Immigration Minister says UK won’t ban veil
IMMIGRATION Minister Damien Green believes banning the burka in Britain would be a “rather un-British thing to do.”
His comments, made to the Sunday Telegraph, come as the debate surrounding the face veil grips Europe. French parliamentarians voted last week to outlaw full-face veils, including burkas, in public. While in Spain the issue to ban the burka will be debated this week.
In Britain however, the government is resisting calls to follow suit – despite individual calls from within the party to outlaw the face veil.
Tory MPs who back a ban include Philip Hollobone, who has tabled a private member’s Bill that would make it illegal for anyone to cover his or her face in public. Mr Hollobone, the MP for Kettering, said that he would refuse to hold any constituency meetings with women wearing burkas.
But Mr Green said Britain was a “tolerant and mutually respectful society” and as such banning the veil would be “rather un-British.”
“I stand personally on the feeling that telling people what they can and can’t wear, if they’re just walking down the street, is a rather un-British thing to do,” he told the Sunday Telegraph. “We’re a tolerant and mutually respectful society.
“There are times, clearly, when you’ve got to be able to identify yourself, and people have got to be able to see your face, but I think it’s very unlikely and it would be undesirable for the British Parliament to try and pass a law dictating what people wore.
“I think very few women in France actually wear the burka. They [the French parliament] are doing it for demonstration effects.
“The French political culture is very different. They are an aggressively secular state. They can ban the burka; they ban crucifixes in schools and things like that.
“We have schools run explicitly by religions. I think there’s absolutely no read-across to immigration policy from what the French are doing about the burka.”
Mr Green’s views were also backed by Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman who said women were “empowered” by the freedom to wear the face coverings.
She said: “I don’t, living in this country as a woman, want to be told what I can and can’t wear. I’ve been out to Afghanistan and I think I understand much better as a result of actually visiting why a lot of Muslim women want to wear the burka.
“It is part of their culture, it is part of understanding that they choose to go out in the burka and I think those that live in this country, if they choose to wear a burka, should be free to do so.
“We are a free country, we attach importance to people being free and for a woman it is empowering to be able to choose each morning when you wake up what you wear.”
The comments made by Mr Green and Ms Spelman were welcomed by Muslim groups.
Mohammed Shafiq, Chief Executive of the Ramadhan Foundation, said: “I have always supported the right of women to choose how they dress and any attempt to try to stifle the right of Muslim women as shown by Philip Hollobone MP will be strongly challenged, that is why I welcome the commitment shown by the Immigration Minister Damian Green MP and the Environment Secretary Caroline Spellman MP to the UK Government never banning the Burka and Veil.
“The uniqueness of this great nation is its freedom; the right how to dress speak and live according to one’s own choice, that is why the right of Muslim women to wear the veil should be protected by this Government and I welcome their commitment to freedom.”