UK PM Johnson offers qualified apology for remarks on Islam


FILE PHOTO: Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson visits the HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier in Portsmouth, Britain, May 21, 2021. Leon Neal/Pool via REUTERS

LONDON (Reuters) - British Prime Minister Boris Johnson issued a qualified apology for offence caused by his past remarks about Islam, speaking in a critical report into his Conservative Party which looked at discrimination including complaints of Islamophobia.

Johnson was interviewed for the report, commissioned by the ruling Conservatives in response to criticism of how it handled discrimination and complaints. The report was conducted independently by Professor Swaran Singh who has served as a Commissioner for the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

It cited several examples relating to Johnson, including a 2018 newspaper column in which he referred to women wearing burqas as "going around looking like letterboxes" and likened their appearance to bank robbers.

Johnson defended the article as a liberal defence of a Muslim woman’s right to choose what she wore.

"I do know that offence has been taken at things I’ve said, that people expect a person in my position to get things right, but in journalism you need to use language freely. I am obviously sorry for any offence taken," the report quoted Johnson as saying.

"Would I use some of the offending language from my past writings today? Now that I am Prime Minister, I would not."

Singh found that the party had not been active enough in challenging discrimination, its complaints procedure needed to be overhauled and its sanctions system for those who breached the rules was unclear.

"Judging by the extent of complaints and findings of misconduct by the Party itself that relate to anti-Muslim words and conduct, anti-Muslim sentiment remains a problem within the Party," the report's conclusions said.

The Conservative Party said it was considering the report's recommendations.

(Reporting by William James; Editing by Alistair Smout)

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