Boris Johnson has been reported to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission after suggesting women wearing niqabs resembled “letter boxes” and “bank robbers”.
The incendiary remarks – condemned by politicians across the political divide – came as he said it was wrong for Denmark to impose fines on those wearing the religious headgear in the streets.
Describing it as “oppressive” in a column for The Daily Telegraph, Mr Johnson added that it was “absolutely ridiculous” that people should “choose to go around looking like letter boxes”.
“If a female student turned up at school or at a university lecture looking like a bank robber then ditto: those in authority should be allowed to converse openly with those that they are being asked to instruct,” he wrote.
While Mr Johnson said these restrictions were “sensible” he opposed a full ban in public places and claimed: “One day, I am sure, they will go.”
In response, Jess Philips, who sits on the women and equalities committee in parliament, logged the remarks with Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).
“I’d like to report Boris Johnson for refusing a service to someone based on at least two of the protected characteristics outline in the Equality Act, 2010,” she said.
Highlighting an article in The Evening Standard in which a Muslim imam hailed as a hero for his actions during a terror attack on a London mosque accused the government of being “in denial” over Islamophobia, the former Conservative cabinet minister Sayeeda Warsi tweeted: “Meanwhile @Conservatives it’s business as usual with Boris burkha dog whistle.”
Labour MP David Lammy added: “Muslim women are having their burkas pulled off by thugs in our streets and Boris Johnson’s response is to mock them for ‘looking like letter boxes’.
“Our pound-shop Donald Trump is fanning the flames of Islamophobia to propel his grubby electoral ambitions.”
Miqdaad Versi, the assistant general secretary of the Muslim Council of Britain, posted on his Twitter account: “Boris Johnson says a woman in a niqab is ‘looking like a bank robber’ or ‘looking like letter boxes’. Is this language anything other than pandering to the far right?”
Christine Jardine, the Liberal Democrat’s foreign affairs spokesperson, said: “Mr Johnson’s irresponsible comments mocking women who wear a burka are abhorrent. He has proven himself yet again to be a xenophobe.
“This desperate pitch to stay in the news completely disregards the women who are facing daily discrimination on our streets.
“He should instead be fighting to protect everyone’s right to live their lives as they choose. That is what responsible politicians do.”
Last week Denmark followed France, Germany, Austria and Belgium in banning face-covering garments such as the burka and niqab in public places. A fine of 1,000 Danish kronor (£120) has already been given to a woman wearing a niqab in a shopping centre in the town of Horsholm, after another woman reportedly tried to tear it off.
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