Boris Johnson’s comments about the niqab aren’t brave – they’re just rude

Johnson’s defenders are moving the goalposts – it is not his argument, but his language, that people are objecting to.

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Boris Johnson has refused to apologise, this time for attacking Muslim women who wear the full-face veil. The former foreign secretary used his Telegraph column to explain why he opposes a ban on the niqab, which has been implemented in a growing number of European countries, but he also interspersed his copy with references to the women who wear them as looking like letter boxes and bank robbers.

Sources close to Johnson have said that it is “ridiculous that these issues are being attacked” and warns against falling into “the trap of shutting down the debates on these difficult issues”.

There are a number of problems here, and it is tricky to know when to begin, but it is worth pointing out that Johnson was not talking about a “difficult issue”: describing his personal opposition to the burqa as an idea and to the government banning it is not a difficult or bold take. It is one commanding a broad chunk of public support, that is also well calibrated to win grudging support from both people who want a ban and those whose opposition to one is more strongly felt than Johnson’s. In any case, people are objecting not to Johnson’s views on the veil but his decision to mock the women who wear them.

Liz Truss telling homeowners that to solve the property crisis there will have to be new developments near them and that their house prices will no longer continue to climb is a difficult issue. Tim Farron arguing for a penny increase on income tax for everyone to fund the NHS is a difficult issue. Whether or not you should make fun of people and compare them to letter boxes in a national newspaper is not a difficult issue, but a question of basic politeness.

Stephen Bush is political editor of the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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