Menu

Login to access your account

Mon, 13 July 2020

Personalise Your Politics

Subscribe now
The House Live All
New appointments this week in UK politics, the civil service and public affairs Member content
Home affairs
Coronavirus
Economy
Press releases

WATCH: Sikh MP applauded as he demands Boris Johnson apologises for ‘letter box’ burqa comments

WATCH: Sikh MP applauded as he demands Boris Johnson apologises for ‘letter box’ burqa comments
3 min read

A Sikh Labour MP was applauded in the Commons after he demanded that Boris Johnson apologise for controversial comments he made about the appearance of Muslim women.


Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi condemned the Prime Minister’s remarks, which he made in his Daily Telegraph column last year.

Mr Johnson was criticised at the time for saying women who wear a full face veil resemble “letterboxes” and “bank robbers”, but was cleared by a Tory probe.

Slough MP Mr Singh Dhesi said the description was “derogatory and racist” and called on the PM to launch an inquiry into Islamophobia within the Conservative Party.

Confronting Mr Johnson at his first Prime Minister’s Questions, he said: “If I decide to wear a turban, or you decide to wear a cross, or he decides to wear a kippah or skull cap, or she decides to wear a hijab or a burqa, does that mean that it is open season for right honourable members of this House to make derogatory or divisive remarks about our appearance?

“For those of us who have had to endure and 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 bank robbers and letter boxes."

Mr Singh Dhesi's comments come just days after anti-racism charity Tell MAMA found there had been a 375% week-on-week increase in Islamophobic incidents since the Prime Minister's August 2018 column.

The MP added: “Rather than hide behind sham and whitewashed investigations, when will the Prime Minister finally apologise for his derogatory and racist remarks which have led to a spike in hate crime and given the increasing prevalence of such incidents in his party? When will the Prime Minister finally order an inquiry into Islamophobia within the Conservative Party, something which he and his chancellor promised on national television?”

But Mr Johnson responded: “If he took the trouble to read the article in question he would see that it was a strong liberal defence of everybody’s right to wear whatever they want in this country and I speak as somebody who is not only proud to have Muslim ancestors but to be related to Sikhs such as himself.

“I’m also proud to say that under this Government we have the most diverse Cabinet in history of this country and we truly reflect modern Britain, and what we have yet to hear from anywhere in the Labour Party is any hint of apology for the virus of anti-semitism that is now rampant in their ranks.”

His response was promptly criticised by Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson as “appalling”.

She added: “An apology is what was required rather than some sort of justification that there is ever any acceptable context for the remarks such as he made in that column.

“He is the Prime Minister of our country, his words carry weight and he has to be more careful with what he says.”

 

Partner content
NHS Parliamentary Awards

The NHS Parliamentary Awards sponsored by Fujifilm are a chance for all MPs in England to celebrate the outstanding care they and their constituents receive.

Find out more

Westminster Briefing
The Building Regulations and Fire Safety Conference

Your chance to explore first-hand what solutions are being put in place to meet challenges in building and fire safety

Find out more