MPs loudly applauded on Wednesday when Boris Johnson was told during prime minister’s questions to apologise for his “racist” remarks about women who wear a burka.
Labour MP Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi said the prime minister had added to the “hurt and pain” felt by an already vulnerable minority group.
Johnson triggered a fierce backlash last August when he used his column in The Daily Telegraph when he said women wearing a face veil looked like “letter boxes”. He also compared them to “bank robbers”.
A survey published by the anti-racism organisation Tell MAMA on Monday found there had been a 375% increase in anti-Muslim incidents in the week after he made the comment.
Johnson was cleared of breaching Conservative Party rules following an investigation into his use of language.
Speaking in the Commons today, Dhesi said: “If I dedicate to wear turban, or you decide to wear a cross, or he decides to wear a kippah or a skullcap, or she decides to wear a hijab or a burka, does that mean it is open season for members of this House to to make derogatory or divisive remarks about our appearance?
“For those of us who from a young age have had to endure or face up to being called names such as ‘towel head’, or ‘Taliban’, or coming from ‘bongo-bongo land’, we can appreciate full well the hurt and pain felt by already vulnerable Muslim women when they are described as looking like ‘bank robbers’ and ‘letter boxes’.”
Dhesi told Johnson across the chamber: “Rather than hide behind sham and whitewash investigations. When will the prime minister finally apologise for his derogatory and racist remarks, which have led to have led to a spike in hate crime?”
Johnson defended himself and did not apologise for his column. “If he took the trouble to read the article in question, he would see it was a strong, liberal defence – as he began his question saying – of everybody’s right to wear whatever they want in this country,” he said.
Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson also reprimanded Johnson. “He is the prime minister of our country, his words carry weight,” she said. “An apology is what was required.”
In May HuffPost UK spoke to Muslims in Blackburn about the prospect of a Boris Johnson premiership. One woman said: “When Boris Johnson said those things about Muslim women, it felt like he was singling us out and bullying us...it would be very dangerous if someone like him was put in charge of the country.”