Remember when Boris Johnson was the UK's top diplomat? If the appointment looked a questionable error then, it looks a stratospheric failure now.

The former foreign secretary has come under fire from top Tory politicians, Muslim groups and and opposition parties for comparing Muslim women in burqas to "letter boxes" and "bank robbers".

Johnson argued it is wrong for Denmark to impose fines on those wearing a burka or niqab in the streets in an article for the Daily Telegraph, but said he still believed the burka was "oppressive", "weird" and "bullying". He continued:

I would go further and say it is absolutely ridiculous that people should choose to go around looking like letter boxes.​

The remarks have largely sparked fury across the board - which you can read below - but a source close to Johnson told the BBC that he "won't be apologising" and that it was "ridiculous" to attack his opinions.

Theresa May: "I do think that we all have to be very careful about the language and terms we use."

Theresa May backed calls for Johnson to apologise, saying the comments had "clearly caused offence", although the dodged questions over whether his comments were Islamaphobic. She said:

I do think that we all have to be very careful about the language and terms we use.

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?

Alistair Burt: "I think there was a degree of offence in that."

The British minister of state for the Middle East and North Africa Alistair Burt said he thinks there is some degree of offence in the comments.

Brandon Lewis: "I have asked Boris Johnson to apologise."

Conservative Chairman Brandon Lewis agreed with Burt and added that he had asked Johnson to apologise.

Baroness Sayeeda Warsi: "Good to see colleagues condemning comments by Boris."

Picture: Miles Willis/ Stringer

Baroness Warsi, the Conservative peer and first Muslim woman to sit in a British cabinet, accused Johnson of adopting the "dog-whistle" tactics of formed Donald Trump aide Steve Bannon to attract far-right support in "yet another leadership bid".

She called for dispensary action against Johnson if he did not apologise:

Lord Sheikh: "Take the whip from him. Why not?"

Tory peer and president of the Conservative Muslim Forum Lord Sheikh has called for Johnson to be kicked out of the Conservative party.

In an interview withBBC Newnight, the former adviser to David Cameron said:

Take the whip from him. Why not?

He's not a super human being, he's a member of the party.

The party chairman, the prime minister has the right to take the whip.

It's not out of order and that's the thing I'd like to see.

Mohammed Amin: "He forgets how much his words can hurt people as individuals."

A senior Conservative Muslim has condemned Johnson for his "very unfortunate" choice of languages. Speaking to BuzzFeed News, he said:

Boris' article today will be seen by the ordinary British Muslim as a senior British Conservative — very senior, a man who until recently was foreign secretary — basically slagging off Muslims.

There's no other way to put it.

He forgets how much his words can hurt people as individuals and how much they can feed divisive narratives in our society.

I'm afraid that is exactly the effect his words will have.

Muslim Council of Britain: "His comments are particularly regrettable in the current climate".

The Muslim Council of Britain said Johnson's remarks "denigrate" the "minority of women who choose to wear" the niqab.

In a statement on their website, they continued:

His comments are particularly regrettable in this current climate, where Islamophobia and anti-Muslim hatred is becoming worryingly pervasive with disappointingly little action from this current government.

Muslim women bear the brunt of hate on the streets.

Just this week, two people were jailed for torturing a Muslim convert and a bookshop was attacked by Islamophobes.

Shazia Awan-Scully: "Boris Johnson can say anything and get away with it."

Shazia Awan-Scully, a Muslim who ran as a Conservative candidate in 2010, accused Johnson of "pandering to the extreme right", telling BBC Newsnight:

If you cast your mind back 50 years to when Enoch Powell gave his Rivers of Blood speech, he was sacked from the shadow cabinet immediately.

He was ostracised from his party immediately. Boris Johnson can say anything and get away with it.

These comments are Islamophobic.

They are against Muslims and I would urge any Muslims to not vote for the Conservative party because of their stance towards our community.

Laura Perrins: "This idea the man should be run out of town is exactly the kind of authoritarian nonsense we must resist."

Appearing alongside Awan-Scully on Newsnight, The Conservative Woman co-editor Laura Perrins claimed his remarks were taken out of context. She said:

This idea the man should be run out of town is exactly the kind of authoritarian nonsense we must resist. It is not responsible.

Naz Shah: "An apology is not enough".

Shadow equalities minister Naz Shah tweeted that the "Prime Minister is in denial" over Johnson's comments.

Jeremy Wright: "Politicians have an additional responsibility to choose their words with care."

Picture:Picture: Getty Images / Jack Taylor / Stringer

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, the culture secretary said Johnson had "used language that on reflection he might want to consider".

But he added that there was no reason not to have a "robust conversation" about the issue:

I think people are entitled to have this conversation.

Frankly, politicians have an additional responsibility to choose their words with care.

We're not talking to our friends in the pub, we are public figures and we have an additional obligation to be careful. 

Nicola Sturgeon: “It is Islamophobia and I think it’s pretty outrageous.”

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon accused Johnson of Islamaphobia, but said she was skeptical of calls for an apology:

Boris Johnson’s comments … are reprehensible and disgraceful.

They are deliberate though, and deliberately provocative.

I’m a wee bit cynical about these calls for him to apologise.

You call for someone to apologise if they have made a mistake, Boris Johnson didn’t make a mistake.

She added:

It is Islamophobia and I think it’s pretty outrageous.

Jess Phillips: "Just a racist."

The Labour MP tweeted that Johnson is "just a racist" and that it is possible to debate "culturally sensitive" issues "without being a racist".

Keep reading...Show less
Please log in or register to upvote this article
The Conversation (0)