Boris Johnson has been warned over using “really ill-judged” language about women and ethnic minorities by the new Conservative chair of parliament’s equalities committee.
Caroline Nokes, a former minister, claimed some of the prime minister’s previous language had been “unfortunate”, as she singled out his widely condemned comparison of women wearing niqabs to “letter boxes”.
Asked whether Mr Johnson has an equalities problem over previous “comments that could be sexist, misogynistic, racist, homophobic”, Ms Nokes said it was incumbent on the prime minister “to think very carefully about what he is saying”.
She also urged Mr Johnson to consider the “impact it could have on certain communities, on different ethnicities, on women”.
Pressed by The House magazine on whether she believed the prime minister’s comments in the past have been racist, she added: “I think his comments have been really ill judged, and the one that stands out to mind was the comment about letter boxes.
“And I have always had the view that it’s not for any man to tell any woman what she should wear – advice that I would sometimes shout at my own father when he comments on what I’m wearing.
“But I think the prime minister’s choice of words when grabbing headlines and being a newspaper columnist were unfortunate.”
During the general election campaign, Mr Johnson’s previous remarks in his career as a columnist were repeatedly highlighted, including his reference to black people as “piccaninnies” and having “watermelon smiles” in a 2002 Daily Telegraph article.
He was also widely criticised for a 1995 column in The Spectator in which he described children of single mums as “ill-raised, ignorant, aggressive and illegitimate”.
Ms Nokes, who lost her ministerial job when Mr Johnson entered No 10 last summer, also said she believed the UK has become “less tolerant” as a society when presented with rising hate crime figures.
“Firstly, I think people are much more willing to come forward and report hate crimes of whatever sort. And that’s great,” she said. “But I don’t think you can shy away from those stats.”
She added: “Do I think the country has become less tolerant? Yeah, I do. And I think it’s incumbent upon government, it’s incumbent upon the education system, it’s incumbent upon all of us to be more tolerant, and to be more understanding.
“We’re really good as a country at having some national outpourings of grief and upset over high-profile things, but actually that massive increase in hate crimes towards people from LGBTQ+ perspectives, from disabled people, from different ethnicities is just horrific.”
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