Banning face veils 'is not the answer' says Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson (Victoria Jones/PA) Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

Boris Johnson has hit out against calls to ban face-covering garments like the burka in public places.

The former foreign secretary said Denmark was wrong to impose fines for wearing the burka or niqab in the streets.

But he came under attack for saying Muslim women in burkas "look like letter boxes" and comparing them to bank robbers.

Denmark last week followed France, Germany, Austria and Belgium in banning the burka in public places.

A fine of around £120 has already been imposed on a woman wearing one in a shopping centre in the town of Horsholm, after another woman reportedly tried to tear it off.

Boris Johnson said Muslim women should be free to wear face-covering garments on the streets of Britain. Credit: PA

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Mr Johnson said he felt "fully entitled" to expect women to remove face coverings when talking to him at his MP’s surgery, and said schools and universities should be able to take the same approach if a student "turns up … looking like a bank robber."

"If you tell me that the burka is oppressive, then I am with you," he wrote.

"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’."

Labour MP David Lammy responded to Johnson's comments and branded him a "pound-shop Donald Trump."

Lammy also accused him of "fanning the flames of Islamophobia" for political advantage.

Mr Johnson wrote: "If Danish women really want to cover their faces, then it seems a bit extreme – all the caveats above understood – to stop them under all circumstances. I don’t propose we follow suit. A total ban is not the answer."

Businesses and government agencies should also be able to "enforce a dress code that enables their employees to interact with customers", including by allowing them to see their faces, said Mr Johnson.

But he added: "Such restrictions are not quite the same as telling a free-born adult woman what she may or may not wear, in a public place, when she is simply minding her own business.

"I am against a total ban because it is inevitably construed – rightly or wrongly – as being intended to make some point about Islam."

Denmark banned face veils from August 1. Credit: PA

The former foreign secretary added that a ban on burkas could lead to "a general crackdown on any public symbols of religious affiliation."

A total ban would give a boost to radicals who claim there is a "clash of civilisations" between Islam and the West, firing up grievance and turning women into "martyrs", he warned.