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Tuesday, Aug 20, 2019

Islamophobic remarks: Former UK foreign secy Boris Johnson faces probe but gains support

Johnson, who resigned last month, compared burqa-clad women to “letter-boxes” and “bank robbers” in The Daily Telegraph on Monday.

world Updated: Aug 11, 2018 02:38 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar
Prasun Sonwalkar
Hindustan Times, London
Former UK foreign secretary Boris Johnson at a ceremony in Warsaw, Poland, earlier this year.
Former UK foreign secretary Boris Johnson at a ceremony in Warsaw, Poland, earlier this year. (AP File)

Former foreign secretary Boris Johnson is facing an investigation by the Conservative Party for his Islamophobic remarks in a column that drew support and criticism from inside and outside the party, but appeared not to harm his prime ministerial ambitions.

Seen as a ploy to burnish his credentials in his efforts to gain entry to 10 Downing Street, Johnson likened burqa-wearing women to “letter boxes” and “bank robbers” in The Daily Telegraph on Monday. He resigned last month to protest the “soft Brexit” plan of Prime Minister Theresa May.

Johnson, who is on holiday, has so far ignored demands for an apology from Conservative Party leaders and May. 

Several Muslim women protested in his constituency of Uxbridge, calling for his resignation, while 100 Muslim women who wear the niqab or burqa wrote to party chairman Brendon Lewis, asking him to withdraw the Conservative whip from Johnson. 

Mohamed Sheikh, Conservative member of the House of Lords, said he had been subjected to abusive emails and calls after calling on the party to sack Johnson. According to him, Johnson had "let the genie out of the bottle" by inflaming tensions with his comments. 

There was support for Johnson too. Comedian Rowan Atkinson said the former journalist's remarks had been a "pretty good" joke, and wrote in a letter to The Times that "no apology is required" for ridiculing religion.

“I do think that Boris Johnson's joke about wearers of the burka resembling letterboxes is a pretty good one. All jokes about religion cause offence, so it's pointless apologising for them," Atkinson wrote.

Former Conservative chief whip Andrew Mitchell said Johnson should not have to apologise, adding he had "expressed himself in quite colourful language, but he hasn't committed any offence and we need to be very careful about our handling of this because we believe in free speech in this country".

Scotland Yard commissioner Cressida Dick agreed  Johnson’s remarks would not “reach the bar” for a criminal offence of hate crime.

“I spoke to my very experienced officers who deal with hate crime and, although we have not yet received any allegation of such a crime, I can tell you that my preliminary view having spoken to them is that what Johnson said would not reach the bar for a criminal offence. He did not commit a criminal offence,” she said.

First Published: Aug 11, 2018 02:38 IST

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