A Sikh member of British Parliament won applause from his colleagues and praise from progressives around the world Wednesday when he gave an impassioned speech demanding that Prime Minister Boris Johnson publicly apologize for the racist, xenophobic rhetoric he’s spread as the country inches toward a possible exit from the European Union.
Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi, a Labour MP from Slough, stood up in Parliament to denounce Johnson, who took office in July with the approval of Conservative MPs and 160,000 party voters—or just 0.25 percent of the British public—after Theresa May stepped down, as “racist.”
“For those of us who from a young age have had to endure and face up to being called names such as towel-head, or Taliban, or coming from bongo-bongo land, we can fully appreciate the hurt and pain of already vulnerable Muslim women when they are described as looking like bank robbers and letterboxes,” Dhesi said.
“When will the prime minister finally apologize for his derogatory and racist remarks, which have led to a spike in hate crimes?” He added. “When will the prime minister order an inquiry into Islamophobia?”
The MP noted that Johnson promised a thorough investigation into hate crimes against Muslims and other marginalized communities, but has yet to follow through.
Dhesi’s statement drew applause from his fellow members, a rare occurrence in Parliament under ordinary circumstances.
Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn shared Dhesi’s remarks on social media, asking the public to watch the MP detail how Sikhs, Muslims, and other marginalized groups in the U.K have been affected by the Conservative Party’s push for Brexit.
Hours after Dhesi’s remarks, Parliament voted 329-300 against leaving the E.U. without first securing a deal for how the two entities would proceed afterwards.
In the U.S., Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.)—who has set herself apart from many of her colleagues by denouncing President Donald Trump as a racist—praised Dhesi for standing up to his country’s leader publicly and suggested that elected officials in the U.S. should show similar courage.
“In every corner of the globe and certainly here in America, every constituent deserves courageous representatives who could call out hate and bigotry,” Omar tweeted.
In a 2018 article, Johnson wrote that Muslim women dress like “bank robbers” and “letterboxes.”
Critics say the Brexit movement has used black and brown people in the U.K. as scapegoats, with the UK Independence Party releasing an ad in 2016 calling on British voters to “take back control of our borders” and saying immigration had reached a “breaking point.”
On social media, other observers offered their praise for Dhesi’s remarks in Parliament.
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