Atkinson leaps to Johnson's defence over burka 'joke'

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Boris Johnson has been defended by comedian Rowan Atkinson following his recent comments about burkas.

The actor, best-known for playing Mr Bean and Blackadder, described the remarks as funny.

The former foreign secretary has also won the support of ex-cabinet minister Andrew Mitchell, who called the comments “colourful” but not against the law.

The Conservative Party has decided Mr Johnson should be investigated by an independent panel following complaints his comments breached the Tories’ code of conduct.

The Uxbridge MP compared women who wear the burka to “bank robbers” and questioned why they would “go around looking like letter boxes”.

:: Johnson’s burka remarks ‘will encourage bigotry’

Atkinson wrote to The Times, saying: “As a lifelong beneficiary of the freedom to make jokes about religion, I do think that Boris Johnson’s joke about wearers of the burka resembling letterboxes is a pretty good one.”

“All jokes about religion cause offence, so it’s pointless apologising for them.

“You should really only apologise for a bad joke. On that basis, no apology is required.”

Image:
A woman wearing a burka joins a protest near Boris Johnson’s constituency office

Mr Mitchell, who was chief whip in 2012 and international development secretary before that, told BBC Two’s Newsnight: “I don’t think he should apologise.

“But I think what’s important is that the procedures of the party now take place.

“This is quite an important issue about free speech and it’s got nothing to do with the dreadful events that take place over Enoch Powell and the Rivers of Blood speech.

“Boris was speaking out against a ban of the type that’s taken place in Denmark and some other countries.”

:: Was burka blunder a gaffe too far for accident-prone Boris Johnson?

Mr Johnson was reacting to news the first person had been fined for wearing a full-face veil in public in Denmark, and used his Daily Telegraph article to warn against a similar “heavy-handed” movement in the UK.

The row over his comments has split the Conservatives, with the prime minister and others calling on the ex-cabinet secretary to apologise and others demanding he should lose the whip.

While a Sky data poll found most people disagreed with Mr Johnson over whether burkas should be banned in public (59% were in favour of a ban), six in 10 said it was not racist to described burka wearers as looking like letter boxes.

Slightly more (48%) thought he should not apologise for the comment, than those who thought he should (45%).

Mr Johnson, who is holidaying abroad, has made no response to demands for an apology and sources who are close to him have made clear he stands by the article.

Protesters took part in a demonstration outside his constituency office on Thursday afternoon.



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