Boris Johnson, Britain’s former foreign secretary and a driving force behind the Brexit campaign, is standing by his comments likening Muslim women who wear burqas to mail slots and bank robbers, after Prime Minister Theresa May urged him to apologize.
Despite growing pressure, Johnson has reportedly stood his ground, with a source close to him saying it is “ridiculous” to criticize the MP for his views, BBC reported.
“We must not fall into the trap of shutting down the debate on difficult issues,” the source added, as quoted by the BBC article. “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.”
Johnson made the comments in a Daily Telegraph column he wrote in criticism of Denmark’s recent ban on burqas and niqabs. In his argument, he said that, even though burqas look “absolutely ridiculous” and make women “look like letter boxes” and “bank robbers,” the traditional Islamic garment still shouldn’t be outlawed.
Johnson, who quit the government last month in protest of May’s Brexit policy, has since signed a deal as a columnist with the Daily Telegraph. In the same column, Johnson added that he feels “fully entitled” to ask women to remove their veil before talking to him, and that schools and universities should be free to take the same approach if a student “turns up… looking like a bank robber.”
His column sparked criticism from civilians and public officials from both sides, many of whom have accused him of Islamophobia, BBC reported.
May has joined the calls for Johnson to apologize, contending the remarks have “clearly caused offense,” according to the BBC article. May added that politicians need to be “very careful” about the language they use to discuss sensitive issues, but stopped short of accusing Johnson of racism and Islamophobia, The Guardian reported.
Among those who have called on Johnson to retract his remarks is the Conservative chair, Brandon Lewis, who said in a tweet that he has asked the MP to apologize.
— Brandon Lewis (@BrandonLewis) August 7, 2018
In response to his op-ed, the Muslim Council of Britain accused Johnson of “pandering to the far right,” according to another BBC article. Similarly, Labour MP Jess Phillips said she would report the former foreign secretary to the Equality and Human Rights Commission, according to The Guardian. Another Labour MP, David Lammy, called Johnson a “pound-shop Donald Trump” who “is fanning the flames of Islamophobia” for political advantage.
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." Our pound-shop Donald Trump is fanning the flames of Islamophobia to propel his grubby electoral ambitions.https://t.co/51YTjIdT4x
— David Lammy (@DavidLammy) August 6, 2018