Boris Johnson’s racist insults, dog whistles and slurs

The Tory leadership candidate’s most egregious remarks.

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Boris Johnson could be the next prime minister. Here are some of his most egregious and distasteful remarks. 

1. Calling women wearing the burqa “letter boxes” and “bank robbers” 

Islamophobic incidents in which Muslim women have been called “letter boxes” have risen since Johnson described women wearing the burqa as “letter boxes” and “bank robbers” in Telegraph column last year.

According to Tell Mama, a group that monitors anti-Muslim incidents, there is a “direct link” between his words and the recent attacks on Muslim women. No attacks of this nature occurred the week prior to his column.

Johnson hasn’t apologised to the women he called “letter boxes” in public since his article was published. He wrote his remarks in the context of a spike in Islamophobic hate crime in the UK. Such crimes increased fivefold in the aftermath of the June 2017 London Bridge attacks, the same month as the terrorist attack on Finsbury Park mosque in north London. 

Muslim women, in particular, are vulnerable as the targets of the majority of Islamophobic attacks in the UK. According to Tell Mama, six out of ten victims of Islamophobia in 2017 were women.

2. Palling around with Steve Bannon 

Johnson has been in regular contact with far-right nationalist Steve Bannon  – Donald Trump’s former chief strategist – who has publicly supported him and believes people should wear the terms “racist” and “xenophobe” as a “medal”.

Bannon said in 2015 that “most people in the Middle East, at least 50 per cent, believe in being sharia-compliant. If you’re sharia-compliant or want to impose sharia law, the United States is the wrong place for you.”

Bannon has also called Islam “the most radical religion in the world”, declaring that Muslims have created “a fifth column here in the United States”. His worldview is that of a clash of civilisations, with the “Judeo-Christian West” caught in a “global existential war” against  “Islamic fascism”. Bannon’s stated aim was to establish The Movement, to export US extremism to Europe by uniting and supporting far-right parties and groups.

3. Writing a poem about the Turkish President having sex with a goat 

In May 2016, Johnson wrote a poem insulting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, suggesting he had sex with a goat.

4. Dismissing “part-Kenyan” Barack Obama’s views on Britain 

In April 2016, during the Brexit referendum campaign, he dismissed former US president Barack Obama’s views on EU membership because of the “part-Kenyan President’s ancestral dislike of the British empire”.

5. Describing Commonwealth citizens as “piccaninnies” with “watermelon smiles” 

His 2002 Telegraph column included racist insults against black people, citing “regular cheering crowds of flag-waving piccaninnies” in the Commonwealth and referring to “the tribal warriors… [who] all break out in watermelon smiles”.

6. Calling Papua New Guinea a country with “orgies of cannibalism and chief-killing” 

In 2006, Johnson described Papua New Guinea as a place of “orgies of cannibalism and chief-killing”.

7. Championing cheaper alcohol – in a speech at a Sikh temple 

In May 2017, Johnson lauded alcohol in a Sikh temple – recalling how trade tariffs on whisky between the UK and India were ended during a visit to Nirman Sewak Jatha Sikh Temple in Bristol. One worshipper pointed out: “That is against our religion.”

8. Joking about “dead bodies” in Libya 

Johnson belittled victims of the Libyan civil war at the 2017 Conservative Party Conference. “The only thing they’ve got to do is clear the dead bodies away and then we’ll be there,” he “joked” while talking about Libya’s potential to be the “next Dubai”.

9. Failing to secure the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe from Iran after mistakenly referring to her “teaching people journalism”

The British-Iranian dual citizen Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is still in an Iranian prison despite Johnson promising her family that he would do everything he could to secure her release. Zaghari-Ratcliffe was subjected to a second court case after Johnson erroneously told the foreign affairs select committee that she had been “teaching people journalism” in Iran. In reality, she was on holiday visiting relatives.

10. Calling Africa “that country” 

Johnson called the entire continent of Africa “that country” while speaking at the Conservative Party Conference three years ago.

11. Reciting a colonial-era poem at a sacred Buddhist site in Myanmar 

Johnson recited a colonial-era Rudyard Kipling poem in Myanmar – which voices the nostalgia of a British serviceman for the former UK colony – at a sacred Buddhist site in front of dignitaries during an official visit in 2017. The British ambassador stopped him in his tracks: “No. Not appropriate.”

12. Comparing the EU to Hitler 

Johnson compared the EU to Hitler during the EU referendum campaign. “Napoleon, Hitler, various people tried this out, and it ends tragically,” he told the Telegraph of the project of European unification. “The EU is an attempt to do this by different methods.”

13. Calling gay men “tank-topped bumboys”

In a 1998 Telegraph column uncovered by Business Insider, Johnson wrote that Peter Mandelson’s resignation from the Labour government saw “tank-topped bumboys blub” in “the Ministry of Sound” nightclub, and “the soft-lit Soho drinking clubs frequented by Mandy and his pals”, adding that the “lipstick” would come away from Tony Blair’s government.

14. Comparing gay marriage to bestiality

In 2001, Johnson wrote in his book Friends, Voters, Countrymen that “if gay marriage was OK – and I was uncertain on the issue – then I saw no reason in principle why a union should not be consecrated between three men, as well as two men, or indeed three men and a dog”.

15. Criticising the “appalling agenda” of “teaching homosexuality in schools”

Writing for the Spectator in 2000, Johnson attacked the then Labour government for an “appalling agenda, encouraging the teaching of homosexuality in schools, and all the rest of it”.

16. Declaring that voting Tory will give your wife “bigger breasts”

In 2005, while campaigning to be re-elected as Conservative MP for Henley, he told residents that “voting Tory will cause your wife to have bigger breasts”.

17. Saying Malaysian women go to university to “find men to marry”

When he hosted the former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak at City Hall as mayor of London in 2013, he responded to Razak’s point that 68 per cent of Malaysian university intake would be women with the suggestion: “They’ve got to find men to marry.”

18. Advising the next Spectator editor to “pat her [the publisher] on the bottom and send her on her way”

“Just pat her on the bottom and send her on her way,”  Johnson said of the Spectator’s then publisher Kimberly Quinn, in a 2005 farewell piece giving advice to his successor.

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This piece is taken from the Johnson audit series. 

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