Boris Johnson has been reprimanded by one of his former Foreign Office colleagues for saying Muslim women who wear a burka look like “letter boxes” and bank robbers.
The former foreign secretary made the comments yesterday in an article published in the Daily Telegraph newspaper.
Alistair Burt, the minister of state for the Middle East, said Johnson was wrong to have used such language. “I would never have made such a comment, I think there is a degree of offence in that, absolutely right,” he told BBC Radio 4′s Today programme.
“What he was trying to make a serious point about is the UK Government will not enforce any clothing restriction on anyone.”
Burt added: “I wish he hadn’t accompanied it with a comment that I certainly wouldn’t make and I think many people would find offensive.”
Johnson used his column in the Daily Telegraph to condemn Denmark for banning the burka, even if it was “oppressive”.
“It is absolutely ridiculous that people should choose to go around looking like letter boxes,” he wrote.
Johnson 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.”
The Muslim Council of Britain said Johnson’s comments were particularly “crass” at a time when Islamophobia and anti-Muslim hatred was becoming “worryingly pervasive”.
Naz Shah MP, Labour’s shadow equalities minister, demanded Theresa May should condemn Johnson for “blatant Islamophobia”.
And Labour MP David Lammy said Johnson was a “pound-shop Donald Trump” who was “fanning the flames of Islamophobia to propel his grubby electoral ambitions”.
Asked about Johnson’s comments, the prime minister’s official spokesperson said: “The long-standing government position is clear and it is that we do not support a ban on the wearing of the veil in public.
“Such a prescriptive approach would be out of keeping with British values of religious tolerance and gender equality.”