Boris Johnson (pictured in London last month) sparked a major political row after comparing women wearing burqas to letterboxes and bank robbers
Senior Tories have today rallied round to defend Boris Johnson in the burqa row – and slammed the rush to shut down free speech.
Tory MP and former party leader Iain Duncan Smith said the former Foreign Secretary has nothing to apologise for.
While ex whip Andrew Mitchell dismissed comparisons made between Mr Johnson’s comments and Enoch Powell’s notorious ‘rivers of blood’ speech.
The pro-Boris backlash is growing after the Tory Party yesterday announced that it has opened an investigation into Mr Johnson after he compared women wearing burqas with letterboxes and bank robbers.
Allies of the ex Cabinet minster tore into the probe and accused No10 of being behind a ‘witch hunt’ to ‘destroy’ Mr Johnson because they see him as a threat.
Speaking this morning, Mr Duncan Smith said he is ‘surprised’ at the furore over the column because he does not think there is ‘anything particularly wrong with the comments.
He said: ‘You may not agree with the tone or jokes, but we have a thing called freedom of speech in this country.
‘I don’t believe just because somebody takes offence that means therefore there has to be an inquiry into whether or not the individual can be shut down in terms of their ability to say what they believe.
‘He after all was defending the Government’s position because we are not going to ban burkas, we believe in people having the right to choose.’
He added: ‘We live in a land that has freedom of expression, freedom of speech, freedom of worship and freedom of choice. If you want to uphold those, there will always been some who take offence,
Senior Tory MPs Andrew Mitchell (pictured right) and Iain Duncan-Smith (pictured right) both rallied to his defence and said the hysterical rush to judgement ignores the importance of free speech to British society
‘I don’t think that an internal party system should be there to shut down MPs when they speech. I have to say you don’t always have to agree with what people say, but we do defend the right of people saying it.
‘Lots of people of different religions have had abusive things said about them in jokes by comedians, but we don’t immediately shut those people down, because we take offence.
Blackadder actor Rowan Atkinson backs Boris Johnson in burqa row
The comic actor, 63, said Boris Johnson must be free to make jokes about burqas otherwise free speech is under threat
Rowan Atkinson has defended Boris Johnson over his comments on women wearing burkas and said the former Foreign Secretary’s remarks were funny.
Mr Johnson is facing an investigation and could be disciplined by Conservative party bosses after saying women in burkas looked like ‘letterboxes’ and ‘bank robbers’.
Atkinson, 63, said: ‘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.’
The actor, known for his comedy performances in Blackadder and Mr Bean, wrote in a letter to the Times: ‘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.’
‘The reality here is that what he said and did was supporting the Government position, and I have to say I do hope that we will put an end to it.
‘After all what is the real issue? It is that other countries have banned the burka, he did not argue for that, we don’t want that, we believe in freedom of choice, but we also believe in freedom of speech.’
And Tory MP Mr Mitchell also defended the ex minister on BBC Two’s Newsnight programme last night.
He said: ‘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.’
The Tory Party announced yesterday that it had received a flurry of complaints about Mr Johnson – automatically triggering an investigation into him.
The ex Foreign Secretary faces being punished by party bosses and could even be kicked out of the party over the remarks, although this is very unlikely.
Under Tory Party rules, an investigating officer will now decide if Mr Johnson has flouted their code of conduct and if the probe should be referred on to a panel to grill him on.
Theresa May wil decide what punishment to mete out to her former minister.
The row has exposed bitter splits within the Tory Party, with many Remainer MPs using the controversy to stick the knife into Mr Johnson and say he is not fit to ever be party leader.
But Brexiteers have rallied to his defence and said that he simply said what many Britons are thinking.
And they were joined by Blackadder star Rowan Atkinson, who wrote to The Times warning against the crackdown on free speech.
The comedian, who also played Mr Bean, said: ‘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.’
Demonstrators outside the Hillingdon Conservative Association in Mr Johnson’s Uxbridge and South Ruislip constituency protest the former Foreign Secretary’s remarks on Thursday