At the BBC Question Time Leaders Debate this week, prime minister Boris Johnson was asked about numerous offensive comments he’s made about ethnic minorities, LGBT+ people and women over the years.
Looking rather uncomfortable, he defended his comments, saying:
I defend my right to speak out.
If you go through all my articles with a fine tooth comb and take out individual phrases, there is no doubt you can find things that can be made to seem offensive.
During the debate, he refused repeated requests for him to apologise.
But there’s many more comments that Johnson has made over the years that he probably doesn’t want you to know about…
Boris on women.
In a farewell piece in the Spectator marking his exit as editor, Johnson advised his successor that way to deal with a woman colleague giving you advice is to “just pat her on the bottom and send her on her way”.
Reporting for the Telegraph in 1996 he wrote an article about the Labour conference in Blackpool, which he devoted to reviewing the quality of “the hot totty” delegates who were present. He wrote: "time and again the 'Tottymeter' has gone off as a young woman delegate mounts the rostrum."
Johnson allegedly had a calendar of naked women on his desk while working at the Telegraph, despite complaints from women colleagues.
In 2005, while campaigning to be elected as a Conservative MP, Johnson said: "voting Tory will cause your wife to have bigger breasts".
In 2012, while hosting the London Olympics as mayor, Johnson told his readers of the "magnificent" experience of watching "semi-naked women playing beach volleyball ... glistening like wet otters."
In his book Friends, Voters, Countrymen, published in 2001, Johnson wrote: “If gay marriage was OK – and I was uncertain on the issue – then I saw no reason in principle why a union should not be consecrated between three men, as well as two men, or indeed three men and a dog.”
Johnson once attacked Labour’s opposition to Section 28, writing:
"Labour's appalling agenda, encouraging the teaching of homosexuality in schools, and all the rest of it."
While he was Mayor of London, he spoke about gay men taking their husbands “up the Arcelor,” a reference to the Arcelor Mittal observation tower in London’s Olympic Park.
When he became prime minister, Johnson faced a call to apologise from his own party’s LGBT+ group. He did not respond.
Boris on people of colour.
In 2002 in an article in the Telegraph Johnson described black people as “piccaninnies” with “watermelon smiles”.
In 2018 Boris Johnson compared Muslim women to “bank robbers” and “‘letter boxes”. Tell MAMA reported that these comments were directly linked to a 375 per cent rise in anti-Muslim hate crime.
In 2000, Johnson wrote that a "bunch of black kids" made him “turn a hair”, saying “if that is racial prejudice, then I am guilty”. He claimed Macpherson's reforms were "just as wrong" as Enoch Powell (the MP infamous for his racist 'rivers of blood' speech). He also claimed a key reform to let victims and third parties define if something is racist – now the national standard for prosecutors – was "Orwellian stuff" from the "PC brigade".
Writing for The Spectator in 2002, Johnson defended colonialism and advocated Britain reinstating control over colonies in Africa. He said “the problem is not that we were once in charge, but that we are not in charge anymore." He wrote:
“The best fate for Africa would be if the old colonial powers, or their citizens, scrambled once again in her direction; on the understanding that this time they will not be asked to feel guilty.”
In 2016 Boris Johnson said Barack Obama had an “ancestral dislike” of the British Empire. After Obama removed a bust of Winston Churchill from the Oval office, Johnson wrote a column in The Sun in which he claimed the move was “a symbol of the part-Kenyan president’s ancestral dislike of the British Empire – of which Churchill had been such a fervent defender.”