Boris Johnson refuses to apologise for 'racist' remarks as he is challenged to applause by MPs during PMQs

Katy Clifton
Boris Johnson was asked to apologise by Labour MP Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi: AFP

Boris Johnson refused to apologise for “racist” remarks when he was challenged during PMQs over his description of women in burkas as looking like letter boxes and bank robbers.

MPs burst into applause in the House of Commons after Labour's Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi demanded the PM apologise for his comments in a Telegraph column about Muslim women who wear a veil.

Mr Singh Dheshi said: "I understand the hurt and the pain felt by Muslim women when they are called bank robbers and letterboxes". He then called on Mr Johnson to "apologise for his derogatory and racist remarks which have led to a spike in hate crimes".

His remarks were welcomed by two rounds of applause.

Labour MP Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi in the Commons (AFP/Getty Images)

In response, Mr Johnson did not apologise but said he was defending everyone’s right to wear whatever they want, adding that he speaks as someone with Muslim ancestors.

Mr Johnson replied: “If he took the trouble to read the article in question he would see that it was a strong liberal defence of everyone’s right to wear whatever they want in this country.

“And I speak as someone who’s not only proud to have Muslim ancestors but to be related to Sikhs such as himself, and I’m also proud to say that under this Government we have the most diverse cabinet in the history of this country. We truly reflect modern Britain.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaking during his first PMQs (AFP/Getty Images)

Mr Singh Dhesi also asked the Prime Minister when he will order an inquiry into Islamophobia in the Conservative Party, saying: "The Prime Minister and the Chancellor promised they would have an urgent inquiry into Islamophobia on television."

But in his response to Mr Singh Dhesi, Mr Johnson added: "There has been no ounce of an apology from the Labour Party for the anti-Semitism which is deep in their ranks."

Applause in the Commons are usually deemed out of order, however Speaker John Bercow did not initially intervene to reprimand those involved despite calls from Tory MPs to do so. Mr Bercow intervened during the second round of applause.

Labour MP Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi (AFP/Getty Images)

MPs took to Twitter after PMQs to praise Mr Singh Dheshi’s challenge of the Prime Minister.

David Lammy wrote: "Proud and emotional to witness @TanDhesi hold Boris Johnson to account for his Islamophobic attack on Muslim women. The House was full of applause. We will not accept Johnson's hard-right politics of hate."

Luke Pollard said: “So very proud of my Labour MP colleague for calling out the Prime Minister’s racist remarks towards Muslims.”

“We have to call out hate wherever it arises: in my party, in other people’s parties and in our society,” he added alongside #noplaceforhate.

Clive Lewis added: “@TanDhesi just exploded the hypocritical racism of the current PM. Outstanding contribution...”

“Proud and emotional to witness @TanDhesi hold Boris Johnson to account for his Islamophobic attack on Muslim women,” Labour MP David Lammy wrote.

“The House was full of applause. We will not accept Johnson's hard-right politics of hate.”