Former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith has defended Boris Johnson after he compared women in burkas to “letterboxes” and “bank robbers”.
Fellow Brexiteer Duncan Smith said there was not anything “particularly wrong” with comments the ex-foreign secretary, who faces an investigation by the Conservative Party, made about Muslim women in a Sunday Telegraph article.
He said people “may not agree with the tone or the jokes” made in the article, but that Johnson was exercise his “freedom of speech” and was defending the government line not to ban the burka, as Denmark has done.
Numerous leading Muslim figures, including Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, have condemned Johnson’s use of language.
One hundred Muslim women who wear a burka or niqab have written to Tory chairman Brandon Lewis to demand Boris Johnson be thrown out of the Conservative Party.
But Duncan Smith said: “We have a thing called freedom of speech in this country and I don’t believe that just because somebody takes offence that means therefore that there has to be an inquiry in terms of whether or not that individual should be shut down for saying what they believe.”
He added that those who “believe strongly in equality for women “take a very different view” on burkas, adding: “Most Muslim women don’t wear one and as I understand it that is their choice, and that’s what I uphold, their choice.”
Johnson was urged to apologise by both Lewis and Prime Minister Theresa May, and after several complaints were submitted to the party, an internal investigation will now take place.
“We live in a land that has freedom of expression, freedom of speech, freedom of worship and freedom of choice and if you want to uphold those there will always be those that take offence,” Duncan Smith told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.
The letter signed by 100 women said Johnson made a “deliberate choice” to inflame tensions, which could pave the way for “bigots to justify hate crime”.
Speaking as “free women who are able to speak for ourselves”, the group warns “all personal choices should be respected”, adding that an apology from Johnson would be “insufficient”.
According to the party’s code of conduct, members should not use their position to “bully, abuse, victimise, harass or unlawfully discriminate against others”, with the prospect of suspension or expulsion for those found to be in breach.