Politics

Furious Sikh MP challenges Boris Johnson to apologise for ‘racist remarks’

MPs broke into applause as a furious Labour MP challenged Boris Johnson to apologise for his "letterbox" comments about women who wear face veils.

Slough MP Tan Dhesi, the first turban-wearing Sikh to be elected to Parliament, branded the Prime Minister's comments "racist" and "divisive" in a heated exchange during Prime Minister's Questions.

Taking to his feet during Johnson's first session of Prime Minister's Questions, Mr Dhesi said: "Mr Speaker, if I decide to wear a turban, or if you decide to wear a cross, or if he decides to wear a kippah or a skullcap, or if she decides to wear a hijab or a burkha, does that mean that it is open season for right-honourable members of this house to make derogatory and divisive remarks about our appearance?

"For those of us who from a young age have had to endure and face up to being called names such as towel-head or Taliban, or coming from Bongo-bongo Land, we can appreciate full well the hurt and pain felt by already vulnerable Muslim women when they are described as looking like bank robbers and letter boxes."


Mr Dhesi was referring to a 2018 column Mr Johnson wrote in the Daily Telegraph.

He went on to challenge the PM to apologise and keep his promise to hold an inquiry into Islamophobia in his party.

He said: "So rather than hide behind sham and whitewash investigations, when will the Prime Minister finally apologise for his derogatory and racist remarks which have led to a spike in hate crime.

"And given the increasing prevalence of such incidents within his party, when will the Prime Minister finally order an inquiry into Islamophobia within his party, something which he and his chancellor promised on national television."

But Johnson refused to apologise, instead attempting to justify the comments he had made.

He answered: "Can I just say to the honourable gentleman that if he took the trouble to read the article in question, he would see that it was a strong, liberal defence – as he began his question by saying – of everybody's right to wear whatever they want in this country.

"And I speak as someone who is not only proud to have Muslim ancestors, but to be related to Sikhs such as himself."


He went on to trumpet his top team being "the most diverse cabinet in the history of this country."

"We truly reflect modern Britain", he claimed, before attacking the Labour party over "the virus of anti-Semitism that is now rampant in their ranks.

Lib Dem Leader Jo Swinson said the Prime Minister's response were "appalling."

She added: "An apology is what was required, rather than some kind of justification that there is ever any acceptable context for the remarks such as he made in that column.

"He is the Prime Minister of our country. His words carry weight and he has to be more careful with what he says."

In the article, published in the Telegraph in August 2018 , Johnson argued against a "total" ban on wearing face veils in public.

But he also used the article to describe such garments as "weird" and "ridiculous" – and supported a ban in certain circumstances.

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