Actor and comedian Rowan Atkinson defends Johnson in burqa row

Mr Bean an imam and a rabbi walk into Boris burqa furore

Mr Bean an imam and a rabbi walk into Boris burqa furore

It was in his weekly Telegraph column that Mr Johnson made comments which sparked demands for an apology from a host of figures from all sides of politics, including Theresa May, Tory chairman Brandon Lewis and Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson.

"And I don't believe that just because somebody takes offence that means that therefore there has to be an inquiry which means that the individual can be shut down in terms of their ability to say what they believe".

If Mr Johnson's comments are found to have breached the party code of conduct, he may face a string of punitive measures.

The letter signed by 100 women said Johnson made a "deliberate choice" to inflame tensions, which could pave the way for "bigots to justify hate crime".

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

Under party rules, the head of the investigation may dismiss complaints that are obviously trivial or lacking in merit and those which can not fairly be investigated.

But writing in a letter to The Times, Rowan Atkinson said: "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".

The Tory Party announced yesterday that it had received a flurry of complaints about Mr Johnson - automatically triggering an investigation into him.

He explained there was a complaints procedure within the Conservative Party and that the Party had a mechanism for dealing with these issues.

Johnson also won support from an unlikely source when comedian Rowan Atkinson waded into the furore. "On that basis, no apology is required", he added. "Extraordinary to think he was foreign secretary only a few weeks ago".

Defending Mr Johnson on BBC's Newsnight programme, Tory colleague and fellow MP Andrew Mitchell said: "We believe in free speech in this country; and free speech, by definition, includes the fact that some people will be offended by what we say".

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