Boris Johnson has been cleared of breaking the Conservative Party’s code of conduct over his comments about veiled Muslim women.
An independent panel investigated the former foreign secretary’s comments after he used a newspaper column to suggest females wearing the burka looked like letter boxes or bank robbers.
His comments triggered a furious response from senior Tories, with demands for an apology from party chairman Brandon Lewis.
The panel is understood to have found he was “respectful and tolerant” and was fully entitled to use “satire” to make his point in his Daily Telegraph column in August.
An ally of the former foreign secretary suggested Lewis should “do the honourable thing” and apologise to Johnson.
In the article, Johnson said he felt “fully entitled” to expect women to remove face coverings when talking to him at his MP’s surgery.
He said schools and universities should be able to take the same approach if a student “turns up...looking like a bank robber”.
Johnson said the burka was “oppressive” and it was “absolutely ridiculous that people should choose to go around looking like letter boxes”.
The investigation into whether he broke party rules was triggered automatically after the receipt of a number of complaints over the column.
The Daily Telegraph reported the independent panel, chaired by Naomi Ellenbogen QC, found while his use of language in the column could be considered “provocative”, it would be “unwise to censor excessively the language of party representatives or the use of satire to emphasise a viewpoint, particularly a viewpoint that is not subject to criticism”.
It said Tory party rules do not “override an individual’s right to freedom of expression”.
A friend of Johnson’s said: “It is welcome news that Boris has rightly been cleared of any breach of the code.
“The panel’s ruling completely supported what Boris said from the very beginning - his article did foster respect and tolerance for the wearing of the burka.
“Perhaps Mr Lewis will now do the honourable thing and apologise to Boris with the same zeal he shamelessly used to smear his name during the summer.”
At the height of the row, Johnson won support from Blackadder star Rowan Atkinson, who said the former cabinet minister had made a “pretty good” joke and insisted it was pointless to apologise for joking about religion as it always causes offence.
In a letter to The Times, the Mr Bean actor wrote: “You should really only apologise for a bad joke. On that basis, no apology is required.”