Boris Johnson says election is not time to discuss his remarks on children of single mothers being 'ill-raised, ignorant, aggressive and illegitimate'

Prime minister says he is 'sorry for offence caused' by his comparison of veil-wearing Muslims with letterboxes

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Thursday 05 December 2019 13:36 GMT
Boris Johnson says election is not time to discuss his remarks on children of single mothers being 'ill-raised, ignorant, aggressive and illegitimate'

Boris Johnson attempted to shut down discussion of disparaging remarks he made about single mothers in a newspaper column, by saying that the election campaign was not the time to talk about them.

Confronted by the comments in an appearance on ITV’s This Morning, Mr Johnson attempted to steer the conversation onto Conservative policies for mothers, saying: “I don’t think this is the time to talk about articles written quite a long time ago.”

He was also challenged by host Phillip Schofield over his notorious newspaper article comparing Muslim women in veils to letterboxes or bank-robbers.

He made no apology for his words themselves - from a column about the burqa written in the summer of last year - but said he was sorry if they had caused offence.

“People dig out all sorts of articles,” said the PM. “I’ve already said sorry for any offence caused and I say it again.”

Mr Johnson's election campaign has been dogged by the re-emergence of comments he made in numerous newspaper and magazine articles, both while he was an MP and during his previous career as a journalist.

He refused to apologise for the “letterbox” comments during a Question Time leaders’ special on the BBC two weeks ago, but in an LBC phone-in last week said he was “deeply sorry for the offence that I caused”.

Responding to Schofield, PM repeated his argument that the remarks had been taken out of context from an article which had been arguing for the right of women to wear what they choose.

He was also challenged over a 1995 article in The Spectator in which he argued that it was “outrageous” that married couples should pay for single mothers’ “desire to procreate independently of men”.

The article, unearthed from the archives by Labour researchers, described the children of single mothers as “ill-raised, ignorant, aggressive and illegitimate”.

This Morning presenter Holly Willoughby told Mr Johnson: “This will get dragged up because you are the prime minister and you said just now that you took people’s feelings into consideration.

“At the time you branded single mothers irresponsible and working-class men drunk, criminal and feckless. That’s going to hurt feelings. This is alienating our viewers watching today, it’s alienating many people. You must be able to understand how hurtful that is to someone’s feelings.”

Mr Johnson replied: “Of course, if stuff is dragged up….I don’t think this is the time to talk about articles written quite a long time ago… Look at what we are doing.

“You mention mothers. Well, what we are doing as a one-nation Conservative government is investing massively in childcare.”

Mr Johnson sparked scornful commentary on Twitter by posting pictures of himself with Schofield and Willoughby, including from the European Commission’s former head of media in London, Mark English, who asked: “Will there be a selfie with Andrew Neil?”

The prime minister has so far dodged an interview with Neil, who has already interrogated Jeremy Corbyn, Jo Swinson and Nicola Sturgeon during the election campaign and is this evening questioning Nigel Farage. Conservatives claim to be "in discussions" with the BBC over an encounter with Neil - widely seen as TV's toughest political inquisitor - though the Corporation's head of news says it could be recorded "at any time and any place".

Voters took to Twitter to mock his decision to instead take to the This Morning sofa.

One tweeter calling herself @sandypants1975 said "So you can do the fluffy This Morning interview but not Andrew Neil?" while another using the name Old Rant Dump said: "Nothing says leadership like opting to take questions from Holly Willoughby and Philip Schofield, while at the same time running away from Andrew Neil."

Neil himself vented his frustration on Twitter.

"The moment the election was announced we began simultaneous talks with all the leaders," said the former Sunday Times editor. "We proceeded on the basis they’d all do it. At no stage did anybody indicate they wouldn’t do it. All did do it. Bar one."

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