British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Friday dismissed criticism of an old article he wrote condemning single mothers and “feckless” working-class men, saying the quotes were taken out of context.
In a newly unearthed article from 1995, when he was a journalist, Johnson described working-class men as “likely to be drunk, criminal, aimless, feckless and hopeless”.
The quotes were splashed across the front page of the left-wing Daily Mirror tabloid, under the tagline “What he really thinks”, putting them centre stage of the campaign for the December 12 election.
The newspaper also noted that in the article for the Spectator magazine, the Conservative leader had described children of single mothers as “ill-raised, ignorant, aggressive and illegitimate”.
“These are 25-year-old quotations culled from articles written I think before I was even in politics,” Johnson told LBC radio on Friday.
He said the “words are lifted out of context” and were an “absolute distortion” of what he believes.
He accused the opposition Labour party, which said the remarks were “outrageous”, of digging up old quotes to shift attention away from its policy on Brexit.
“They’re just trying to distract from the reality that they have no plan to get out us out of the European Union,” Johnson said.
Opinion polls currently show the Conservatives, who have promised to get Britain out of the bloc on January 31, are heading for victory next month.
A major survey on Wednesday suggested they would take several seats from Labour in traditional working-class areas in northern and central England.
Labour chairman Ian Lavery said Johnson’s remarks about working-class men were “outrageous”.
He accused Johnson of being “a man out of touch with reality and whose ignorance and hatred of working-class communities knows no bounds”.
Johnson has previously come under scrutiny for using offensive language in his articles, mostly written before entering politics – but some more recently.
Last year he was criticised for writing that Muslim women in full face veils looked like letter boxes, while defending their right to wear what they want.
The comments fuelled questions about a wider problem of Islamophobia in the Conservative party.
“When I write this stuff, I never set out to cause pain or hurt,” Johnson said on Friday, repeating a pledge for an independent inquiry into all forms of prejudice within his party.