Boris Johnson told children on a school visit that journalists are “always abusing people”.
The prime minister claimed he became a politician because he felt “guilty” about “attacking” people in his former career as a journalist.
Johnson told the pupils: “When you’re a journalist it’s a great, great job – a great profession.
“But the trouble is that sometimes you find yourself always abusing people, attacking them.
“Not that you want to abuse or attack them, but being critical.
“Maybe you feel sometimes a bit guilty about that because you haven’t put yourself in the position of the person you’re criticising.
“So I thought I’d give it a go.”
Johnson has been accused of racism and homophobia following articles he wrote which compared burqa-wearing Muslim women to “letterboxes”, called gay men “bumboys” and described Black Africans as “piccaninnies” with “watermelon smiles”.
The PM was also sacked by the Times in 1988 for making up a quote in a front-page story, and also took part in an infamous phone call with his former Eton friend Darius Guppy, recorded in 1990, where Guppy asks Johnson to find the address of a News of the World journalist who has upset him. Despite Guppy’s apparent plans, the journalist was never attacked.
Despite repeated claims that the government defends press freedom, it has been criticised in recent weeks after equalities minister Kemi Badenoch attacked a HuffPost UK journalist on Twitter for privately asking her a question.
Johnson’s press secretary Allegra Stratton defended the PM.
Asked if he felt guilty about his time as a journalist, she told reporters: “Your job is to constantly challenge. And that’s something that makes all of us in government better.
“I think that’s all he was doing is describing the role of journalism is to constantly, constantly be asking the details and the finer points.”