The Tory party chairman today told Boris Johnson he must apologise for saying women who wear burqas look like letter boxes and bank robbers.
Brandon Lewis spoke out after the former foreign secretary was accused of ‘bigotry’ and ‘dog whistle politics’.
Mr Johnson’s comments have sparked outrage with Baroness Warsi, a Tory peer and ex minister, accusing him of using Muslim women as a political ‘football’ to cynically increase his poll ratings.
Two serving ministers – who until last month worked under Mr Johnson – have also condemned his remarks.
Foreign Office minister Alistair Burt today branded the remarks ‘offensive’ while his colleague Lord Ahmad accused him of ‘belittling’ the Muslim faith.
Mr Lewis then tweeted: ‘I agree with @AlistairBurtUK. I have asked @BorisJohnson to apologise’.
While Mohamed Amin, chairman of the Conservative Muslim forum, said the remarks were ‘deplorable’.
Tories demanded that Theresa May discipline the former Foreign Secretary over the controversial comments.
Mr Johnson sparked controversy after making the comments in his weekly newspaper column yesterday.
The Tory MP said the Muslim head veils are ‘oppressive’ for women and 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.
He said it is ‘weird and bullying’ to expect women to cover up, and added: ‘I would go further and say that it is absolutely ridiculous that people should choose to go around looking like letter boxes.’
Last night senior Muslim Conservatives rounded on Mr Johnson over the comments – and urged the Prime Minister to take action against him.
Baroness Warsi told Channel 4 News that the comments were ‘offensive’ and amounted to ‘dog whistle politics’.
She added: ‘I think it is not the first time that Boris has tried to make a leadership bid, and Boris was aware of the kind of impact these words would have.
‘What I am really offended by is that Muslim women need to stop being a convenient political football to increase poll ratings amongst the Tory faithful.
‘Muslim women should not be a useful political battleground for old Etonians.
‘This has happened before it is crass and it must be condemned by the leadership, right from the Prime Minister down.’
And she compared Mr Johnson to Steve Bannon – the former Donald Trump adviser and founder of the right-wing website Breitbart.
She said: ‘‘This is literally the kind of bigotry of Bannon and the tactics of Trump finding itself into now mainstream British politics.’
And Mr Amin accused Britain’s ex Foreign Secretary of pandering to prejudice and hate.
He told BBC One Newsnight’s Programme: ‘I was horrified by the article. This should have been a good article about opposing the Danish niqab ban, but instead Boris spent half the article slagging off Muslim women….
‘He is pandering to those people in our society who think that Muslims are alien and that Islam has no place in Britain. Why he is doing that I don’t understand.’
I would like the party leader to pull Boris into her office to reprimand him and to say if you do this again we will withdraw the whip.’
He said the Tory party needs to ‘get a grip’ on the problem.
And today Mr Burt told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: ‘I would never have made such a comment – there is a degree of offence in that.’
Lord Ahmad said on Twitter: ‘ Boris Johnson comments on the comparisons he makes about women who wear a face veil have caused offence to British Muslims &beyond-ofcourse U can have an opinion or criticise religious practices BUT a point can be made without belittling a faith-respect is what defines our nation.’
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.’
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 burqas 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.