LONDON (AP) — Republican strategist Steve Bannon weighed into British politics Sunday in a wide-ranging interview in which he defended former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson’s comments about Muslim face veils and praised a controversial British far-right leader.
The former aide to President Donald Trump said Johnson had “nothing to apologize for” and should not “bow at the altar of political correctness” after he was criticized for saying women who wear burqas look like “letterboxes” and “bank robbers.”
Johnson made the comments in a newspaper column that argued against banning full-face veils, as Denmark has done.
“Excuse me, didn’t he actually support the wearing of the veil?” Bannon told the Sunday Times. “His entire argument revolves around not wanting to ban the burqa, but arguing that he agrees that it’s an oppressive garment and that there is no scriptural basis for it in the Quran, which is true. I think the substance got lost because of his throwaway line.”
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Johnson has been criticized by Muslim groups and politicians, including Prime Minister Theresa May, who urged Johnson to apologize. Johnson’s representatives have said he won’t apologize.
“The hysterical mainstream media can never separate the ‘signal from the noise’— fortunately, the populists can,” Bannon said.
Bannon has said he wants to establish a Europe-wide movement uniting populist and nationalist voters in the European elections next year. He has said he plans to spend 70 percent of his time in Europe following the November midterm election in the United States.
Johnson, a former mayor of London, is one of Britain’s best-known politicians and is often cited as a potential candidate for prime minister. He quit May’s Conservative government last month in a dispute over the country’s departure from the European Union, accusing the prime minister of killing “the Brexit dream” with plans to continue close economic ties with the EU after the U.K. leaves the bloc in March.
Bannon suggested that Johnson need not copy Trump to be successful.
“Boris just needs to be Boris — true to his nature and his calling — and I think he has potential to be a great prime minister, not a good one,” he said.
Bannon also praised another controversial U.K. figure — Tommy Robinson, founder of the now-defunct English Defence League. He compared Robinson to rapper Kanye West, describing him as a rising star and a “force of nature.”
Robinson, 35, whose real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, is a self-styled commentator who has given Britain’s far-right media the verve it has lacked. His YouTube channel has accumulated more than 6 million views, including videos purporting to show him fighting migrants in Italy and being attacked by masked men outside a McDonald’s restaurant in London.
He was recently freed from prison after an appeals court threw out his conviction for contempt of court and ordered a retrial. The case stems from allegations that Robinson used social media to broadcast details of a trial that was subject to blanket reporting restrictions.
His supporters said he was jailed because of his far-right political beliefs.
“Tommy is not just a guy but a movement,” Bannon said. “He represents the working class and channels a lot of the frustration of everyday, blue-collar Britons … He is a force of nature — like Kanye (West) — not built to be managed.”