Boris Johnson has acknowledged he would not again “use some of the offending language” from his past writings now he is prime minister.
He made the admission during his evidence to an independent review into allegations of discrimination within the Conservative Party.
Professor Swaran Singh’s 44,000-word report found that anti-Muslim sentiment “remains a problem” within the Conservative Party.
It also highlighted “high-profile incidents” such as remarks made during Lord Goldsmith’s London mayoral campaign and Mr Johnson‘s comments about Muslim women wearing burkas.
Prof Singh concluded that such incidents “give the impression to many that the party and its leadership are insensitive to Muslim communities”.
In August 2018, while a backbench MP, Mr Johnson was heavily criticised for comparing Muslim women wearing a burka to “letter boxes” and “bank robbers” in a column for the Daily Telegraph.
He had also previously written, in a 2005 article for the Spectator, that “to any non-Muslim reader of the Quran, Islamophobia – fear of Islam – seems a natural reaction”.
And, in his testimony to Prof Singh’s review, Mr Johnson was also asked about his 2002 description of some black people having “watermelon smiles”.
In his report, Prof Singh said Mr Johnson had told the inquiry that he had studied the Koran and did not believe that Islam or Muslims in Britain posed a threat to the nation.
The prime minister also said he had written “millions of words as a journalist” and that sometimes “snapshots from articles” had been taken out of context.
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Of his 2018 article about the burka, Mr Johnson told the inquiry: “My writings are often parodic, satirical….It was an honest defence for a woman’s right to wear what she chooses.”
Prof Singh said Mr Johnson had been offered the opportunity to apologise for his past remarks, to which the prime minister responded: “I do know that offence has been taken at things I’ve said, that people expect a person in my position to get things right, but in journalism you need to use language freely.
“I am obviously sorry for any offence taken.
“Would I use some of the offending language from my past writings today? Now that I am prime minister, I would not.”
Mr Johnson had previously apologised “for the offence that I have caused” during the 2019 Conservative leadership contest, but he also vowed to continue to “speak as directly as I can”.
Lord Goldsmith, who was handed a place in the House of Lords by Mr Johnson after losing his seat as an MP in 2019, was accused of running a “racist” and “Islamophobic” campaign against Sadiq Khan during the 2016 London mayoral election.
In his own evidence to Prof Singh’s review, the Conservative peer acknowledged that “a large number of Muslim Londoners felt personally insulted by what they had been told was my campaign message”, adding: “That is of course a source of major regret and sadness on my part.”
Lord Goldsmith told the inquiry: “In hindsight it should have been obvious that the issue was too combustible to be discussed reasonably.
“On one side, there were anti-Muslim groups and individuals actively accusing Sadiq of being an extremist – a gross calumny.
“And on the other, Labour campaigners reframed legitimate questions about their candidate’s judgement in such a way that it appeared he was being smeared because of his faith.”