London, Aug 9: The row over Britain's former foreign secretary Boris Johnson's disparaging remark comparing burqa-clad women to letter boxes and bank robbers refuses to die down, forcing the Conservative party to launch disciplinary action against him today. In a newspaper article on Monday, Johnson had opposed a complete ban on Islamic clothing in line with the recent burqa ban in Denmark, but said that "it was absolutely ridiculous that people should choose to go around looking like letter boxes". The ruling party has reportedly received dozens of complaints about his comments. The complaints will now be looked at by an independent panel. If the three-member panel find a breach of the party's code of conduct, they could refer Johnson to the party's board, which would have the power to suspend or expel him.
The party's code states that elected representatives must "lead by example to encourage and foster respect and tolerance" and not "use their position to bully, abuse, victimise, harass or unlawfully discriminate against others".
"The code of conduct process is strictly confidential," a Conservative party spokesperson said, refusing to elaborate on the procedure. The inquiry comes as the former Cabinet minister refused to buckle under pressure from Prime Minister Theresa May and many of his former UK Cabinet colleagues to apologise for his remarks. "I do think that we all have to be very careful about the language and terms we use," May said.
A senior Tory party Muslim peer, Lord Sheikh, called for him to be kicked out of the party, referred to as withdrawing the party whip. Johnson's remarks have come under severe criticism, with some branding them as a sign Islamophobia in the UK's ruling Conservative party. A hundred Muslim women who wear the niqab or burqa have signed a letter to Tory party chairman Brandon Lewis, calling on him to withdraw the Conservative whip from Johnson and launch an independent inquiry into Islamophobia in the party.
However, Johnson has also received some support for speaking out bluntly over the issue. A leading imam from at the Oxford Islamic Congregation, Dr Taj Hargey, said the MP and former Mayor of London should "not apologise for telling the truth".
"The burqa and niqab are hideous tribal ninja-like garments that are pre-Islamic, non-Koranic and therefore un-Muslim," he wrote in ‘The Times'. Scotland Yard was also forced to wade into the debate, with Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick saying that while many have found Johnson's remarks offensive, officers had decided that he did not commit an offence.
"I also know that many other people believe strongly that in the whole of the article, what Mr Johnson appears to have been attempting to do was to say that there shouldn't be a ban and that he was engaging in a legitimate debate," she said.
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