The British people support some restrictions on wearing the burka in public but oppose an outright ban, according to a new poll for The Independent. The ComRes survey found that almost two out of three people believe it should be illegal to wear a burka in places such as banks and airports. But six out of 10 people oppose a ban on wearing it in all public places.
An intense debate on whether to outlaw the veil worn by Muslim women is raging in France and Italy and is likely to spread to other European nations. The UK Independence Party, which wants to withdraw from the EU, has called for a ban on the burka, saying it is helping create a "divided society".
The ComRes survey of more than 1,000 people found that 52 per cent disagreed with the proposition that there should be no legal restrictions on wearing a burka, while 43 per cent agreed. But asked if it should be illegal to wear a burka in any public place, 36 per cent agreed and 59 per cent disagreed.
Some 64 per cent of people believed it should be illegal to wear a burka in places like banks and airports, while 33 per cent disagreed. By a similar margin (61 to 35 per cent), people thought schools should be allowed to prevent teachers wearing burkas if they wish.
The most striking variation of opinion among different groups of people was by age. Only 15 per cent of 18-24 year-olds believed that wearing the burka should be banned in any public place, compared to 57 per cent of those 65 and older. Women were more opposed to restrictions than men. The South east region, including London, was the most liberal, and northern England the least. The AB social group was the most liberal, with C2 skilled manual workers and the bottom DE group the least.
In Britain, opponents of curbs on the veil have warned that restrictions would fuel Islamophobia and assist far-right parties. They say the debate in France has demonised the minority of Muslim women who wear a veil.
ComRes telephoned 1,016 GB adults on 27-28 January 2010. Data were weighted to be representative of all adults. ComRes is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. Full tables at comres.co.uk