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Boris Johnson told by Tory chair to apologise for burka comments

Boris Johnson told by Tory chair to apologise for burka comments

Brandon Lewis has asked the former foreign secretary to say sorry after he said the full-face veils look "ridiculous".

'It is ridiculous that these views are being attacked - we must not fall into the trap of shutting down the debate on hard issues, ' said the source.

"It is a joke but in very, very bad taste", he said, adding that the former foreign secretary had a "weird sense of humour".

Lewis said he agreed with Foreign Office minister Alistair Burt that Johnson's comments had a "degree of offence".

The first Muslim female to sit in a British cabinet, ex-Conservative chairwoman Lady Warsi, called for the party to take disciplinary action if the apology did not materialise.

Burt's intervention makes him the most senior Tory frontbencher to publicly criticise Johnson, and will put Theresa May under pressure to condemn the inflammatory remarks.

His column drew criticism from Muslim groups and fellow politicians.

The shadow minister for women and equalities said his remarks would be "seized on by the far right" and told how she was appalled by "this kind of ugly and naked Islamophobia".

A source close to Mr Johnson made clear he was not retracting his comments.

The Muslim Council of Britain said Mr Johnson's "intentional usage of the words" appeared to be an attempt to "pander to the far right".

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But he said: "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".

"Muslim women should not be a useful political battleground for Old Etonians", she told Channel 4 News, referring to the private school popular with Britain's political elite.

"I do think that we all have to be very careful about the language and terms we use, and some of the terms Boris used describing people's appearance obviously have offended", she said.

Johnson came out against calls for a ban on the face-covering veils in public places - but compared their wearers to rebellious teenagers.

The burka is a full face covering that is associated with a conservative interpretation of Islam.

Many expect Ms May to face a leadership challenge if faltering Brexit negotiations don't improve.

In his Daily Telegraph column, Mr Johnson - who last month quit the government in protest at Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit policy - was commenting on the introduction of a burka ban in Denmark.

Warsi said Johnson was hoping to attract support from right-wing Conservatives for an eventual leadership bid, and called for an independent inquiry into Islamophobia in the party.

He added that he could not find scriptural authority for the dress code in the Koran.

Mr Johnson said he opposed banning burkas and other face-covering garments, but wrote that it was, "absolutely ridiculous that people should choose to go around looking like letter boxes".