Theresa May calls on Boris Johnson to apologise for 'offensive' burqa comments
Theresa May has joined Tory chair Brandon Lewis in calling on Boris Johnson to apologise for saying Muslim women who wear burqas look like bank robbers and letter boxes.
The Prime Minister had faced mounting calls since yesterday morning to condemn the ex-foreign secretary's controversial comments in an article in which he argued against an outright ban on full face veils.
Mr Johnson wrote in the Telegraph that 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".
Mrs May will hope to add pressure on her former Cabinet colleague, who earlier refused to apologise for the remarks after Mr Lewis tweeted that he had asked him to do so.
Addressing journalists on her visit to Edinburgh, she said the remarks “clearly caused offence”.
“Some of the terms Boris used describing people's appearance obviously have offended. So I agree with Brandon Lewis," she said.
“What's important is do we believe people should have the right to practise their religion and, in the case of women and the burka and niqab, to choose how they dress.
“I believe women should be able to choose how they dress.”
A source close to Mr Johnson insisted this afternoon, following Mr Lewis’s plea, that he would not be backing down.
“It is ridiculous that these views are being attacked - we must not fall into the trap of shutting down the debate on difficult issues,” said the source.
“We have to call it out. If we fail to speak up for liberal values then we are simply yielding ground to reactionaries and extremists.”
His comments sparked condemnation from across the spectrum, with Foreign Office minister Alistair Burt this morning admitting there was a "degree of offence" in his words, while Labour's David Lammy yesterday branded him a "pound shop Donald Trump".
Former Tory party chair Baroness Warsi told Channel 4 News last night: “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.”
But Tory MP Andrew Bridgen defended Mr Johnson over the remarks, and suggested much of the condemnation was rooted in opposition to him eventually becoming the Conservatives' leader.
Asked if the former London mayor should apologise, he told Radio 4: "No I don’t think he should."
He added: “I think if you can get your point across with a little bit of humour it’s appreciated by the public. I think Boris is seen as a clear challenger for the leadership in due course and it’s interesting the characters, Alistair Burt – love him to bits – and the party chairman, and we all know what side they’re batting on.”