Will Boris say sorry? Now Theresa May tells Johnson to apologise over burka comments - but he refuses to back down

Andy Wells
Freelance Writer

Boris Johnson has reportedly refused to apologise for his burka comments – despite a strong rebuke from the Prime Minister.

Former foreign secretary Mr Johnson caused outrage with a newspaper article comparing women in the face-covering veils to bank robbers.

Conservative Party chairman Brandon Lewis yesterday said Mr Johnson should apologise following a hail of criticism over the remarks, which were labelled ‘bigotry’ by former Tory chair Baroness Warsi.

Theresa May has called on Boris Johnson to apologise for his burka comments (Rex)

Now, Theresa May has said she agrees with Mr Lewis, upping the pressure on Mr Johnson, who has so far refused to apologise and dismissed his critics as ‘ridiculous’.

She said: ‘I do think that we all have to be very careful about the language and terms we use.

‘And some of the terms Boris used describing people’s appearance obviously have offended. So I agree with Brandon Lewis.

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‘What’s important is do we believe people should have the right to practise their religion and, in the case of women and the burka and niqab, to choose how they dress.

‘I believe women should be able to choose how they dress.’

Tory grandee Lord Pickles also called for Mr Johnson to apologise, but dismissed suggestions his comments were comparable to Enoch Powell’s Rivers of Blood speech.

Mr Johnson said burkas should not be banned – but was criticised for describing women wearing them as ‘letterboxes’ (Rex)

The Tory former Cabinet minister told Today: ‘The very sensible thing would be for him to apologise.’

The peer said he did not understand Mr Johnson’s motives and claimed his comments had closed down the debate on face veils.

Lord Pickles added: ‘There are tensions now that exist within the community, a degree of hatred out there that I’ve not witness for a good few years.

‘Now, nobody for one moment is suggesting that this is some kind of Rivers of Blood speech.

‘This is trivial in comparison to that.’

With no apology forthcoming, founder and president of the Conservative Muslim Forum Lord Sheikh told the BBC the party should take ‘severe action’ against Mr Johnson.

Tory party chairman Brandon Lewis stoked the flames when he called on Mr Johnson to apologise (PA)

He said: ‘Take the whip from him. Why not? He’s not a super human being, he’s a member of the party.

‘The party chairman, the prime minister has the right to take the whip… that’s the thing I’d like to see.’

Former Conservative parliamentary candidate Shazia Awan-Scully accused Mr Johnson of ‘pandering to the extreme right’, and said he should be sacked.

She told Newsnight: ‘These comments are Islamophobic. They are against Muslims and I would urge any Muslims to not vote for the Conservative party because of their stance towards our community.’

But The Conservative Woman co-editor Laura Perrins, appearing alongside Ms Awan-Scully, claimed Mr Johnson’s remarks were taken out of context.

Mr Johnson has reportedly refused to back down (Rex)

She said: ‘This idea the man should be run out of town is exactly the kind of authoritarian nonsense we must resist. It is not responsible.’

Labour’s Naz Shah, shadow equalities minister, who accused the Prime Minister of being in denial about Islamophobia.

The Bradford West MP tweeted: ‘An apology is not enough, she needs to order an independent inquiry into Islamophobia in her party, as requested by the Muslim community, and take action against him.’

A source close to Mr Johnson made clear he was not retracting his comments.

The Prime Minister said Mr Johnson’s comments ‘have offended’ (Rex)

They 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.’

Writing in the Daily Telegraph on Monday, Mr Johnson said he did not want Britain to follow European countries like Denmark which have banned the burka and niqab in public places.

But he described the burka as ‘ridiculous’ and ‘weird’ and said women wearing them looked like letter-boxes or bank robbers.