Sikh lawmaker gets applause after telling Johnson to apologize for 'racist remarks' about Muslim women

A Sikh lawmaker on Wednesday called for United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson to apologize for the “derogatory and racist remarks” he made last year about Muslim women.

Speaking during Johnson’s first formal question-and-answer session in the House of Commons, Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi excoriated the Tory leader for the way he described Muslim women in a newspaper column. In it, Johnson compared women wearing burqas to “letterboxes” or “bank robbers.” 

“For those of us who from a young age have had to endure and face up to being called names such as towel-head, or Taliban, or coming from bongo-bongo land, we can fully appreciate the hurt and pain of already vulnerable Muslim women when they are described as looking like bank robbers and letterboxes," Singh, a Labour Party politician who became the Commons' first turbaned Sikh in 2017, said before Parliament. 

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“So rather than hide behind sham and whitewash investigations, when will the prime minister finally apologize for his derogatory and racist remarks?” 

Singh went on to ask Johnson when he would order an inquiry into Islamophobia in the Conservative Party, noting that it was something he had promised on national television. The comments quickly ignited a round of applause from lawmakers. 

Johnson vociferously pushed back against the criticism, arguing that the column in question was a "strong liberal defense" of individuals' right to wear whatever they'd like in Britain. He also defended the diversity of his Cabinet, before calling on the Labour Party to apologize for the "virus of anti-Semitism that is now rampant in their ranks."

He did not address Singh's call for an inquiry into Islamophobia. 

Johnson faced widespread criticism in 2018 for the column in The Telegraph that deemed the burkha "oppressive" and "ridiculous." The monitoring organization Tell Mama revealed data this week showing that hate crimes against Muslims rose by 375 percent in the week after the column published, The Guardian reported

The contentious back-and-forth came amid a tumultuous week for Johnson. The prime minister suffered a significant defeat to his Brexit agenda on Tuesday, as lawmakers passed legislation designed to stop him from taking the U.K. out of the European Union without a formal deal.