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Boris Johnson burka comments - latest: Dominic Grieve says he would leave Conservative Party if former foreign secretary becomes leader

Follow live updates from Westminster

Benjamin Kentish
Political Correspondent
,Ashley Cowburn
Wednesday 08 August 2018 09:58 BST
Theresa May piles on pressure for Boris Johnson to apologise for burka comments

The live blog has now ended.

Boris Johnson is facing mounting calls to apologise for his comments about Muslim women who wear the niqab.

The former foreign secretary said wearers of the veil "look like letterboxes" and resemble "a bank robber", adding that the garment was "absolutely ridiculous".

Dominic Grieve, the former attorney general, called the comments "very embarrassing" and said he would leave the Conservative Party if Mr Johnson became leader.

Ruth Davidson also added her voice to the backlash, calling Mr Johnson's claims "gratuitously offensive" and demanding he apologise.

Theresa May and Brandon Lewis, the Tory chairman, also called for an apology, while opposition MPs accused Mr Johnson of Islamophobia.

Conservative peer Lord Sheikh, the former of the Conservative Muslim Forum, said he had asked the party to take "severe action" and remove the whip from Mr Johnson.


Welcome to The Independent's live coverage from Westminster.

Kristin Hugo8 August 2018 09:38

Eric Pickles has joined calls for Boris Johnson to apologise.

Asked about the former foreign secretary's comments, Lord Pickles, a former communities secretary, said:

I think the very sensible thing would be for him to apologise.

I don't understand his motives but if he's wanting to open up and to defend liberal values, the most sensible thing is not to use illiberal language.

Essentially he's closed down the very debate that he wanted to open up."

The former cabinet minister said he was an "admirer" of Mr Johnson but called the comments "a little crass" and said they were "getting in the way of us dealing with difficult issues".

Talking about British Muslims, he added:


"There are tensions now that exist within the community, a degree of hatred out there that I've not witness for a good few years.

"Now, nobody for one moment is suggesting that this is some kind of Rivers of Blood speech.

"This is trivial in comparison to that."

Kristin Hugo8 August 2018 09:49

 It's almost 24 hours since Brandon Lewis, the Tory chairman, said he had asked Boris Johnson to apologise - and there's no sign of that happening. Sources close to the former foreign secretary insist he won't be doing so...

Kristin Hugo8 August 2018 10:16

Sayeeda Warsi, former co-chair of the Conservative Party, has attacked Boris Johnson's "reprehensible" comments, which she said were "quite deliberate".

 Writing in The Guardian, Baroness Warsi said: 

"In his Telegraph piece, Johnson was making a liberal argument. He was saying that we shouldn’t ban the burqa, as Denmark has done. But his words signalled something else. He said – not only to those Muslim women who veil, but to many more who associate with a faith in which some women do – that you don’t belong here.

I refuse to accept that these phrases were some kind of mistake, and the offence inadvertent - Johnson is too intelligent and too calculating for that. No, this was all quite deliberate. His refusal to apologise supports that."

Claiming Mr Johnson's remarks were made "in a very 'alt-right' way", she continued:

"But as a feminist what really disgusts me in this whole episode is that Muslim women are simply political fodder, their lives a convenient battleground on which to stake out a leadership bid.

"There is a pattern here – Muslim women are a quick, easy way to make a point that furthers your interests with certain sections of the media and my party – a useful political football. Where’s the harm in that, you might ask – it’s just politics. Well, this approach is not just offensive, it is dangerous."

She said Mr Johnson must apologise and called for "consequences" and "real action" if he refuses to. She also re-iterated calls for a full inquiry into Islamophobia in the Conservative Party.

Kristin Hugo8 August 2018 10:33

Another minister has joined the chorus of criticism of Boris Johnson. Steve Brine, a health minister, called on the former foreign secretary to apologise - "but only if you mean it".

Kristin Hugo8 August 2018 10:51

Tory peer Lord Sheikh, founder of the Conservative Muslim Forum, says he has written to Brandon Lewis, chairman of the Conservative Party, calling for "severe action" to be taken against Boris Johnson.

Talking about the former foreign secretary's comments, he told Sky News:

"I think to a certain extent they are racist. In a way it is racist. These words are very inflammatory. I believe that they will cause problems with regard to race relations. I believe that it will encourage bigotry in this country."

In relation to Mr Johnson, he said he had told Mr Lewis:

"We should consider taking severe action against him, and that if we need to take the whip off then let's do it, because in the past certain Conservative councillors have behaved badly and the chairman of party has expelled these people from the Conservative Party."

Mr Johnson's comments were "totally inappropriate", he said. 

Kristin Hugo8 August 2018 11:19

Jeremy Wright, the culture secretary, has said Mr Johnson's comments were "not helpful" but insisted debate about the niqab was "an important conversation"

Kristin Hugo8 August 2018 11:34

Labour MP Naz Shah has said Boris Johnson's comments were absolutely "Islamophobic". 

She told Sky News:

"Boris Johnson and the Tory party have an absolute problem with Islamophobia - a "simmering underbelly" , as Baroness Warsi put it. The truth is they're in denial -  they're in complete denial - and they need to stop denying it and call it out for what it is.

This is Boris Johnson playing very clever politics in a very crass way at the expense of Muslim women."

Kristin Hugo8 August 2018 11:46
Ashley Cowburn8 August 2018 11:57
Ashley Cowburn8 August 2018 12:27

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