Boris Johnson has come under heavy criticism for suggesting that women wearing face veils – also known as niqabs or burkas – resembled “letter boxes” and “bank robbers”.
The former Foreign Secretary, who is rumoured to have engaged in talks with far right former Trump aid Steve Bannon, made the remarks as he condemned Denmark for imposing fines on women wearing religious veils on its streets.
In a column for the Daily Telegraph, Johnson described the new law, which came into effect last week, as “oppressive”, but added that it was “absolutely ridiculous” that people would “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.
Labour MP Jess Phillips, who sits on the Women and Equalities Committee in parliament, has since lodged a complaint about Johnson’s remarks with the Equality 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 outlined in the Equality Act, 2010,” she wrote in a tweet.
How Much Trouble Could Boris Johnson Be In?
Image: Chatham House/ Flickr.com
While it isn’t yet clear whether Phillips’ claims that Johnson denied services to people based on their religious and cultural background are valid, the EHRC has the mandate to protect and promote human rights by holding businesses and government accountable for discrimination.
The Commission is an independent statutory body with the responsibility to encourage and enforce equality and diversity legislation based on protected characteristics, such as age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation.
These powers were vested in the Commission by the Equality Act 2006.
Johnson’s comments may be off colour, but it is unlikely that he will face any action simply by making the statement in public.
However, based on the information that Phillips may choose to provide to the committee, he could find his office facing an investigation.
Alternatively, the Commission may choose to address the matter indirectly by clarifying the law with regards to discrimination and providing a clearer understanding of the rights of individuals with protected characteristics.
What Have Prominent Muslims Said About His Comments?
Former Conservative cabinet minister Sayeeda Warsi highlighted an Evening Standard article about the Muslim imam from Finsbury Park, who was hailed as a hero for his actions during a terror attack on his Mosque. She captioned the link: “Meanwhile Conservatives it’s business as usual with Boris burkha dog whistle.”
Miqdaad Versi, the assistant general secretary of the Muslim Council of Britain, wrote: “Boris Jonson says a woman in niqab is ‘looking like a bank robber’ or ‘looking like letter boxes’. Is this language anything other than pandering to the far-right?”
Meanwhile, former chief prosecutor Nazir Afzal tweeted the following:
There is no religious reason for wearing Burka (it’s not allowed in Mecca pilgrimage)
It’s entirely wrong for any man to impose it upon a woman
I don’t like it either
But it’s also wrong for me or politician to belittle whatever a woman chooses to wearhttps://t.co/SXM6jozOih
— nazir afzal (@nazirafzal) August 6, 2018