Boris Johnson was challenged over his comparison of veiled Muslim women to “letterboxes” during the televised Conservative leadership debate but failed to answer the question directly.
The candidate answered BBC host Emily Maitlis’ question about the past comments by saying: “In so far as my words have given offence over the last 20 or 30 years when I have been a journalist and people have taken those words out of my articles and escalated them, of course I am sorry for the offence they have caused.”
In response to a question on Islamophobia, Mr Johnson said: “When my Muslim great-grandfather came to this country in fear of his life in 1912, he did so because he knew it was a place that was a beacon of hope and of generosity and openness, and a willingness to welcome people from around the world.”
And asked about his handling of the Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe case during his time as foreign secretary, Mr Johnson denied that his erroneous suggestion she had been involved in training journalists had contributed to an increased sentence in an Iranian jail.
“In that case, it didn’t, I think, make any difference,” he said. “If you point the finger at the UK, all you are doing is exculpating those who are truly responsible, which is the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.”
Sajid Javid asked the other candidates if they would support an independent inquiry into Islamophobia in the Conservative Party, and all four said they would support its set up. “It’s great that we all agree on that,” said Mr Javid.
Jeremy Hunt denied that he endorsed Donald Trump’s retweeting of the “racist rants of Katie Hopkins”.
“What I said was I agreed with his sentiment that Sadiq Khan had been a useless London Mayor when it comes to tackling knife crime,” he said. “But I totally disagree with his words and I totally disagree with the racist rants of Katie Hopkins.”
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