Boris Johnson has refused to apologise for comments he made as a journalist that have been branded racist and homophobic.
The Prime Minister admitted that some of his words “can be made to seem offensive”, but doubled down on his “right to speak out”.
Speaking during a special episode of BBC’s Question Time, Mr Johnson said: “I have written many millions of words in my life as a journalist and I have genuinely never intended to cause hurt or pain to anybody and that is my intention.”
Host Fiona Bruce then listed the instances in which the PM has been accused of causing offence.
She said: “To be fair, there’s a few articles. So there’s the Muslims going around looking like letterboxes, which was last year, you referred to tribal warriors with watermelon smiles and flag-waving pickaninnies and then just to get another demographic in, tank-topped bum boys.”
Mr Johnson replied: “If you go through all my articles with a fine-tooth comb and take out individual phrases there is no doubt that you can find things that can be made to seem offensive and of course I understand that.”
The Green Party’s Caroline Lucas responded on Twitter, accusing the PM of racism.
Mr Johnson was also pressed on why a report by the Commons Intelligence and Security Committee into possible Russian interference in British democracy had not been released before the election.
He said: “There is absolutely no evidence that I know of to show any interference in any British electoral event.”
The Prime Minister was taking part in a special episode of Question Time on the BBC where he, Jeremy Corbyn, Jo Swinson and Nicola Sturgeon were grilled by the public.
The leaders of the main political parties faced a tough grilling from the audience, with Jeremy Corbyn accused of having “reckless socialist ideas” and Jo Swinson mocked for declaring she could be prime minister.
Mr Corbyn also revealed he would adopt a “neutral stance” in another EU referendum under Labour.
He was asked by an audience member: “Will you campaign to remain or leave the EU if elected.
“Why would anyone vote Labour without knowing the answer to that question?”
Mr Corbyn said: “I will adopt, as prime minister, if I am at the time, a neutral stance so that I can credibly carry out the results of that to bring communities and country together rather than continuing an endless debate about the EU and Brexit.”