Muslim groups accuse Boris Johnson of ‘pandering to the far-right’ over burka comments
Two influential Muslim groups have accused Boris Johnson of "pandering" to the far-right after he said women wearing burqas look like letter boxes and bank robbers.
The former Foreign Secretary has come in for criticism after he argued MPs, businesses and universities should have the right to oppose full-face veils - but said he was was not in favour of an outright ban.
In his column for the Telegraph, Mr Johnson said it was “absolutely ridiculous that people should choose to go around looking like letter boxes".
"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 take to her properly," he said.
"If a female student turned up at school or at a university lecture looking like a bank robber then ditto."
Labour MP David Lammy called him a "pound shop Trump", while his party colleague Jess Phillips has reported him to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission.
The Muslim Council of Britain and the Conservative Muslim Forum have now joined the backlash against the Uxbridge MP, who quit the Cabinet last month over Brexit.
In a statement on their website, the MCB said that Mr Johnson was “denigrating” Muslim women and accused him of “pandering to the far-right”.
"His comments are particularly regrettable in this current climate, where Islamophobia and anti-Muslim hatred is becoming worryingly pervasive with disappointingly little action from this current government," they said.
"Muslim women bear the brunt of hate on the streets. Just this week, two people were jailed for torturing a Muslim convert and a bookshop was attacked by Islamophobes."
The group highlighted that Mr Johnson had made the comments following an alleged meeting with President Trump’s former chief strategist, Steve Bannon.
They added: “We need responsibility and action from our politicians, not pandering from the far-right. Mr Johnson’s comments also underscores the Muslim Council of Britain’s call for an inquiry into Islamophobia in the Conservative Party. Such crass commentary should have no place in our political discourse.”
Meanwhile, Mohammed Amin, chair of the Conservative Muslim Forum, called on Mr Johnson to apologise for the “very unfortunate” remarks, saying that they would be seized upon by the far-right.
Speaking to Buzzfeed, he said: “Boris’ article today will be seen by the ordinary British Muslim as a senior British Conservative – very senior, a man who until recently was Foreign Secretary – basically slagging off Muslims. There’s no other way to put it.
“He forgets how much his words can hurt people as individuals and how much they can feed divisive narratives in our society. I’m afraid that is exactly the effect his worlds will have.
“His comments will be seized upon by others from the far right, for example, who are continuously trying to press the narrative that Islam is not a normal part of British society."
Mr Amin added: “He could apologise and he could take a Trappist vow and just stay silent for the next 12 months and it would make the country a better place.”
Christine Jardine, the Lib Dems' foreign affairs spokeswoman, said: "Mr Johnson’s irresponsible comments mocking women who wear a burka are abhorrent. He has proven himself to be a xenophobe.
"This desperate pitch to stay in the news completely disregards the women who are facing daily discrimination on our streets.
"He should instead be fighting to protect everyone’s right to live their lives as they choose. That is what responsible politicians do."
A spokesperson for the Prime Minister said: "The longstanding government position on this is clear – we do not support a ban on wearing of the veil in public. Such a prescriptive approach would be out of keeping with British values such as religious intolerance and gender equality."
But a source close to Mr Johnson said he had been "clearly making a liberal case against introducing a total ban like other European nations".