Boris Johnson defends gaffes as he launches Tory leadership bid

Former foreign secretary insists public want to hear what politicians ???really think???

'Brexit delay means defeat': Boris Johnson launches leadership bid - video

Boris Johnson shrugged off his chequered history of gaffes and controversial remarks as he launched his campaign to lead the Conservative party, saying the British public want to hear ???what we really think???.

At a slick event in Westminster, where ardent Brexiters were out in force, Johnson painted himself as a one-nation candidate who can ???unite our country and our society???.

Answering questions from journalists, he defended the language that has repeatedly landed him in trouble ??? including comments that Muslim women wearing burqas resemble letterboxes.

Johnson said that occasionally, ???some plaster comes off the ceiling because of a phrase I may have used, or because a phrase has been wrenched out of context???.

But he said the public felt alienated from politicians, because ???too often 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 really think???.

He added: ???Of course I am sorry for the offence I have caused, but I will continue to speak as directly as I can.???

The carefully stage-managed event came after several weeks in which Johnson has largely avoided subjecting himself to media scrutiny.

His speech was introduced by the attorney general, Geoffrey Cox, who was the warm-up act for Theresa May???s party conference speech last autumn.

Cox praised Johnson as ???a leader who can unify the Conservative family, and out-campaign and outfight Jeremy Corbyn and Nigel Farage, at any time and in any corner of our country???.

Largely eschewing his usual quips, Johnson repeatedly made reference to his record as mayor of London, in an apparent attempt to address claims that he does not have the attention to detail required for the job of prime minister.

???I do not for one minute underestimate the complexity and challenges that lie ahead. I have long experience of managing real short-term difficulties in the confident expectation of long-term success,??? he said.

Support

Johnson has the highest number of cabinet backers, including the chief secretary to the Treasury, Liz Truss, and the transport secretary, Chris Grayling, as well as two former defence secretaries, Gavin Williamson and Michael Fallon.

He promised to close the gap between London and the rest of the country by building better transport and communications infrastructure, to increase schools funding, and to back business.

???It should be our fundamental moral purpose as a government not just to bridge the wealth gap, not just the productivity gap, but the opportunity gap, between one part of the UK and another. And I know we can do it: I know we can unite our country and our society,??? he said.

Johnson also promised to champion public services ??? while supporting the businesses that generate tax revenue.

???We can fight for the teachers, and the nurses and the firemen, and the armed service personnel, and the police, precisely because we are willing to encourage the tech wizards and the shopkeepers and the taxi drivers and, yes, the bankers as well,??? he said.

???We enable the extraordinary success of our private sector with a strong, committed, passionate, well-funded public sector.???

Challenged about his reported ???fuck business??? remark, Johnson insisted: ???I don???t think there is anybody in the modern Conservative party who can honestly be said to have done more to stick up for business, even in the toughest of times. I will stick up for them.???

And he highlighted the fact that he had defended the financial sector in the aftermath of the 2008 crisis.

Tory leadership candidates in government

Johnson did not deny that, like his rival Michael Gove, he has taken cocaine: ???I think the account of this event when I was 19 has appeared many, many times.???

Gove???s admission that he had taken the class A drug threw his campaign off course at the weekend.

Truss said before Johnson???s launch that he was being attacked because he was so popular and insisted he had nothing to hide despite accusations that he was staying away from public scrutiny.

???I do not think the British public are interested in Boris???s personal life,??? she said. ???Part of the reason he is getting so much flak is because there are people out there who don???t want us to change. They don???t want the Conservative party to change. They are wrong. If we don???t change, we don???t survive.???

Quizzed on his blunder over Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the British-Iranian woman held in Iran, Truss said that ???apologists for Iran are putting the blame on Boris Johnson???. Johnson had described Zaghari-Ratcliffe as ???training journalists???, which was seized upon by the regime, when her family said she had been on a holiday to see her parents.