BORIS Johnson was forced to fend off a series of reporters’ questions about his character and record in office at his official Tory leadership contest campaign launch yesterday.

The former foreign secretary acknowledged his use of language can result in “some plaster coming off the ceiling”, but ultimately defended his description of burka-wearing Muslim women as “letter boxes”.

When challenged on the comments, made in a Telegraph column last year, Johnson said: “I want to make a general point about the way I do things and the language I use.

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

“But I think it’s vital for us as politicians to remember that one of the reasons that the public feels alienated now from us all as a breed, is because too often they feel that 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.”

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Johnson also used the campaign launch to defend the stop and search policy in place during his tenure as London mayor.

He said the policy was an example of his suitability to be the next prime minister.

He continued: “It was terrible. We had kids losing their lives in our city at a rate of 28-30 a year, teenagers were being stabbed to death in London. We had to take some very tough decisions.”

He added: “I believe, frankly, there is nothing kinder or more loving that you can do if you see a young kid coming down the street who may be carrying a knife, than to ask him to turn out, or her, almost invariably him, to turn out his pockets and produce that knife.

“That is not discriminatory, that is a kind, compassionate, loving thing to do. And it worked.”

While Johnson spoke, Labour MP David Lammy took to Twitter to slam the former foreign secretary’s record.

He posted: “Boris Johnson says with a straight face he will ‘unite this country and unite this society’. The same man who described black people as ‘piccaninnies’, mocked Muslim women as ‘bank robbers’ and peddled lies throughout the referendum. Britain deserves so much better than this.”

But the Tory MP didn’t just face criticism on social media – some pro-Remain figures close to his campaign launch made their views on the Brexiteer clear.

Shortly after Johnson began speaking, heckling from the street outside the venue was audible in the room.

Cries of “Bollocks to Boris” and “No to Brexit” could be heard during the launch speech.

Johnson’s address is thought to be the second major public speech he has given this year.

Instead of public appearances, the MP often uses his regular columns in The Telegraph to make his points.

He is expected to be paid £22,917 a month between July 2018 and July this year for the articles.