred to tribal warriors with watermelon smiles and flag-waving pickaninnies and then just to get another demographic in, tank-topped bum boys.”
The Prime Minister replied: “If you go through all my articles with a fine-tooth comb and take out individual phrases there is no doubt that you can find things that can be made to seem offensive and of course I understand that.”
Ms Bruce persisted: “Do you not think bum boys is offensive?”
Mr Johnson answered: “I defend my right to speak out, and I do defend my right, and if you actually read the piece, which I don’t think people have, what I was really doing, I suggest you read any of them, or indeed all of them.
“What I was really doing was mounting a strong liberal defence of the right of women in this country to wear what they choose,and I think most people, and not to be oppressed into wearing something they don’t want to wear.
“And I think most people in this country would agree with that.”