Boris Johnson removed a curious reference to masturbation from his first major speech of the general election campaign - and prompted journalists to raise their eyebrows when the prime minister claimed he did not know how the lewd language entered the public domain.
On Tuesday night, journalists were told the PM would claim a Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour government will “ruin” 2020 with two referendums on EU membership and Scottish independence, and said this was “an expense of spirit and a waste of shame, more political self-obsession and onanism”.
In extracts of the speech briefed by Conservative Party headquarters, Johnson was expected to say:
“We can honour the wishes of the people, or else we can waste more time, at the cost of a billion pounds per month, and have two more referendums, one on Scotland and one on the EU – an expense of spirit and a waste of shame, more political self-obsession and onanism.”
But when questioned at the speech on Wednesday by The Sun’s political editor Tom Newton Dunn on why the line had been omitted, the PM said: “All I can say is that a stray early draft seems to have somehow found its way into your otherwise peerless copy by a process I do not pretend to understand. But I will make enquiries.”
The idea a former national newspaper journalist does not “understand” how briefing a speech works seems about is plausible as the leader of political party not knowing which extracts his media handlers are revealing. At least, this appeared to be the collective response of UK political journalists.
Elsewhere in the speech, Johnson refused to apologise to flood victims angry about the speed of the government response - but called for the plantation of millions of trees to prevent future disasters.
The prime minister was heckled by flood-hit voters as he visited South Yorkshire earlier on Wednesday, with some suggesting he had been too slow to respond to the crisis.
But he declined the opportunity to apologise while answering questions following his first major speech of the campaign, instead highlighting the need for investment in flood defences, including the plantation of millions of trees.