Boris Johnson had every right to take mickey out of religion in his burka comments

Chris Moncrieff
Chris Moncrieff

What sort of madness is this, when references to a letter box and bank robbers is threatening to tear the Conservative Party apart, limb from limb?

Boris Johnson’s description, in a newspaper article, of burkas looking like letter boxes, and making the women who wear them resemble bank robbers, has probably created more furore, nation wide, than any other political issue this year.

Boris Johnson brings tea for the press to drink outside his house in Thame on Sunday but refuses to speak about the burka row. Photo: Aaron Chown/PA Wire

Boris Johnson brings tea for the press to drink outside his house in Thame on Sunday but refuses to speak about the burka row. Photo: Aaron Chown/PA Wire

The Prime Minister, no less, has registered her disapproval at the former Foreign Secretary’s comments, there have been fortissimo demands for him to issue a grovelling apology, and the full panoply of an investigation has been mounted. Talk about using a sledgehammer to crack a nut.

Johnson, meanwhile, has now returned from holiday and at the time of writing has shown no sign of apologising. Quite right too. Taking the mickey out of religions is, in my opinion, perfectly in order - some people are bound to be offended, but that does not mean you have to say sorry.

At least one prominent Tory, the former Attorney General, Dominic Grieve, has said he would leave the party if Johnson became leader.

But is this really, as it has been characterised, a bid for the leadership, or simply a graphic way of saying what he really thinks about burkas? Johnson is not, in fact, advocating that they be banned in this country.

Those who criticise him could do worse than study these words of Voltaire: “I disapprove of what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

Boris has underlined his aloof disdain for the furore by totally ignoring the issue in his latest column.

I see that Sir Vince Cable, leader of the remnants of the Liberal Democrat Party has well and truly gone EU native. He says there should be a new referendum on Brexit because the centre of gravity on this issue has now fallen on the Remainers.

And he seems certain that a second referendum would go in favour of the Remainers and dish the Brexiteers. This is a typical EU ploy: If a vote in one of the member states brings up the ‘wrong’ result, they will order another vote until they get the ‘right’ one. A pretty shameful way of doing things.

However, Sir Vince’s plan is perhaps not quite so outrageous as that proposed by one of his predecessors, Nick Clegg, who said that in a second referendum young people should be given two votes each. Clegg had, of course, been booted out of Parliament before he came up with that crackpot idea.

But you have to ask Sir Vince one crucial question: If he noticed that the centre of gravity in Twickenham, his constituency, had moved and fallen on his opponents, would he resign from Parliament and create a by-electiom there?

In short, would he be prepared to put his own political career on the line, if he felt his constituents didn’t love him any more?

I very much doubt it, but such a scenario is on all fours with what he is advocating over Brexit.

Why can’t the Remainers accept the fact that they were soundly beaten in the Referendum, and instead help to make Brexit a success?

I see the Conservatives have sneaked into an undeserved four-point lead over Labour in the latest YouGov opinion poll.

But the Tories should pause before they start patting themselves on the back, because it looks as though these findings probably simply show they are less bad than the Opposition, and do not reflect much credit on the Government.

In fact, Ministers can at least in part thank Labour for this narrow lead - principally because the antisemitism row which has engulfed Labour, and which shows no sign of abating - has probably cost the party many, many Jewish votes.

Even so, the Prime Minister is facing grim warnings from within her own party that if she persists in her Chequers plan for Brexit, she could lose her job and the Tories could go down the Swanee at the next general election.

And so we have an ugly situation with the Conservatives brawling over Brexit and Boris Johnson, and Labour squabbling over antisemitism.

Incredibly, the party managers do not seem to have taken aboard that there is nothing the great British electorate like less than the spectacle of affluent politicians fighting among themselves so much, that they appear unable to do the work for which they are so handsomely paid.

They had better start mending their ways - and quickly - before the voters really do fall out of love with them.

The misnamed senior Tory MP James Cleverly has a foolproof way of combating cash point crime: Just don’t have any cash machines.

This would certainly eliminate this type of crime. But do the Conservatives want to win the next general election - or not?