Former UK foreign minister described the full-face veil as oppressive
Boris Johnson called Islamophobic after describing burqa wearers as ‘letter boxes’
Former UK foreign secretary Boris Johnson has described women who wear the burqa as looking like “letterboxes” or bank robbers in comments sharply criticised by MPs.
Mr Johnson, often tipped to become the next Conservative leader, made the comments in his Daily Telegraph column on Monday, outlining his opposition to Denmark’s recent burqa ban.
However, he said that he believed the garment was “oppressive”.
"It is absolutely ridiculous that people should choose to go around looking like letter boxes," he wrote.
Last week, Denmark imposed a controversial new law which bans women from wearing full-face Islamic veils following similar legislation changes in France, the Netherlands, Austria and Belgium.
Mr Johnson said he was against the ban because “it is inevitably construed, rightly or wrongly, as being intended to make some point about Islam”.
However, the MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip said he would repeat the actions of another former foreign secretary, Jack Straw, who said in 2006 that he would ask constituents to remove their face veils before speaking with him. Mr Straw later apologised for his comments.
Mr Johnson said: “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.”
His remarks attracted an angry response from a number of politicians from the Labour Party, including MP Jess Phillips who said she would report him to the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
Labour’s shadow equalities minister Naz Shah told Huffington Post: “Boris Johnson’s latest racist insults cannot be laughed off, like they often are.
“Saying Muslim women look like letterboxes, comparing them to bank robbers and describing Islam as a ‘problem’ was a calculated attack and published in a national newspaper.
“Theresa May must condemn this blatant Islamophobia and Boris Johnson must apologise.”
Mr Johnson has been accused of racism a number of times during his political career. In 2016 after then US president Barack Obama came out in support of the Remain side in the Brexit referendum, Mr Johnson said he was “part-Kenyan” with an “ancestral dislike” of Britain, while in a 2002 column he described Commonwealth members in Africa as “flag-waving piccaninnies”.
Labour Party politician David Lammy described the columnist as a “pound-shop Donald Trump”, using Islamophobic rhetoric for political gain.
“Muslim women are having their burkas pulled off by thugs in our streets & Boris Johnson's response is to mock them for "looking like letter boxes,” Mr Lammy tweeted.
“Our pound-shop Donald Trump is fanning the flames of Islamophobia to propel his grubby electoral ambitions.”
Mr Johnson’s column comes days after media reports suggested he had held secret talks with former Trump strategist and far-right commentator Steve Bannon.