Former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has sparked a furore after comparing women who wear the burka to ‘bank robbers’ and describing them as ‘letter boxes’.
Writing in his column in the Daily Telegraph, Johnson wrote: “If you tell me that the burqa is oppressive, then I am with you.
“If you say that it is weird and bullying to expect women to cover their faces, then I totally agree – and I would add that I can find no scriptural authority for the practice in the Koran.
“I would go further and say that it is absolutely ridiculous that people should choose to go around looking like letter boxes; and I thoroughly dislike any attempt by any – invariably male – government to encourage such demonstrations of ‘modesty’.”
Ostensibly, the article defends the right of women to wear burqas if they so desire – however, Johnson’s choice of wording has caused controversy.
“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 talk to her properly,” he continued, referencing an incident in which former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw refused to talk to a constituent who wore a veil.
“If a female student turned up at school or at a university lecture looking like a bank robber then ditto: those in authority should be allowed to converse openly with those that they are being asked to instruct.”
Labour MP David Lammy was among the first to call out Johnson for his comments, calling Johnson a ‘pound-shop Donald Trump’.
“Muslim women are having their burqas pulled off by thugs in our streets and Boris Johnson’s response is to mock them for ‘looking like letter boxes’,” tweeted the MP for Tottenham.
“Our pound-shop Donald Trump is fanning the flames of Islamophobia to propel his grubby electoral ambitions.”
Johnson has a long history of racist gaffes and inflammatory comments. He recited a racist, colonial-era poem while on official business in Myanmar as Foreign Secretary – despite having the British ambassador stood next to him telling him not to – while he has also written columns that referred to black people as ‘flag-waving piccaninnies’ with ‘watermelon smiles’ and offended Sikhs by discussing alcohol in a Gurdwara.
The 54-year-old MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip recently resigned from the position of Foreign Secretary in Theresa May’s cabinet, citing the Prime Minister’s Brexit plans among his reasons and suggesting they would see the UK destined ‘for the status of a colony’.