The environment secretary said he "deeply regrets" taking cocaine 20 years ago.

Michael Gove has hit back at hypocrisy allegations after it came to light he wrote an article in 1999 slamming middle-class drug use – despite recently admitting to taking cocaine himself on “several occasions”.

On Saturday the environment secretary said that he had taken drugs “on several occasions at social events more than 20 years ago”.

But in the 1999 article in The Times, Gove – who was then a journalist – criticised “middle-class professionals” for taking drugs and calling for legalisation, arguing that while it may be easy for them to control drug use, “it is a little less easy to cope with the consequences of illegal drug use, or family breakdown, in South Shields than it is in south Hampstead”.

When asked by the BBC’s Andrew Marr whether that made him a hypocrite, Gove – who is in the race to replace Theresa May as leader of the Conservative Party – denied the claim.

“No, I think anyone can read the article and make their minds up,” he said on Sunday.

“The point I made in the article is if any of us lapse sometimes from standards we uphold, that is human. The thing to do then is not necessarily to say that standards should be lowered, it should be to reflect on the lapse and to seek to do better in future.”

Gove – who served as justice secretary between 2015 and 2016 – said he had shown “a determination to help people whatever their background” during his time in office, saying he did not believe people should be defined by their worst mistake.

Meanwhile, he told Marr that his decision to use cocaine was a “profound mistake” and that he was “fortunate” that he didn’t go to prison over it.

But when asked whether he declared that he had previously used Class A drugs when he became an MP, Gove said he didn’t believe that the question “was ever raised”.

“I don’t believe I have ever on any occasion failed to tell the truth about this when asked directly,” he said.

The cabinet minister’s comments come amid a series of drug confessions from Tory Party leadership candidates.

While international development secretary Rory Steward last week admitted to smoking opium at a wedding in Iran, Jeremy Hunt said he thought he had drunk a cannabis lassi drink while backpacking in India.

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