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Tories Could Send Boris Johnson for ‘Diversity Training’ over Burqa Comments

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 12: Britain's Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson reacts to a comment during a joint UK/Poland press conference in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on October 12, 2017 in London, England. The UK and Poland held bilateral talks in Westminster, covering issues such as European security and military …
Leon Neal / WPA Pool /Getty

Boris Johnson could be sent on ‘diversity training’ instead of being sanctioned by the Conservative Party after he compared the appearance of women wearing the Islamic face veil to “letterboxes” and “robbers”.

Senior Tories have reportedly told the centre-right Telegraph that the leading Brexiteer will likely not have the whip removed (be suspended from the party), but may attend training should a formal investigation find the former foreign secretary had breached the party’s “code of conduct”.

The launching of the initial investigation prompted a backlash from Johnson’s supporters within the party, with criticisms directed at party chairman Brandon Lewis.

Former Remain campaigner Lewis was accused of attempting to “kneecap” the Brexiteer to prevent him from taking over from former Remain campaigner Theresa May as party leader and Prime Minister.

One Tory MP told The Telegraph: “This is a complete own goal by Brandon Lewis. To anyone objective, it looks like a crude and unprincipled kneecap job on the favourite to succeed Theresa May.

“In the process he has managed to turn a minor story into a five-day frenzy of virtue signalling nonsense. Brandon needs to close this down or he won’t last as party chairman.”

Another Johnson ally, Conor Burns MP, called the investigation “perverse” and “bizarre”, criticising the culture of political correctness and stifling free speech.

“It would be perverse and bizarre were the party to launch a formal investigation,” Mr Burns said.

“When we have reached the stage when you cannot express an opinion it is a rum do in the party of freedom.

“What should have been a 24-hour news story has dragged on for the best part of a week and is damaging the party.”

The comments are currently being considered by an “investigating officer” who could dismiss them if they are deemed “trivial” — though party sources told the Telegraph that it is likely Johnson will be referred to the three-person panel.

The panel will interview both the complainants and Mr Johnson, and if the complaints are upheld and it is agreed he should be sanctioned, the former London mayor and MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip will be referred to the Conservative Party board or the Prime Minister.

The battle over whether Johnson should apologise for the comments — which he made in an opinion piece for The Telegraph where he defended women’s legal rights to wear the burqa after the garment was banned in Denmark — appears to be a proxy war over Brexit, with opinion split very much along Leave/Remain lines.

Earlier this summer, Mr Johnson resigned from the Cabinet as foreign secretary over Mrs May’s ultra-soft Brexit proposals, which Leave campaigner Johnson is believed to have referred to as a “big turd”.

Meanwhile, senior Tory Brexiteers have threatened “civil war” if the investigation goes ahead, with leading Brexiteer backbencher and chairman of the party’s Eurosceptic European Research Group (ERG) Jacob Rees-Mogg criticising the Prime Minister for instructing Johnson to apologise.

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