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Britain should not seek burqa ban: government

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain’s parliament should not try to ban wearing full-length veils in public after France’s lower house passed a bill which could see Muslim women fined for wearing the burqa, immigration minister Damian Green said.

Asma Patel, a local Muslim, wears a veil known as a niqab, as she arrives for a constituency meeting with Britain's Leader of the House of Commons Jack Straw in Blackburn, northern England, October 13, 2006. REUTERS/Phil Noble

“It’s very unlikely and it would be undesirable for the British Parliament to try and pass a law dictating what people wore,” Green said in an interview with the Sunday Telegraph newspaper, published on online late Saturday.

“I stand personally on the feeling that telling people what they can and can’t wear, if they’re just walking down the street, is a rather un-British thing to do,” he added. “We’re a tolerant and mutually respectful society.”

His comments came as one of his fellow Conservative members of parliament, Philip Hollobone, who has put forward a bill which would restrict people from covering their face in public, said he would refuse to hold meetings with Muslim women unless they removed their face veil as he could not engage with them.

Green said that as France was a more aggressively secular state the move had been more politically acceptable there.

A ban on wearing the burqa in France, home to Western Europe’s largest Muslim minority, would not be likely to have an impact on immigration in Britain, Green said.

Of France’s 5 million Muslims, it is thought only about 2,000 women wear the full-length veil.

Green also said the summer would see a major crackdown on the main streams of illegal immigration into Britain, followed in the autumn by the coalition government setting an overall cap on migrants coming from outside the European Union.

“Out there in other countries there has been the view that Britain’s borders are not very well defended and that if you can get into this country it’s relatively easy to operate here, to work illegally and so on,” he said.

“We’ve got to change that perception around the world.”

Reporting by Kylie MacLellan; Editing by Jon Hemming