Rowan Atkinson among those leaping to Boris Johnson's defence over burka comments

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London British actor and comedian Rowan Atkinson, best known around the world for his role as Mr Bean, has defended former United Kingdom foreign secretary Boris Johnson over comments he made about the burqa.

It has prompted a furious backlash from Tory MPs who accused Brandon Lewis, the chairman of the Conservative Party, of mounting a "witch hunt" and attempting to "kneecap" Mr Johnson.

A Conservative MP has said it is a "very dark day" for United Kingdom democracy and free speech over the independent investigation into Boris Johnson's comments about the burqa.

Johnson resigned as Britain's top diplomat a month ago after claiming that Prime Minister Theresa May's proposals for a soft exit from the European Union were killing the dream of a clear, decisive split from the bloc.

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Ex-Mayor of London Boris, 54, said in his Daily Telegraph column Muslim women who wear a burka "look like letterboxes", comparing them to "bank robbers".

"You should really only apologize for a bad joke. On that basis, no apology is required", he wrote, in a letter to the Times.

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

But others have defended the former foreign secretary, saying he has the right to freedom of speech.

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"The burqa and niqab are disgusting tribal ninja-like garments that are pre-Islamic, non-Koranic and therefore un-Muslim", he wrote in The Times. If this goes ahead, one Tory MP told The Times it would result in "civil war" in the party.

"You may not agree with the tone or the jokes, but we have a thing called freedom of speech in this country", Duncan Smith told the BBC's Today programme.

But with anger from the Brexit wing of the party over even starting the process, party headquarters confirmed that Mr Lewis - who has already criticised Mr Johnson's comments - would not pick the panel.

"I fear an eruption of anger amongst our party's core voters and grassroots activities if this obsessive political correctness doesn't stop".

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The letter also said that Johnson's choice of Islamophobic words was deliberate and "was made to inflame tensions in a way that makes it easier for bigots to justify hate crime against us", adding further support to Tory peer Lord Sheik's request that Johnson lose the party whip, meaning he would no longer represent the party. "Nevertheless we do so because we believe it is a means to get closer to God", the women said in a letter.

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