Britain’s Conservative Party Chairman Brandon Lewis said on Tuesday he had asked former foreign secretary Boris Johnson to apologise for disparaging comments he made about Muslim women wearing burqas.
“I have asked @BorisJohnson to apologise,” Brandon Lewis wrote on Twitter following a growing chorus of condemnation over Johnson’s derogatory views on the veil in his weekly newspaper column.
Writing in the Daily Telegraph on Monday, Britain’s one-time top diplomat described the burqa as “ridiculous” and “weird” and said women wearing them looked like “letter-boxes” or “bank robbers”.
Johnson, who resigned as foreign secretary in July over Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit strategy, was swiftly condemned by former colleagues and fellow lawmakers.
Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt told the BBC: “I would never have made such a comment, I think there is a degree of offence in that, absolutely right.”
Tory peer Sayeeda Hussain Warsi, a former party chair and diplomat, accused Johnson of adopting the “dog-whistle” tactics of right-wing firebrand Steve Bannon, US President Donald Trump’s former top aide.
Johnson has been in direct communication with Bannon in recent months, according to reports last month.
Warsi said Johnson was hoping to attract support from right-wing Conservatives for an eventual leadership bid, and called for an independent inquiry into Islamophobia in the party.
“Muslim women should not be a useful political battleground for Old Etonians,” she told Channel 4 News, referring to the private school popular with Britain’s political elite.
“It is crass and it must stop, and it must be condemned by the leadership right from the prime minister down.”
In his controversial column, Johnson said he opposed a ban on face-covering veils, but added it was “absolutely ridiculous that people should choose to go around looking like letter-boxes”.
Johnson received support from some quarters amid the furore over his comments, with Tory MP Nadine Dorries saying he “did not go far enough”.
“Any clothing a woman is forced to wear which hides both her beauty and her bruises should be banned and have no place in our liberal, progressive country,” she said.
Meanwhile, Johnson’s father, Stanley, told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: “I think people are whipping up a little mountain out of a molehill on this one, I really do.”