A Conservative MP has said he feels “uncomfortable” speaking to a woman in a burka as you can’t see their reaction and it goes against “millions of years of human evolution”.
Andrew Bridgen, the MP for North West Leicestershire, was appearing on Sky News in the aftermath of Boris Johnson saying Muslim women who wear a burka look like “letter boxes” and bank robbers.
The former foreign secretary’s comments provoked an angry reaction from members of his own party, with even Conservative Party chairman Brandon Lewis urging Johnson to apologise.
In an at times bizarre interview with Sky News’s Kay Burley, Bridgen attempted to defend his fellow Conservative’s remarks - asking the broadcaster if she would “interview me now if I was wearing a crash helmet with the visor down”.
Bridgen argued that Johnson was being pillioried by the Left and his Tory opponents, and the story was only resonating because of the news ‘silly season’ over summer.
He argued that “you can’t go into a bank with your face covered”, and Burley asked if he was comparing women wearing a burka to bank robbers.
Bridgen, who said he has a degree in genetics and behaviour, explained: “There is millions of years of human evolution that we look for affirmation for our own words and actions in the faces of others and when people can’t see someone’s face it makes them feel uncomfortable.
“They don’t get that behavioural feedback and it makes me uncomfortable - but someone wearing a burka does not make me feel any more uncomfortable than having a conversation with someone with a crash helmet with the visor down. That’s just perfectly natural.”
Burley: “So, you feel uncomfortable having a conversation with a woman wearing a burka?”
Bridgen: “I think I do, because when I am speaking to someone and I want to see the reaction to their actions and my words ... you look at their face and there is millions of years of evolution in judging people’s reactions from their faces. Without that feedback, the conversation is very difficult because that’s what we are used to.”
Asked whether he would be “more comfortable if Muslim women did not wear a burka” in the UK, he pointed out he was the chairman of the all-party parliamentary group for Uzbekistan that banned face veils in 1992.
Bridgen: “That is probably one of the most religiously tolerant countries I’ve ever been to in my life.”
Burley: “That’s not what I asked you.”
Bridgen: “Do you want to ask the question again? Would you be happy interviewing me if I was wearing a crash helmet with the visor down?”
Burley: “I’m not quite sure of the comparisons between the two ...”
Johnson used his column in the Daily Telegraph on Monday to criticise the “oppressive” burka.
“It is absolutely ridiculous that people should choose to go around looking like letter boxes,” he wrote.
The former foreign secretary added: “If a constituent came to my MP’s surgery with her face obscured, I should feel fully entitled – like Jack Straw – to ask her to remove it so that I could talk to her properly.
“If a female student turned up at school or at a university lecture looking like a bank robber then ditto.”