Boris Johnson formally launched his campaign for the Conservative Party leadership on Wednesday morning and faced some tough questions from the press.

Pledging to "unite the country" and lead Britain out of the "disillusion and despair" of Brexit - even if it meant leaving Europe this Halloween with no deal - Johnson was grilled about his past cocaine use but refused to answer the question.

More significantly, he was pressed by Beth Rigby of Sky about his past deployment of Islamophobic jokes to further his personal brand.

Here's what she said:

Mr Johnson, you brandish your Brexit credentials but many of your colleagues worry about your character...

Your former Foreign Office colleague Alistair Burt said your description of the PM's plan as 'a suicide vest wrapped around Britain' was 'outrageous', 'inappropriate' and 'hurtful'. He said this language had to stop but it doesn't stop.

You brought shame on your party when you described veiled Muslim women as 'letterboxes' and 'bank robbers'.

People who have worked closely with you do not think you're fit to be prime minister.

The phrases Rigby was alluding to appeared in a column the former foreign secretary and mayor of London wrote for The Daily Telegraph in August 2018.

He suggested it was "absolutely ridiculous" that people would choose to wear such "oppressive" religious headgear as the niqab, prompting outrage.

Johnson answered Rigby by saying:

Occasionally some plaster comes off the ceiling as a result of a phrase I may have used, or as a result of the way that phrase has been wrenched out of context and interpreted by those who wish, for reasons of their own, to caricature my views.

But I think it's vital that we as politicians remember that one of the reasons why the public feels alienated now from us all as a breed is because too often they feel 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 genuinely think.

He continued:

If sometimes in the course of trying to get across what I genuinely think, I use phrases and language that have caused offence, of course I'm sorry for the offence that I have caused.

But I will continue to speak as directly as I can. Because that is what I think the British public want to hear.

Johnson has long traded on his cartoonish persona - his plummy public school accent and wild hair, his dangling from a zip wire in a hard-hat with a Union Jack in each fist - and this defence attempts to make the same case.

He's merely unconventional, you see, a creative and lively speaker not hidebound by humourless political correctness and petty sensitivities.

But in laughing at minorities and refusing to take responsibility for the consequences of his example, Johnson is punching downwards, reinforcing nasty existing prejudices and appealing crudely to the worst instincts of his right-wing fan base who find his "honesty" entertaining.

The reaction to this exchange on Twitter was telling:

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