Foreign Office minister condemns Boris Johnson for claiming burqa women 'look like letter boxes'

Posted On: 
7th August 2018

A Foreign Office minister has criticised Boris Johnson's "offensive" claim that women wearing burqas look like letter boxes and bank robbers.

Alistair Burt has condemned his former boss.
PA Images

Alistair Burt, who worked under Mr Johnson when he was Foreign Secretary, said he would "never have made such a comment".

He is the first Conservative frontbencher to publicly condemn Mr Johnson's remarks, which he made in his Daily Telegraph column on Monday.

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In comments which sparked a wave of protest, Mr Johnson said it was "absolutely ridiculous that people should choose to go around looking like letter boxes".

And he said school teachers or university lecturers would be within their rights to refuse to talk to students who arrived at class "looking like a bank robber".

Mr Burt told Radio Four's Today programme that Mr Johnson had been defending Muslim women's right to wear the religious dress.

But he said: "I would never have made such a comment. I think there is a degree of offence in that, absolutely right.

"What he was trying to make a serious point about is that the UK government will not enforce any kind of clothing restriction on anyone. I wish he hadn’t accompanied it with a comment that I certainly wouldn’t make and I think many people would find offensive."

His remarks echo those of former Tory co-chair Baroness Warsi, who told Channel Four: "Muslim women need to stop being a convenient political football to increase poll ratings amongst the Tory faithful. Muslim women should not be a useful political battleground for old Etonians."

Meanwhile, Fiyaz Mughal, founder of Tell MAMA, the national anti-Muslim hate monitoring project, said that Mr Johnson's comments "clearly" amounted to Islamophobia.

He told the Today programme: "The thing that I think gets to us and many other organisations working in this field is the sheer flippancy in which it was made and the manner it was made coming at a time when we have released our latest figures from 2017 which has showed there to be the highest number of anti-Muslim hate incidents since we started seven years ago.

Mr Mughal also slammed Tory party chairman Brandon Lewis for failing to tackle Islamophobia in the party after meeting with him earlier this year.

"A series of correspondence went back to the chair's office saying a number of steps needed to be taken to build reassurance around tackling anti-Muslim hatred or Islamophobia and absolutely nothing happened," he said. 

"There was no response back and it was all in effect quote unquote taken in house. It was effectively said to us that they would manage the issues. The reality again is again its not good enough."

Naz Shah, Labour's shadow minister for equalities, said: "At a time of rising anti-Muslim hate crime, it is appalling that the Tory party chairman is refusing to acknowledge Islamophobia within his own party's ranks. The Prime Minister has refused to condemn Boris Johnson's racist article, sending a clear message to the Muslim community that their concerns are being ignored.

"This issue clearly goes right to the party's core. They should listen to the calls of several prominent Muslim organisations, and members of their own party, and conduct an inquiry."