Muslim women can be banned from wearing veils in schools, courts and other British institutions, David Cameron has said as the Government intensifies the war on home-grown extremism.
It comes as the Government prepares to announce a series of measures designed to stop British Muslims becoming radicalised and traveling to the Middle East to join terrorist groups like Isil.
Mr Cameron also announced that tens of thousands of Muslim women will face deportation unless they pass a series of English language tests after coming to Britain on spouse visas.
The Prime Minister’s comments about veils will reignite the row over whether Britain should endorse a French-style ban on veils in public places. Mr Cameron refused to endorse a ban but made clear that individual organisations can choose to stop Muslim women covering their faces in public places.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘I think in our country people should be free to wear what they like, within limits live how they like, and all the rest of it.
‘What does matter is if, for instance, a school has a uniform policy, sensitively put in place and all the rest of it, and people want to flout that uniform policy, often for reasons that aren’t connected to religion, you should always come down on the side of the school.’
Mr Cameron added: ‘When you are coming into contact with an institution or you’re in court, or if you need to be able to see someone’s face at the border, then I will always back the authority and institution that have put in place proper and sensible rules.
‘Going for the more sort of French approach of banning an item of clothing, I don’t think that’s the way we do things in this country and I don’t think that would help.’
France eventually banned full face veils in 2010 following many years of discussion. Tory MPs welcomed the Prime Minister’s intervention but urged him to go further.
Philip Hollobone, a Conservative MP, said: What the Prime Minister says is extremely welcome and a step in the right direction but given the stridency with which Muslim group’s advance their cause sooner or later this will be put to the test. It should apply to any public official including schools, hospitals, councils, the police, border force, hospitals, GP surgeries. Anywhere where members of the public come into contact and an official needs to have his or her face visible.
It is common sense. The important thing to remember is that wearing the veil is not a religious requirement. It is not specified in the Koran, it is not necessary. I don’t want to live in a country where a police officer is veiled, where a news reader is veiled, where a nurse or doctor is veiled.
Canada banned Muslim women from wearing face veils in 2011, but the ban has since been lifted after a successful legal challenge.