Battle of the Burka

As might have been expected, the recent near-unanimous vote by the lower house of the French Parliament in favour of a ban on the wearing of full-face veils in public has prompted a further test of popular opinion on the subject in Britain, the fourth this year.

The survey was commissioned by Channel 5 News from YouGov. Fieldwork took place online between 14 and 16 July, among a representative sample of 2,205 adult Britons aged 18 and over. Computer tabulations of results are available at:

http://today.yougov.co.uk/sites/today.yougov.co.uk/files/YG-Archives-Pol-Channel5-burkhas-160710.pdf

Following a lengthy explanation about what the burka actually is, just one question was put to respondents: ‘To what extent do you agree or disagree with the following statement? “The burkha should be completely banned in Britain.”’

In other words, unlike other surveys, the question was not qualified by an explicit reference to a ban on wearing the garment in public.

In response, 67% of the total sample agreed with a ban on the burka (42% strongly and 25% somewhat), 27% disagreed and 6% had no opinion.

Support for a ban rose steadily with age, from just 46% among the 18-24s (with an identical proportion opposed) to 80% for those who were 55 and over. Figures for the intervening cohorts were: 55% for the 25-34s, 65% for the 35-44s and 71% for the 45-54s.

Other sub-groups among whom support for a ban exceeded 70% were: manual workers (71%), residents of the North of England and Wales (71% each), married persons (74%), the widowed (73%) and retired people (83%).

Disregarding the nuances of question-wording, approval of some form of ban on the burka has edged up in Britain from 52% in January to 57% in February to 62% in April-May to 67% in July.

Whatever the strength of public opinion, and notwithstanding the private member’s bill tabled by Philip Hollobone (Conservative MP for Kettering) which would make it illegal for anybody to cover their face in public, prospects for an early ban on the burka in Britain seem remote.

Damian Green, Immigration Minister in the Coalition Government, has stated recently that a ban on the burka would be ‘a rather un-British thing’, running contrary to the conventions of ‘a tolerant and mutually respectful society’.

Meanwhile, Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman has made a staunch defence of a woman’s right to wear the burka, on the grounds of freedom, even describing the garment as ‘empowering’.

It is likewise interesting to note that the lower chamber of the Spanish Parliament has just declined to follow France’s lead, rejecting the ban by 183 votes to 162. However, the lower house of the Belgian Parliament has voted in favour of a ban.


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