UK Conservatives to investigate Boris Johnson burqa comments

FILE - In this file photo dated Thursday, June 21, 2018, Britain's Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson talks during a ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Warsaw, Poland. The chairman of Britain's governing Conservative Party Brandon Lewis on Tuesday Aug. 7, 2018, asked former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson to apologize for a newspaper column written by Johnson, that said burqa-wearing women looked like "letter boxes". (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski, FILE)

LONDON — Former British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson is facing a Conservative Party investigation over a column comparing women who wear face-covering veils to mailboxes and bank robbers.

The party has received complaints that the comments breach its code of conduct, and under Conservative rules they must be investigated by an independent panel. Possible penalties include expulsion from the party.

The party confirmed it had received complaints but declined to give details Thursday, saying that the process is confidential.

The Conservative code of conduct says members should "lead by example to encourage and foster respect and tolerance."

Johnson, who quit the government last month in a dispute over Brexit, wrote in the Daily Telegraph this week that it was "absolutely ridiculous that people should choose to go around looking like letter boxes." He said he opposed banning burqas and other face-covering garments worn by some Muslim women, but referred to a woman wearing the attire as "looking like a bank robber."

Johnson's comments were criticized by Muslim groups and politicians including Prime Minister Theresa May, who urged Johnson to apologize. He has not said sorry.

Tousle-headed Johnson is one of Britain's best-known politicians, a popular but divisive figure known for Latin quips and verbal blunders that have included calling Papua New Guineans cannibals and accusing people in Liverpool of "wallowing" in victimhood.

Critics claim Johnson is using the burqa comments to boost his appeal among right-wing members of the party. Many expect May to face a leadership challenge soon if faltering Brexit negotiations with the European Union don't improve — and Johnson is likely to be a contender to replace her.

He is popular with the pro-Brexit wing of the Conservative Party, which is deeply divided over its attitude to the EU. His Brexiteer credentials were bolstered when he resigned as foreign secretary in July, accusing May of killing "the Brexit dream" with her plan to seek close economic ties with the bloc after Brexit next year.

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