Boris Johnson: I’ll continue to speak my mind

By Emma Bowden, Press Association

Boris Johnson has defended his record as foreign secretary and mayor of London, pledging to be a politician “who sticks by what (he) believes in”.

Apologising for upset caused by gaffes during his tenure, the Tory leadership candidate said he did not enjoy offending people but also claimed the public deserve a prime minister who speaks their mind.

The politician has previously come under fire for his handling of the continuing incarceration of British-Iranian citizen Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, and when he labelled Burka-wearing Muslim women “letterboxes”.

In an interview with the BBC’s political editor Laura Kuenssberg, Mr Johnson said: “What I pledge to, you know, and what I think the people of this country want to hear is, I will be a politician who sticks by what I believe in.

“Yes occasionally I may say things as I’ve said before, that cause offence, and I’m sorry for the offence and I’m sorry for the offence I caused, but I will continue to speak my mind because I think people deserve to hear what’s going on in my head.”

The current favourite to be the next Prime Minister also denied being careless with the truth when probed about his tenure as foreign secretary from 2016 to 2018.

Referring to Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, Mr Johnson said: “I think of course people will want to point the finger of blame at me if they possibly can, but actually all that does is serve to exculpate, lift the blame of the people who are really responsible, who are the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.

“And if you look, talk about overachieving in the Foreign Office, we were told that we had to orchestrate, and we did, an international response to the poisonings by Russia in Salisbury, and we thought we would be lucky to get 30 Russian spies expelled around the world in support of the UK by other countries.

Richard Ratcliffe holds a photograph of himself with wife Nazanin and daughter Gabriella (John Stillwell/PA)

“We actually got 153 spies expelled around the world; I don’t think there’s ever been a diplomatic coup like.”

“So don’t look at what people say about me, look at what I actually deliver,” he added.

Mr Johnson has previously dodged interviews during his campaign to be prime minister, including taking part in head-to-head television debates until after ballot papers have gone out to party members.

In an article in the Times, Jeremy Hunt accused Mr Johnson of cowardice, saying a new prime minister needed the “legitimacy” of having arguments subjected to proper media scrutiny.

Asked for his response to being called a “coward” by his rival, Mr Johnson said: “Look you know I just always invoke the 11th commandment of Ronald Reagan which is ‘thou shalt never speak ill of a fellow conservative’.”