Boris Johnson defies calls to apologise for remarks comparing women in burkas to letter boxes

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  • Boris Johnson
    Boris Johnson
    Prime Minister of the United Kingdom since 2019
  • Alistair Burt
    British politician (born 1955)
  • Brandon Lewis
    British politician (born 1971)
Conservative Party chairman Brandon Lewis, left, wants an apology from Boris Johnson (Pictures: PA)
Conservative Party chairman Brandon Lewis, left, wants an apology from Boris Johnson (Pictures: PA)

Boris Johnson has defied calls for him to make an apology for comments he made about Muslim women wearing burkas.

The former foreign secretary is standing firm after the Conservative Party chairman said he should say sorry for his ‘offensive’ remarks.

The call by Brandon Lewis followed a hail of criticism for Mr Johnson’s remarks, which were described as “offensive” by foreign office minister Alistair Burt and “bigotry” by former Tory chair Baroness Warsi.

Writing in the Daily Telegraph on Monday, the former foreign secretary argued against banning burkas and niqabs, but described the garments as “ridiculous” and “weird” and said women wearing them looked like letter-boxes or bank robbers.

While agreeing with Mr Johnson that the burka should not be banned, Mr Burt told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I would never have made such a comment, I think there is a degree of offence in that, absolutely right.”

Boris Johnson has been criticised for his comments (Picture: Rex)
Boris Johnson has been criticised for his comments (Picture: Rex)

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Lady Warsi accused Mr Johnson of adopting the “dog whistle” tactics of former Donald Trump aide Steve Bannon in the hope of attracting support from right-wing Tories for an eventual leadership bid.

Repeating her call for an independent inquiry into Islamophobia in the Conservative Party, she told Channel 4 News: “Muslim women should not be a useful political battleground for Old Etonians.

“It is crass and it must stop, and it must be condemned by the leadership right from the prime minister down.”

In a message on Twitter, Mr Lewis said: “I agree with Alistair Burt. I have asked Boris Johnson to apologise.”

Friends of the MP insisted he was making a liberal case against the UK following countries like Denmark, France, Germany and Austria in imposing a ban on wearing the burka or niqab in public places.

A source close to Mr Johnson said: “It is ridiculous that these views are being attacked – we must not fall into the trap of shutting down the debate on difficult issues.

“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.”

But Lady Warsi suggested it was a calculated move by the former Cabinet minister to garner right-wing support.

“These were offensive comments but clever politics,” she said. “Boris knew the effect and the impact that this kind of dog-whistle politics would have.

“This is literally the kind of bigotry of Bannon and the tactics of Trump finding its way into mainstream British politics. It’s not the first time that Boris has tried to make a leadership bid.”

Mr Johnson’s father, Stanley, came to his defence, telling ITV1’s Good Morning Britain: “I think we are just picking holes here. I think people are whipping up a little mountain out of a molehill on this one, I really do.”

And Tory MP Nadine Dorries said the former foreign secretary “did not go far enough” and it was the Government which should be apologising.

“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,” said Ms Dorries.

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