Prime Minister Theresa May has led demands for Boris Johnson to apologise for comparing Islamic burqas and face veils to the appearance of bank robbers and “letterboxes.”
The former foreign secretary, who stood down in protest of Mrs May’s ultra-soft Brexit plan, made the comments in a 1,000-word essay where he argued that such garments should not be banned in the United Kingdom, as it has been in several other European nations and even some Muslim-majority countries.
Tory party chairman Brandon Lewis has also called for Mr Johnson to say sorry, as Muslim Tory peers say the party should punish him by withdrawing the whip. Some speakers on the BBC have even argued he should be prosecuted for a “hate crime.”
Indeed, humorous comments have already generated a complaint to the police for “spreading a hate crime,” The Times reports.
It could also be investigated under the Tory Party’s code of conduct, which insists members “lead by example to encourage and foster respect and tolerance”.
— Nigel Farage (@Nigel_Farage) August 7, 2018
Former UKIP leader Nigel Farage, meanwhile, said on his LBC radio show that Mr Johnson’s comments made it more likely the Tory grassroots would support him, and Mr Johnson also received the backing of reformed Islamist, counter-extremism expert, and former government adviser Maajid Nawaz.
However, Tory peer Lord Sheikh, the founder of the Conservative Muslim Forum, said “severe action” was needed to deter Johnson from criticising and mocking the radical Islamic practice of full face veiling.
He told the BBC: “Take the whip from him. Why not? He’s not a superhuman 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.”
1 – This is the uniform of medieval patriarchal tyranny. It victim-blames women for their beauty. Where this is enforced it symbolises violent mysogyny. I’m not advocating banning this monstrosity but I refuse to defend it. It deserves to be ridiculed. Not the women inside it. pic.twitter.com/qKux0KPjbj
— Maajid – (Mājid) [maːʤɪd] ماجد (@MaajidNawaz) August 7, 2018
Speaking in Scotland, Mrs May declared she agreed with Mr Lewis, saying:
“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.
“What’s important is, do we believe people should have the right to practise their religion and, in the case of women and the burqa and niqab, to choose how they dress?”
Public figures should be able to say what they really think without constant demands to apologise. This country used to believe in free speech.
Out there in Middle England, people will not be offended by what Boris has said. pic.twitter.com/SFkpaX3lOT
— Nigel Farage (@Nigel_Farage) August 8, 2018
Quizzed on whether the “letterbox” and “bank robber” phrases used in the article were “Islamophobic”, she added:
“It is very clear that anybody who is talking about this needs to think very carefully about the language they use and the impact that that language will have on people.”
Mr Johnson, meanwhile, has made it clear he will not be retracting his comments. A source close to him told The Times:
“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.”
Strong Majority of Brits Back Burqa Ban https://t.co/GpHswMNgGc
— Breitbart London (@BreitbartLondon) May 31, 2018