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Rowan Atkinson backs Boris Johnson because ‘you should only ever apologise for a bad joke’

Criticism grows of Johnson's burka jibe

Rowan Atkinson has defended Boris Johnson after his controversial comments about women wearing burkas. The actor, known for his comedy performances in Mr Bean and Blackadder, said the remarks were funny. Atkinson wrote in a letter to The Times: ‘As a lifelong beneficiary of the freedom to make jokes about religion, I do think that Boris Johnson’s joke about wearers of the burka resembling letterboxes is a pretty good one.’ Rowan Atkinson has backed Boris Johnson saying the joke was funny

He added: ‘All jokes about religion cause offence, so it’s pointless apologising for them. ‘You should really only apologise for a bad joke. On that basis, no apology is required.’ Mum stabbed to death ‘after helping daughter to escape from arranged marriage’The Uxbridge MP said Muslim women wearing face coverings ‘look like letter boxes’, and compared them to bank robbers and rebellious teenagers in a Telegraph column. Mr Johnson is to face an investigation by an independent panel after complaints that his comments breached the Conservative Party’s code of conduct. Atkinson’s intervention in the Boris Johnson burka row is not the first time the comic actor has waded into controversy around free speech. Mr Johnson is facing calls to apologise but has so far refused. The Blackadder and Mr Bean star spent years campaigning against legislation that eventually made it an offence to incite religious hatred. The Racial and Religious Hatred Act, which became law in 2007, dogged Tony Blair’s government as it was repeatedly attacked by free speech campaigners on its way to the statute book. Council tells parents to remove paddling pools due to health and safety concerns

After a failed attempt to introduce the legislation in 2001, the government tried again in 2004 with the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act. At the time Atkinson said elements of the legislation, designed to punish extremists who incite religious hatred, were a ‘wholly inappropriate response’ and could stifle freedom of speech. The laws attempted to make a new offence of incitement to religious hatred to protect faith groups, particularly Muslims, from attacks. The Blackadder and Mr Bean star spent years campaigning against legislation that eventually made it an offence to incite religious hatred. He said: ‘To criticise a person for their race is manifestly irrational and ridiculous but to criticise their religion, that is a right. That is a freedom.’ The actor said he could think of ‘quite a few sketches’ that he had performed that could come under the remit of the proposed new law ‘in the right hand and with the right energy’. RAF veteran says council ‘stole’ his wartime diaries

The government eventually changed tack and the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill passed through Parliament in 2006. Atkinson said at the time: ‘With it, it seems to me, everybody wins. Those who seek to threaten religious communities will know that such behaviour has now been outlawed and those who have sought to retain the right to criticise and ridicule religious beliefs and practices now have those rights enshrined in legislation in a manner never previously achieved.’

 

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