Tower Hamlets mayor slams Boris Johnson over ‘incredibly offensive’ burka comparison

PUBLISHED: 17:58 10 August 2018 | UPDATED: 18:08 10 August 2018

Two women wearing a full burkha. Pic: Isabel Infantes

Two women wearing a full burkha. Pic: Isabel Infantes


The mayor of Tower Hamlets council has accused Boris Johnson of “incredibly offensive” behaviour after he compared women who wear burkas to bank robbers and letter boxes.

Boris Johnson has described woman wearing burkas to bank robbers and letter boxes. Pic PABoris Johnson has described woman wearing burkas to bank robbers and letter boxes. Pic PA

John Biggs described the comments by the former Foreign Secretary made in a Daily Telegraph article as “simply unacceptable”.

Tower Hamlets has one of the largest Muslim populations in the UK with almost 40 per cent of residents saying they belong to the religion, according to the 2011 Census.

Mr Biggs said: “The language used in Boris Johnson’s article is incredibly offensive and insensitive, people should be free to decide what they wear.”

The burka is worn by a minority of Muslim women to cover the body and face in public. It has been banned in a number of European countries, including Austria, France, Belgium and Denmark.

Mayor John Biggs is calling for Boris Johnson to apologise.  Picture: Mike BrookeMayor John Biggs is calling for Boris Johnson to apologise. Picture: Mike Brooke

In his column Mr Johnson applauded the Danes for their liberal “easy going” attitudes but said he was surprised the government had banned the dress, imposing fines on women who wear it in public. He added that it is not a step the UK should follow.

He wrote: “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’.” He added: “I am against a total ban because it is inevitably construed – rightly or wrongly – as being intended to make some point about Islam.

“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.”

Mr Biggs said Mr Johnson should issue a “full apology” for the comments.

“In his column he argues against a full ban on wearing the burka as is the case in several other European countries, but he then goes on to use provocative and insulting language about people who choose to wear a burka,” he said.

“This is simply unacceptable. In Tower Hamlets we are one community and respect each other’s beliefs. Boris needs to offer a full apology for his comments.”

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