Boris Johnson says he would not make the burqa ‘letterbox’ comments now he is PM

Kate Plummer
Tuesday 25 May 2021 12:42
Politics
(PA)

Boris Johnson has said he would not use the inflammatory language he used comparing Muslim women who wear the burqa to “letterboxes” and “bank robbers” now he is the Prime Minister.

An independent inquiry into Islamophobia in the Conservative party has found that anti-Muslim sentiment “remains a problem” in the party and said that Johnson’s comments - which were written in a Daily Telegraph column in 2018 - “give the impression to many that the party and its leadership are insensitive to Muslim communities”.

Johnson told the investigation he was “sorry for any offence taken”, saying: “I do know that offence has been taken at things I’ve said, that people expect a person in my position to get things right, but in journalism you need to use language freely. I am obviously sorry for any offence taken.

“Would I use some of the offending language from my past writings today? Now that I am Prime Minister, I would not.”

At the time of publication of the column in question, in which Johnson criticised the burqa and also said he felt entitled to make Muslims remove their face coverings when talking to him at this MP’s surgery, the Muslim Council of Britain accused Johnson of “pandering to the far right”. Meanwhile, a Muslim woman said she was approached by a man in the supermarket who said “letterbox” to her in 2019, showing the insult had caught on.

The independent panel, which was carried out by Professor Singh, a former commissioner at the Equality and Human Rights Commission, was formed in 2019. It said the language used was “offensive and did not lead by example to encourage and foster respect”. The report also said that several interviewees who spoke to the investigation considered Mr Johnson’s language “discriminatory and unacceptable”.

In response to Mr Johnson’s assertion that he would not make such remarks now, the report said pointedly: “While this could be considered leading by example, the investigation would like to emphasise that using measured and appropriate language should not be a requirement solely for senior people, but ought to be expected throughout the Conservative Party.”

Meanwhile, the Prime Minister’s statement shows an acceptance to take on more responsibility than he did the last time he was asked about the issue:

The report, which said allegations of “institutional racism” against the party were not borne out of the evidence available, called on the Tories to publish an action plan within six weeks to set out how it will respond, followed by a six-month progress report and a one-year review carried out by an appropriate body.

It also called on the party to review its social media and complaints procedures and to create a mandatory code of conduct.

Let’s hope they take the findings on board.

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