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Pressure mounts on ex-foreign secretary Johnson to apologise over his burqa remarks

In a newspaper article, Johnson had opposed a complete ban on Islamic clothing in line with the recent burqa ban in Denmark, but said that "it was absolutely ridiculous that people should choose to go around looking like letterboxes".


PTI 08 Aug 2018, 03:34 PM United Kingdom

British Prime Minister Theresa May today joined in calls for her former foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, to apologize for his disparaging remark on the burqa-clad women, comparing them to letterboxes.

In a newspaper article, Johnson had opposed a complete ban on Islamic clothing in line with the recent burqa ban in Denmark, but said that "it was absolutely ridiculous that people should choose to go around looking like letterboxes".

His remarks drew condemnation and prompted calls for an apology, with the Muslim Council of Britain accusing him of "pandering to the far right" and Opposition Labour party MPs accusing him of stoking Islamophobia.

May admitted that it was clear his former Cabinet colleague's remarks had "caused offense" and backed Conservative party chairman Brandon Lewis' earlier call for an apology.

"I agree with Brandon Lewis (on an apology). Some of the terms Boris used describing people's appearance obviously have offended," she said.

"What's important is do we believe people should have the right to practice their religion and, in the case of women and the burqa and niqab, to choose how they dress. I believe women should be able to choose how they dress," she added.

As Johnson seemed adamant to not react to the mounting controversy, a senior Tory party Muslim peer called for him to be kicked out of the party over his remarks.

Lord Sheikh said the party whip should be taken away from the former Cabinet minister, which would mean Johnson would no longer sit in the House of Commons as a Conservative party MP.

"Take the whip from him. Why not? He's not a superhuman being, he's a member of the party," he adding, "The party chairman, the Prime Minister has the right to take the whip... that's the thing I'd like to see".

Another UK minister, culture secretary Jeremy Wright, also agreed that the words used by Johnson were ill-judged. He said that while there was no reason not to have a "robust conversation", as "public figures and we have an additional obligation to be careful".

Johnson, in his regular column in 'The Daily Telegraph' published on Monday, had laid out his views against a complete ban on face-covering veils (burqa) in line with the recent burqa ban in Denmark.

"If you tell me that the burka (burqa) is oppressive, then I am with you… I would go further and say that it is absolutely ridiculous that people should choose to go around looking like letterboxes," he wrote.

He also said businesses and government agencies in the UK should be able to "enforce a dress code" that allowed them to see people's faces.

His remarks have since come under severe criticism, with some branding them as a sign 'Islamophobia' in the UK’s ruling Conservative party.

Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, a former chair of the Tory party, said Johnson's remarks were "indefensible" and "have no place in the modern Conservative Party".

Johnson, MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip in London and a former mayor of the city, has been seen as a potential candidate for the leadership of the Conservatives since becoming the party's poster boy for the pro-Brexit group.

He fronted the successful 'Leave campaign' in the 2016 EU referendum, and resigned as foreign secretary last month in protest at Theresa May's Brexit strategy.

While Johnson himself has chosen not to react so far, a source close to the former foreign secretary has said that it is "ridiculous" that his views were being "attacked".

"We have to call it out. If we fail to speak up for liberal values then we are simply yielding ground to reactionaries and extremists," the source said.

(This story has not been edited by Devdiscourse staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)


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