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Tory peer accuses Boris Johnson of making ‘hate crime more likely’

Exclusive: Sayeeda Warsi says burqa jibe adds to view that Muslim women are ‘fair game’
One of the Conservative party’s most high-profile Muslims has accused Boris Johnson of making “hate crime more likely” with an indefensible, “dog-whistle” reference to fully veiled Muslim women.
Sayeeda Warsi, writing in the Guardian on Wednesday, said the former foreign secretary had used rightwing, “alt-right” language in criticising the appearance of the burqa, which contributes to a view that “Muslim women are fair game”.
“As a feminist, what really disgusts me in this whole episode is that Muslim women are simply political fodder, their lives a convenient battleground on which to stake out a leadership bid,” Lady Warsi wrote.
“Well, this approach is not just offensive, it’s dangerous. Johnson’s words have once again validated the view of those that ‘other’ Muslims. They send out a message that Muslim women are fair game.
“What starts as useful targets for ‘colourful political language’ and the odd bit of toxic campaigning ends up in attacks on our streets.”
The peer wrote that she was setting out “precisely why his remarks are indefensible” and said the phrases he used signalled something else.
“He said, not only to those Muslim women who veil, but to many more who associate with a faith in which some women do, that you don’t belong here,” Warsi said.
“I refuse to accept that these phrases were some kind of mistake, and the offence inadvertent – Johnson is too intelligent and too calculating for that. No, this was all quite deliberate. His refusal to apologise supports that.
“He set out a liberal position, but he did it in a very alt-right way. This allowed him to dog-whistle: to say to particular elements of the party that he’s tough on Muslims. Yet again, he’s trying to have his cake and eat it.”
Arguing that anti-Muslim hate crime was often aimed at women wearing the veil, she added: “So, as much as Johnson thinks he’s being his usual clever self, he’s helping to create an environment in which hate crime is more likely.”
On Monday, Johnson wrote in the Telegraph comparing burqa-wearing women to letterboxes and bank robbers. The Conservative MP, who is considered a major leadership contender, has been told to apologise by Theresa May and the Tory chairman, Brandon Lewis, but has so far refused to do so.
Meanwhile, pressure on Johnson mounted across the Conservative party. A Tory peer said Johnson should have the whip withdrawn, while a cabinet member called on him to retract his words and use language more carefully.
Lord Sheikh, the founder of the Conservative Muslim Forum, set up to encourage British Muslims to get involved in political life, called for the Conservatives to withdraw the whip from Johnson.
“Take the whip from him. Why not? He’s not a super human being, he’s a member of the party. The party chairman, the prime minister has the right to take the whip … that’s the thing I’d like to see,” he told the BBC’s Newsnight.
Warsi also said the Conservatives needed to take action, but fell short of calling for the whip to be withdrawn. She argued in her article that Johnson needed to receive diversity training and she would provide it herself if necessary, but pointed out the party itself had allowed Islamophobia to emerge because it had failed to take action in other cases.
“Every time incidents like this occur in the party and there are no consequences, it sends out a clear message that you can get away with Islamophobia. It means that ugly comments can actually enhance reputations, rather than ruin them. If my party follows up on a demand for an apology with real action, then these comments would eventually become rare,” she said.
Further pressure was put on the former foreign secretary by the culture secretary, Jeremy Wright, who said Johnson should have chosen his language more carefully.
“When you are discussing a subject such as this, then I think describing it as people looking like letterboxes isn’t helpful. I think we should all choose our language with care,” he told the BBC’s Today programme on Wednesday.
Wright said he was “sure on reflection” that Johnson would want to reconsider the language he had used, but he sidestepped questions over whether the MP should have the whip removed, saying: “That’s not a decision for me.”
Eric Pickles, a former Tory chairman, told Today: “The very sensible thing would be for him to apologise.”
The peer and former communities secretary said he did not understand Johnson’s motives and claimed his comments had closed down the debate on face veils. “There are tensions now that exist within the community, a degree of hatred out there that I’ve not witnessed for a good few years,” he said.
Monitoring group Tell Mama said that a record number of anti-Muslim attacks and incidents of abuse were reported last year with women targeted disproportionately.
It said there had been a rise of 26% in verified reports of Islamophobic attacks in the UK in 2017, a total of 1,201. Six out of 10 victims were women, and a third of the attacks had taken place online.