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Labour warns of rise of far right after Boris Johnson burka row

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell has called for anti-racist campaigners to emulate the 1970s Anti-Nazi League.

Boris Johnson said Muslim women wearing burkas look like bank robbers (Victoria Jones/PA)
Boris Johnson said Muslim women wearing burkas look like bank robbers (Victoria Jones/PA)

Labour has warned of a rise in far-right politics after Boris Johnson made inflammatory comments about Muslim women who wear face veils.

Lumping the former foreign secretary in with ex-English Defence League (EDL) leader Tommy Robinson and a group described as fascists who stormed a left-wing bookshop, John McDonnell called for a campaign of resistance.

Mr Johnson also faced criticism from one of his former Foreign Office deputies for his “offensive” comments.

Alistair Burt, minister for the Middle East, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I would never have made such a comment, I think there is a degree of offence in that, absolutely right.

“What he was trying to make a serious point about is the UK Government will not enforce any clothing restriction on anyone.”

Mr Burt added: “I wish he hadn’t accompanied it with a comment that I certainly wouldn’t make and I think many people would find offensive, yes.”

Mr Johnson was accused of stoking Islamophobia for political gain when he said Muslim women wearing burkas look like bank robbers.

The former Cabinet minister said he opposed a ban on face-covering veils, but said it was “absolutely ridiculous that people should choose to go around looking like letter boxes”.

A free pop festival in Victoria Park, Hackney, which brought to an end the Carnival Against the Nazis demonstration jointly organised by the Anti-Nazi League and Rock Against Racism (PA)

Stanley Johnson defended his son’s comments, telling Good Morning Britain: “Come on, come on. What about metaphor or simile? Come on, I think we are just picking holes here. I think people are whipping up a little mountain out of a molehill on this one, I really do.”

As well as highlighting Mr Johnson’s comments, Labour’s shadow chancellor raised concerns about the demonstrations over the jailing of Robinson.

The ex-EDL leader became a cause celebre for elements of the political right around the world when he was jailed for 13 months after being accused of contempt of court.

He was released from prison earlier this month but could still face jail over an allegation that he committed contempt of court by filming people in a criminal trial and broadcasting footage on social media.

Mr McDonnell also pointed to the protest at Bookmarks in Bloomsbury, central London, on Saturday as proof of a rise of the far right.

Ukip suspended three party members understood to be involved in the incident.

The bookshop said in a statement that “around a dozen mask-wearing fascists” attempted to intimidate staff and customers and to destroy books and other materials.

Mr McDonnell called for anti-racist campaigners to emulate the Anti-Nazi League, the group launched in the 1970s with the backing of the Socialist Workers Party and linked to Rock Against Racism, which brought together acts such as The Clash, Elvis Costello and Sham 69.

He said: “With the scale of Tommy Robinson demonstrations, the storming of Bookmarks bookshop, and now Boris Johnson’s Islamophobic comments, we can no longer ignore the rise of far-right politics in our society.

“Maybe it’s time for an Anti-Nazi League-type cultural and political campaign to resist.

“The Anti-Nazi League was an iconic movement over several decades that successfully combated the far right through the mass mobilisation of trade unionists and anti-racist campaigners.

“The ANL pioneered highly influential cultural movements like the Rock Against Racism, which attracted tens of thousands of people of all ages to anti-racist festivals and protests.

“We should seriously look at emulating the work of the ANL and Rock Against Racism at a time when the far right once again poses a genuine threat to our society.”

Naz Shah has written to International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt, who is also Women and Equalities Minister, and Tory party chairman Brandon Lewis over Mr Johnson’s comments.

The shadow minister for women and equalities said his remarks would be “seized on by the far right” and told how she was appalled by “this kind of ugly and naked Islamophobia”.

Ms Shah suggested if no action was taken against Mr Johnson, Muslims would not have faith in Tory pledges to stamp out Islamophobia.

“When Muslim women are being attacked in the street, his comments are dangerous and cannot be laughed off,” she said.

Press Association

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