MUSLIM women should have to remove the burka when officials need to see their faces for security reasons, David Cameron said today as he announced new initiatives to help tackle extremism in the UK.
The Prime Minister said it was reasonable for women to be asked to remove the veil in circumstances where facial identification was important – for example in court and during immigration checks.
However he distanced himself from a Frecnch-style all-out ban on such coverings, which are worn by some Muslim women to protect their modesty.
Mr Cameron told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “In our country people should be free to wear what they like.
“When you are coming into contact either with different institutions or, for instance, you are in court or you need to see someone’s face at the border, then I would always back the authorities or the institutions that have put in place proper and sensible rules.
“Going for the French approach of banning an item of clothing, I do not think that’s the way we do things in this country and I do not think that would help.”
He said that there are certain places where women should not be allowed to wear either the niqab, which covers the face except for the eyes , or the full-length burka, which includes a mesh over the eyes.
Mr Cameron cited the example of schooling, adding it was “very difficult to teach unless you can look at your pupils in the eye”.
The issue has been highly controversial in western Europe, with a backlash in France and Belgium where the full-face veil is banned.
France was the first country to ban the burka in public places in 2010, with anyone leaving their home with their face hidden behind a veil running the risk of a fine.
The law was upheld by the European court of human rights in 2014. three years after a similar ban came into effect in Belgium.
Mr Cameron has also said Muslim women must learn basic English or risk being kicked out the country, arguing such a move will help combat extremism.
As a result Mr Cameron today launched a £20 million initiative aimed at helping Muslim women with their language skills in an attempt to integrate them into the community.
He said the lack of integration in some Muslim communities had helped to foster extremism and allowed “appalling practices” such as female genital mutilation and forced marriage to take place.
The Prime Minister said he would not avoid telling the “hard truths” needed to confront a minority of Muslim men whose “backward attitudes” led them to exert “damaging control” over women in their families.