By Ned Simons
Conservative Party chairman Brandon Lewis has asked Boris Johnson to apologise for saying Muslim women who wear a burka look like “letter boxes” and bank robbers.
Lewis tweeted on Tuesday afternoon in support of Foreign Office minister Alistair Burt who branded Johnson’s remarks “offensive”.
— Brandon Lewis (@BrandonLewis) August 7, 2018
Johnson used his column in the Daily Telegraph on Monday to criticse the “oppressive” burka.
“It is absolutely ridiculous that people should choose to go around looking like letter boxes,” he wrote.
The former foreign secretary added: “If a constituent came to my MP’s surgery with her face obscured, I should feel fully entitled – like Jack Straw – to ask her to remove it so that I could talk to her properly.
“If a female student turned up at school or at a university lecture looking like a bank robber then ditto.”
This morning, Burt, the minister of state for the Middle East, said Johnson was wrong to have used such language.
“I would never have made such a comment, I think there is a degree of offence in that, absolutely right,” he told BBC Radio 4′s Today programme.
“What he was trying to make a serious point about is the UK government will not enforce any clothing restriction on anyone.”
Burt added: “I wish he hadn’t accompanied it with a comment that I certainly wouldn’t make and I think many people would find offensive.”
However Tory MP Nadine Dorries, an ally of Johnson did not go “far enough” in his comments and said the government should move to ban the burka.
The government should. No woman in a liberal, progressive society should be forced to cover up her beauty or her bruises. Boris didn’t go far enough. France, Denmark, Holland, Belgium, they aren’t on their knees in apology. Look to the bravery of Iranian women and learn. https://t.co/iD0gSP1j9B
— Nadine Dorries (@NadineDorries) August 7, 2018
The Muslim Council of Britain said Johnson’s comments were particularly “crass” at a time when Islamophobia and anti-Muslim hatred was becoming “worryingly pervasive”.
Naz Shah MP, Labour’s shadow equalities minister, demanded Theresa May should condemn Johnson for “blatant Islamophobia”.
And Labour MP David Lammy said Johnson was a “pound-shop Donald Trump” who was “fanning the flames of Islamophobia to propel his grubby electoral ambitions”.
Asked about Johnson’s comments, the prime minister’s official spokesperson said: “The long-standing government position is clear and it is that we do not support a ban on the wearing of the veil in public.
“Such a prescriptive approach would be out of keeping with British values of religious tolerance and gender equality.”