Rowan Atkinson defends Boris Johnson over burka comments

UK PM May urges Boris Johnson to apologise for burqa comments

The actor, known for his comedy performances in Mr Bean and Blackadder, said the remarks were amusing.

"You should really only apologise for a bad joke".

The MP voiced unhappiness that Johnson had been referred to the party's internal disciplinary process on Thursday, and argued that the former foreign secretary had a right to free speech, even if people took offence at his remarks.

Following complaints and his refusal to apologise, he now faces an inquiry into whether he broke his Conservative party's code of conduct. "On that basis, no apology is required", he added.

The Racial and Religious Hatred Act became law in 2007 and it was introduced to punish extremists who incite religious hatred, but Atkinson said it was a "wholly inappropriate response" and could stifle freedom of speech.

"Boris was speaking out against a ban of the type that's taken place in Denmark and some other countries".

Despite the row engulfing the Conservatives, the latest YouGov poll for The Times put the party four points ahead.

If he is found to have broken the party's code of conduct, he could be thrown out of it.

Labour, which has faced continued pressure over its handling of anti-Semitism in the party, fell three points to 35%.

"It's not the job of the Prime Minister to tell backbenchers what to do".

But the former Cabinet minister, who is on holiday overseas, has made no response.

Senior Tory figures told The Daily Telegraph that they do not expect Mr Johnson to be suspended or have the whip withdrawn.

The complaints against Mr Johnson, which are now being assessed by an "investigating officer", may be dismissed if they are deemed "trivial".

Of the 75 emails he had received about the issue, 15 were supportive while the rest "were vile".

Mr Mitchell retorted: "We must keep some perspective; I don't agree with what Boris said - I think women should be allowed to wear what they want - but I do think we must careful not to go over the top on this".

- YouGov interviewed 1,675 adults in Britain on August 8 and 9.

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