A majority of Britons favour a ban on the burqa, according to the latest YouGov polling.
There are clear indicators of support for a burqa ban: by age, political affiliation, and those who voted to ‘Leave’ in the EU referendum. The same is true for a similar YouGov poll in August 2016. A majority (70 per cent) of the latter in the December 2016 poll, for example, want a legal ban. Among Ukip supporters, 74 per cent favour the ban, as did 61 per cent of Conservative voters. Around half of Labour and Lib Dem voters opposed a ban. But sizeable minorities in both parties favour a ban.
Those of pension age (65+) were overwhelmingly in favour of a ban (72 per cent). In comparison to the 36 per cent of 18-24 year olds who back such a ban.
In August 2016, YouGov posed the question: “To what extent would you support or oppose a law that bans people from wearing the burka in the UK?” Support for a ban from Leave voters stood at 78 per cent.
Support among Conservative voters remains broadly the same in both polls (66 per cent in August 2016 and 61 per cent in December 2016). Once again, Ukip voters remain the most in favour of a ban.
This intensity from Ukip voters appears in earlier polls. In September 2013, YouGov asked: “To what extent do you agree or disagree with the following statement? The burkha should be banned in Britain,” of which, 93 per cent of Ukip voters agreed. A clear majority of Ukip voters favoured a burqa ban in universities, schools, courtrooms (as defendant or witness), and for security checks at airports. The 2013 data found near unanimous cross-party support for a ban when it concerns security and criminal justice.
In the 2011 data, however, Ukip voters were not represented. But YouGov’s data found that more than half of Conservative (77 per cent), Labour (60 per cent) and Lib Dem (55 per cent) voters favoured a burqa ban. Older generations were also most likely to favour a ban (71 per cent).
The data sets show a consistent reservoir of support in favour of a ban. This support, be it sizeable minorities or sizeable majorities of voters do cross party lines. Yet, there’s also the role of current affairs in shaping public opinion. This may prove negligible, but we should keep in mind that the 2011 poll came off the back of the public niqab and burqa ban in France.
In 2013, the field data was carried out on September 16 and September 17. The first date is important. On September 16, Judge Peter Murphy ruled that a Muslim woman can stand trial wearing a niqab but must remove it to give evidence. A month earlier, the woman was asked to remove her niqab by the judge. She was eventually jailed for witness intimidation in March 2014. Another political debate was brewing during this period. The one-time Home Office Minister Jeremy Browne calls for a public debate on banning certain Muslim veils in public institutions drew a response from Downing Street. A spokesman for former Prime Minister David Cameron made clear that: “The Prime Minister doesn’t believe Parliament should legislate on what people do and don’t wear on their local high street.”
In July 2013, Philip Hollobone MP put forth a Private Members’ Bill on face veils. It would, however, fail to make its passage through parliament before the end of the session.
The fieldwork for the August 2016 poll took place towards the end of the month. On August 8, 2016, Lisa Duffy, a prospective Ukip leadership candidate, called for a public ban on the face veil. This story appeared in all major media outlets. The Independent version of the story received two thousand shares. Readers of MailOnline shared the story 797 times.
Now, it’s possible that the Independent story shares were not from individuals favouring a ban, but it demonstrates how easily such stories on this topic permeate discussions. In a broader sense, some stories about the burqa lose perspective. In September 2016, for example, Leicestershire Police made the rare decision to express their ‘disappointment’ at press coverage regarding their uniform policy, which at no point had taken a position on the burqa.
On December 6, 2016, German Chancellor Angela Merkel backed a public ban on the burqa in schools, courts and state buildings. This is not a policy the Prime Minister Theresa May seeks to pursue. A Downing Street spokesman told the Daily Express: “It is not something that’s being considered in this country.” Theresa May ruled out a burqa ban in 2011 when Home Secretary. The Express story went viral in the weeks before YouGov carried out their polling fieldwork.
Not all European states have issued a sweeping ban. In Barcelona, for example, there have been restrictions on face veils in libraries and some public institutions since 2010. In the Netherlands, MPs backed a ban in public places such as schools and hospitals, and on public transport. In Belgium, however, as with France, has seen a ban since 2011.