Boris Johnson angers many on niqab insult as Theresa May is condemned for silence on Islamophobia in Tory party
Conservative chairman Brandon Lewis has asked Boris Johnson to apologise for saying Muslim women wearing niqabs “look like letter boxes”.
Mr Johnson said full-face veils should not be banned but looked “ridiculous”.
He has been criticised by Labour MPs, some Tories and Muslim groups, who said the party was not doing enough to tackle prejudice.
The founder of the Conservative Muslim Forum said the remarks would harm community relations.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s The World at One, Lord Sheikh suggested Mr Johnson was “using Muslims as a springboard” for his ambition to lead the Tory Party.
“It is a joke but in very, very bad taste,” he said, adding that the former foreign secretary had a “weird sense of humour”.
But a source close to Mr Johnson told the Press Association: “It is ridiculous that these views are being attacked – we must not fall into the trap of shutting down the debate on difficult issues.
“We have to call it out. If we fail to speak up for liberal values then we are simply yielding ground to reactionaries and extremists.”
Earlier, Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt said there was a “degree of offence” in Mr Johnson’s comments.
On Twitter, Mr Lewis said he agreed with Mr Burt and called on the MP and former London mayor to apologise.
‘Offensive and deliberately provocative’
Former Conservative chairwoman Lady Warsi, the first Muslim woman to sit in a British cabinet, welcomed Mr Lewis’s intervention. She called for disciplinary action against Mr Johnson if he did not apologise.
She described the remarks as “offensive and deliberately provocative, but very clever politics”.
She added: “What offends me is that Muslim women are not a convenient political football to be used by old Etonians.”
Labour’s equalities spokeswoman Naz Shah said Mr Johnson should attend “training and engagement with the Muslim community” and called on Prime Minister Theresa May to respond.
“Clearly the Tory party has an issue with Islamophobia, but over 24 hours later the prime minister is still yet to say a word,” she added.