Boris Johnson has sparked fury after saying that women who wear burqas and niqabs look like ‘bank robbers’ and ‘letterboxes’.
The former Foreign Secretary used his weekly newspaper column to say the Muslim head veils are ‘oppressive’ for women.
And he hit out at male oppressive regimes around the world who force their female populations to adopt them.
But he also said he does not agree with Denmark’s decision to ban the coverings, warning the move risks backfiring and fanning the flames of radicalism.
His remarks have sparked fury – with Labour MP David Lammy branding the ex cabinet minister a ‘pound-shop Donald Trump’ and warning he is fanning the flames of Islamophobia.
Mr Johnson used his weekly Daily Telegraph column to criticise burqas – also spelt as burkas – but urged caution in the state’s role in intervening to stop women wearing them.
His intervention comes days after after a 28 year-old woman became the first person in Denmark to be fined under new laws banning full-face Islamic veils.
Mr Johnson wrote: ‘If you tell me that the burka is oppressive, then I am with you.
‘If you say that it is weird and bullying to expect women to cover their faces, then I totally agree – and I would add that I can find no scriptural authority for the practice in the Koran.
‘I would go further and say that it is absolutely ridiculous that people should choose to go around looking like letter boxes; and I thoroughly dislike any attempt by any – invariably male – government to encourage such demonstrations of ‘modesty’, notably the extraordinary exhortations of President Ramzan Kadyrov of Chechnya, who has told the men of his country to splat their women with paintballs if they fail to cover their heads.’
What are the controversies surrounding the burqa and niqab?
The burqa and niqab have both been mired in controversy in the West, where politicians have warned that women are being forced to cover up.
Here are some of the controversies surrounding the head coverings:
Terror suspects have escaped surveillance by disguising themselves in burqas
Mohammed Ahmed Mohamed, escaped surveillance by disguising himself as a woman in a burqa in November 2013.
He went missing from a mosque in Acton, west London, after putting on the female covering.
A trial was halted after a Muslim woman refused to take off her niqab in the dock in August 2013.
Judge Peter Murphy would not accept a plea from the 21-year-old defendant because he said he could not be sure that the person in the dock was who she claimed to be.
Several European countries seek to ban or impose restrictions on wearing the burqa
In 2010 France passed a law to ban the burqa. The European Court of Human Rights later upheld the prohibition, saying it accepted France’s argument that it helped its citizens live together.
In December 2016, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the wearing of in Germany ‘wherever it is legally possible’.
He said that if a constituent came to his office with with her face obscured ‘I should feel fully entitled – like Jack Straw – to ask her to remove it so that I could talk to her properly’.
He added: ‘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.’
But he said that he does not agree with Denmark’s recent decision to impose a total ban on burkas and niqabs.
He said: ‘If you go for a total ban, you play into the hands of those who want to politicise and dramatise the so-called clash of civilisations; and you fan the flames of grievance.
‘You risk turning people into martyrs, and you risk a general crackdown on any public symbols of religious affiliation, and you may simply make the problem worse.’
His intervention came days after a woman, 28, wearing a niqab became the first person in Denmark to be fined under new laws banning full-face Islamic veils.
The woman was fined after getting into a fight with another woman, who had tried to tear of her veil.
She was told by police she would be fined 1,000 kroner (£119.37) in the post, and was told to remove her veil or leave the public space, but decided to keep on her headwear.
Denmark introduced a law on August 1 where people wearing a burqa, which covers a person’s entire face, or a niqab, which only shows the eyes, while in public carries a fine of 1,000 kroner.
Balaclavas, masks, false beards and other accessories are included in the ban.
Mr Johnson’s comments were slammed by Labour, with Naz Shah, Labour’s Shadow Equalities Minister, saying: ‘Boris Johnson’s latest racist insults can not be laughed off, like they often are.
‘Saying Muslim women look like letterboxes, comparing them to bank robbers and describing Islam as a ‘problem’ was a calculated attack and published in a national newspaper.
‘Theresa May must condemn this blatant Islamophobia and Boris Johnson must apologise.’
And Mr Lammy, the Labour MP for Tottenham, said: ‘Muslim women are having their burkas pulled off by thugs in our streets & 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.’
Mrs May’s official spokesman said: ‘The long-standing Government position on this is clear, that we do not support a ban on the wearing of the veil in public.
‘Such a prescriptive approach would be not in keeping with British values of religious tolerance and gender equality.’