An event to launch Boris Johnson’s leadership campaign descended into jeers after the Tory leadership candidate was quizzed about his decision to describe Muslim women as “letterboxes”.
“You brandish your Brexit credentials, but many of your colleagues worry about your character,” Sky’s political editor Beth Rigby told the former foreign secretary on Wednesday, having to repeat herself after Johnson asked why she was asking about his “parrot”.
“You brought shame on your party when you described veiled Muslim women as letterboxes and bank robbers,” she continued, sparking boos from the audience.
“People who have worked closely with you do not think you’re fit to be prime minister.”
But Johnson – who is currently the favourite to replace Theresa May in Number 10 – defended his language, saying people want to hear what politicians “genuinely think”.
“I want to make a general point about the way I do things and the language I use,” he said.
“Occasionally some plaster comes off the ceiling as a result of a phrase I may have used, or the way that phrase has been wrenched out of context and interpreted by those who wish for reasons of their own to caricature my views.
“But I think it’s vital for us as politicians to remember that one of the reasons that the public feels alienated now from us all as a breed, is because too often they feel that we are muffling and veiling our language, not speaking as we find – covering everything up in bureaucratic platitudes, when what they want to hear is what we genuinely think.”
The exchange occurred as Johnson laid out his plans for the UK if he is chosen as the next leader of the Conservative Party – including tax cuts for high earners and his support for stop-and-search.
But the former Mayor of London refused to answer questions about whether he had used cocaine. It comes off the back of environment secretary Michael Gove – another frontrunner in the leadership race – admitted that he had taken the substance several times while he was a journalist.