Boris Johnson
Boris Johnson

London — Boris Johnson, the UK’s former foreign secretary, is to be investigated by the Conservative Party after he ridiculed Muslim women who wear burqas, saying they look like "letter boxes" and "bank robbers".

The party received a series of complaints about the former mayor of London, who quit Prime Minister Theresa May’s cabinet in July in protest at her Brexit policy, and an independent panel will decide whether he has broken the party’s code of conduct, an official said.

In a column for the Daily Telegraph newspaper on Monday, Johnson argued against a ban on the burqa, while saying people who wear the garment looked "ridiculous". He has remained silent since then, in the face of calls from May and Conservative Party chairman Brandon Lewis to apologise.

While Johnson’s opposition to a ban like those introduced in some other European countries matches the government position, the prime minister said his choice of words was offensive.

"As we discuss these issues, it’s imperative that everybody is careful of the language that they use," May said on Tuesday. "It’s very clear that that language that Boris used has offended people."

The Conservative Party would investigate the comments in the same way it did whenever it received complaints, according to the official, who asked not to be named because the process was confidential.

Mohamed Sheikh, a member of the House of Lords and founder of the Conservative Muslim Forum, said on Tuesday that Johnson, who has been touted as a future leader, should be thrown out of the party. "He’s not a super human being, he’s a member of the party," he told the BBC’s Newsnight programme.

Dominic Grieve, a Tory legislator who opposes Johnson’s hard line of leaving the EU, said he would quit the party if Johnson ever became leader.

Grieve told BBC News on Wednesday that he was embarrassed by the comments and did not see Johnson as "a fit and proper person" to lead any political party.

The Conservative Party declined to comment on the disciplinary proceedings. "The code of conduct process is strictly confidential", it said in a statement.