In his first Prime Minister’s Questions, Boris Johnson came under fire for “racist” comments he has made in the past.
Opposition Member of Parliament Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi, who is Sikh and wears a turban, demanded that the prime minister apologize for comments about Muslim women in a newspaper column in August 2018.
Johnson wrote that women who wear the burka look like “letter boxes” in a column for The Telegraph newspaper last year, a month after he resigned as the UK’s foreign secretary.
Dhesi asked “when will the prime minister finally apologise for his derogatory and racist remarks … which have led to a spike in hate crime?” He also asked when the Prime Minister would order an inquiry into allegations of Islamophobia in the Conservative Party. Earlier this month, the Conservative Party chairman James Cleverly committed to such an inquiry.
“For those of us who from a young age have had to endure and put up with being called names such as towelhead or Taliban or coming from Bongo-Bongo Land, we can appreciate the hurt and pain felt by already vulnerable Muslim women when they are described as looking like bank robbers and letterboxes.”
Dhesi’s comments come two days after non-profit The MAMA Project, which measures anti-Muslim attacks in the U.K., issued a report in which they said there was a spike in incidents reported to them after Johnson’s column was published -- from eight incidents the previous week to 38 anti-Muslim attacks the week following publication.
Johnson’s August column, titled “Denmark has got it wrong. Yes, the burka is oppressive and ridiculous – but that's still no reason to ban it” argued that it was not a sensible political strategy to ban the burka, while at the same time using language that many found offensive.
“It is absolutely ridiculous that people should choose to go around looking like letter boxes,” he wrote. He also compared women who choose to cover their faces to bank robbers.
His remarks prompted dozens of complaints and he was called on to apologize by Theresa May, the Prime Minister and head of the Conservative party at the time, the BBC reported. However, a panel convened to assess whether he had broken the Conservative code of conduct found that he had not.
Victim Support, another British non-profit organization who assist victims of hate crimes told ABC News that in 2018 they “offered information and support to around 25,000 people who had experienced hate crime, the majority of which was racially or religiously motivated, which is an increase of 23% on the previous year.”
Diana Fawcett, Chief Executive of Victim Support said that “We know that hate crime is still underreported and one of the main reasons is that victims fear they won’t be taken seriously.”
The Prime Minister, who has only been in the job since July, refused to apologize for his remarks saying that “If he took the trouble to read the article in question, he would see that it was a strong liberal defense … of everybody’s right to wear whatever he wants in this country.”
Johnson went on to say that he had Muslim ancestors and was related to Sikhs while retorting that the Labour Party should look into its own history of anti-Semitism.