Actor Rowan Atkinson has waded into the row over Boris Johnson’s controversial comments about women wearing burkas, saying he shouldn’t have to apologise.
The Blackadder and Mr Bean star Atkinson said the former Foreign Secretary’s comments were funny.
Mr Johnson is facing investigation by an independent panel after saying Muslim women wearing face coverings “look like letter boxes”, and comparing them to bank robbers and rebellious teenagers in a Telegraph column.
It is claimed his comments breached the Conservative Party’s code of conduct.
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.”
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.”
It’s not the first time Atkinson has got involved in controversy around free speech.
The TV funnyman spent years campaigning against legislation that eventually became the Racial and Religious Hatred Act, making it an offence to incite religious hatred.
Mr Johnson has also won the support of Tory former chief whip Andrew Mitchell, who said the Uxbridge MP had used “colourful” language but had not committed an offence.
Mr Mitchell told BBC Two’s Newsnight: “I don’t think he should apologise. But I think what’s important is that the procedures of the party now take place.
“This is quite an important issue about free speech and it’s got nothing to do with the dreadful events that take place over Enoch Powell and the Rivers of Blood speech.
“Boris was speaking out against a ban of the type that’s taken place in Denmark and some other countries.”
The Prime Minister, Tory chairman Brandon Lewis and Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson have all urged Mr Johnson to apologise in the Burka row.
But the former Cabinet minister, who is on holiday abroad, has made no response.
Sources close to the former Mayor of London have made clear that he stands by the article, in which he argued against a burka ban but said that the garment was “oppressive” and “ridiculous”.
Disciplinary action could lead to Mr Johnson being suspended or even expelled from the Conservative Party.