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Tuesday, May 17, 2022

On Boris Johnson: It’s about him not the burqa

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Thank goodness Boris Johnson is no longer foreign secretary. This is always worth saying. But it is particularly worth saying after his tasteless newspaper column joke about Muslim women who wear the burqa. Given his track record, the chances of Mr Johnson saying the same thing while representing Britain would have been high. So the one redeeming thing about his comments is that they do not come with the imprimatur of the British government. For that relief, some thanks.

Mr Johnson was not interested in a discussion about the burqa. He is interested in himself. In so far as he will have thought about the effect of his remarks – which is doubtful – his primary concern will have been to be noticed. Mr Johnson craves attention. He also still craves the Conservative leadership, a job for which he is peculiarly ill-suited but which too many members of his party think he would do well. They could not be more wrong. Mr Johnson’s remarks therefore say something very disturbing about both him and the Tory party, as well as the kind of Britain that it would be our misfortune to suffer if he was ever to return to power in any shape.

Mesmerised by Brexit and the prejudices that drive it, the Conservative party is in danger of turning its back conclusively on the parts of the population that do not think this way. Mr Johnson does not care about that. He seeks to speak to and for the Tory grassroots, because they offer him his path to the leadership. Baroness Warsi was absolutely correct to call Mr Johnson out on this on Tuesday when she called the remarks “dog-whistle Islamophobia”.

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There are certainly plenty of voters who don’t like Muslims. But, by pandering to them, Mr Johnson deliberately erects a barrier between the Tory party and the minorities and social liberals whom David Cameron (and Mr Johnson when it suited him) tried to attract. The party chairman, Brandon Lewis, spoke for decent Tories when he called on Mr Johnson to apologise. But the damage did not start and will not end this week. The ever opportunist Mr Johnson and his backers are embarked on a project which, as John Harris wrote in these pages this week, has left behind any semblance of moderation and which dreams of a flag-waving, small-state, free-market utopia inhabited by people like them. Calls to

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