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UKIP leader comes under fire for niqab manifesto ban

Paul Nuttall has said in a BBC interview that the ban would ease integration for Muslim women
A fully veiled woman walks down a street in Rabat, Morocco (AFP)

The leader of the UK Independence Party (UKIP), Paul Nuttall, has said that his party will be calling for the banning of the full-face veil - referring to the niqab or more fully enveloping burqa - in its election manifesto.

Speaking on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show, Nutall said that the full-face veil was a barrier to integration and a security risk.

Challenged by the BBC presenter that such veils were a part of "who these women are" as much as Nuttal's trademark flat-cap was as much a part of his identity, Nuttal said: "But you can see my face, I am not a security threat, I'm beyond that. It's about integration. And I said earlier, 58 percent of Muslim women in this country are economically inactive - if you're not showing your face, it precludes you from a lot of jobs."

His remarks, made on Sunday morning, quickly attracted criticism.

Sahar al-Faifi, an activist, told MEE: "It's not a new narrative to be pulled out of the hat. It goes with the far-right narrative that Muslims are a threat - and the niqab is a symbol of that threat. 

"They dismiss the woman behind the niqab and the fact that it is a spiritual being who is trying to connect with God."

She added: "It's used to polarise communities and distract from important issues such as the economy."

Shelina Zahra Janmohamed, author of the acclaimed Love in a Headscarfsaid in a Facebook post: "If UKIP is preoccupied with what a handful of women are wearing and feel that is a priority to put into their manifesto then they are clearly a party that has nothing to say of any use.

"P.S. There is no evidence to say that the few women who do cover in this way are any kind of integration or security risk and I'm certainly not aware of any studies that have any data to support their claim."

Prime Minister Theresa May in February ruled out banning the hijab (a term usually used to refer to a scarf that covers the head but not the face), the niqab, which leaves the eyes uncovered, or the more fully enveloping burqa.

"I believe that what a woman wears is a woman's choice," she said in response to a question asked in the House of Commons on World Hijab Day.

According to a YouGov poll conducted in December last year, 50 percent of the British public support a ban on a full-face veil.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel recently said that wearing of the full-face veil should be prohibited "wherever possible," while France, which goes to the polls today, has banned the wearing of the full-face veil in public places and of the full-body swimsuits, known as burkinis.

UKIP's so-called "integration agenda," to be launched Monday, will also propose outlawing "sharia law" in the UK.

He said that the ban would bring the UK "in line with other European countries" such as Belgium and Bulgaria.

Nutall has yet to announce his candidacy for the 8 June general election in the UK. He stood in the Stoke-on-Trent by-election in February, which Labour won, amid a furore over Nutall's claim that he lost friends at the April 1989 Hillsborough football stadium disaster and had a PhD, both of which he later backtracked on.

Nutall's comments come as the party, whose primary aim was to campaign for Britain to leave the EU, struggles to find a new political identity since last year's Brexit vote and continues to see high-profile figures leave its ranks, including its only MP from the 2015 general election, Douglas Carswell, who defected to the Tories last month.

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