Published: Wed, August 08, 2018

Conservative chairman Brandon Lewis asks Boris Johnson to apologise for burka comments

Conservative chairman Brandon Lewis asks Boris Johnson to apologise for burka comments

Tory chairman Brandon Lewis has asked Boris Johnson to apologise for his remarks about people wearing burkas.

In a column in Monday's Daily Telegraph newspaper, Johnson said women wearing the full face veil looked like "bank robbers" or "letter-boxes", prompting accusations of Islamophobia.

And he said "it is absolutely ridiculous that people should choose to go around looking like letter boxes".

He has been criticised by Labour MPs, some Tories and Muslim groups, who said the party was not doing enough to tackle prejudice.

Alistair Burt, the minister of state for the Middle East, who worked under the former foreign secretary, said he would never have made such a comment.

There was no immediate sign that Johnson planned to back down.

"Muslim women should not be a useful political battleground for Old Etonians", she told Channel 4 News, referring to the private school popular with Britain's political elite.

However, a source close to Johnson told the Press Association: "It is ridiculous that these views are being attacked - we must not fall into the trap of shutting down the debate on hard issues".

It is not to be confused with the hijab, which leaves the face uncovered, or the niqab, which leaves the eyes exposed.

Nigel Farage believes Boris Johnson's recent remarks about the burka have made him more likely, not less, to be the next Conservative leader.

Labour's equalities spokeswoman Naz Shah - who in 2016 said comments that resulted in her suspension from the party were anti-Semitic - has called for Theresa May to take action.

He said: "With the scale of Tommy Robinson demonstrations, the storming of Bookmarks bookshop, and now Boris Johnson's Islamophobic comments, we can no longer ignore the rise of far-right politics in our society".

A Downing Street spokesperson yesterday distanced the Prime Minister from his comments - but did not go so far as to criticise them, saying: "The longstanding government position on this is clear - we do not support a ban on wearing of the veil in public. I think people are whipping up a little mountain out of a molehill on this one, I really do".

Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, Senior Rabbi to Reform Judaism said: "Boris Johnson's overall conclusion, that we should not ban religious face coverings, is right".

"Clearly the Tory party has an issue with Islamophobia, but over 24 hours later the prime minister is still yet to say a word", she added.

Sayeeda Warsi, a Conservative member of the House of Lords, said Mr Johnson was using Muslim women as a "convenient political football to try and increase his poll ratings".

"Any clothing a woman is forced to wear which hides both her beauty and her bruises should be banned and have no place in our liberal, progressive country", she said.

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