Boris Johnson faces growing backlash over 'gratuitously offensive' niqab remarks as top Tories rally against him

‘I don’t regard him as a fit and proper person to lead a political party,’ said one former Tory minister

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
Wednesday 08 August 2018 21:16 BST
Theresa May piles on pressure for Boris Johnson to apologise for burka comments

Pressure is mounting on Boris Johnson to apologise over his “gratuitously offensive” remarks about women wearing niqabs as a series of senior Conservative MPs rallied against the former foreign secretary.

Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson questioned whether Mr Johnson would ever write about having a debate on banning Christians from wearing crucifixes, after the Uxbridge MP suggested in his Daily Telegraph column that those who wore headscarves resembled “bank robbers” and “letter boxes”.

Former attorney general Dominic Grieve even suggested he would leave the Tories if Mr Johnson was elected leader, claiming: “I don’t regard him as a fit and proper person to lead a political party”.

In one of the most critical comments of Mr Johnson’s column, Ms Davidson suggested the incendiary remarks were calculated. “I think that this wasn’t an off-the-cuff slip, he wrote a column, he knew exactly what he was doing and I think it crossed from being provocative and starting a debate and actually it became rude and gratuitous,” she said.

While the Scottish Tory leader, who is seen as a rising star in the party, said she agreed with the sentiment of the article – that face-covering veils should not be banned – Ms Davidson added: “I think it’s also not been shown through history that when men make sweeping statements about what women should or shouldn’t wear that it goes well for them,” she said.

The former cabinet minister and Conservative Party chairman Lord Pickles also warned that Mr Johnson could face disciplinary action unless he was prepared to back down.

He said the party has “various procedures” if an official complaint were to be made, although he said it would be “a very big leap” to suggest that could lead to his expulsion.

“Pretty much inconceivable, but you never know how these things develop,” he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

Lord Sheikh, a Conservative peer and the founder of the Conservative Muslim Forum, told BBC Newsnight the party should take “severe action”.

“Take the whip from him. Why not? He’s not a super-human being, he’s a member of the party,” he said. “The party chairman, the prime minister has the right to take the whip ... that’s the thing I’d like to see.”

The remarks from senior Tories came after both Theresa May and Brandon Lewis, the chairman of the party, called on Mr Johnson to apologise for his “offensive” remarks.

But Mr Johnson’s former parliamentary private secretary and Tory MP Conor Burns defended the former secretary of state on social media, suggesting that his colleagues were “desperate” in their criticisms. “We are now into full bandwagon jumping territory on Boris Johnson article,” he said.

And the Tory backbencher Nadine Dorries claimed the attacks on Mr Johnson were being led by those on the Remain wing of the party who feared a possible leadership challenge to the prime minister.

“The campaign to stop Boris becoming leader is underway in a very crass and cack handed way,” she wrote on Twitter.

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