Nick Clegg has backed teachers who feel uncomfortable about pupils wearing full-face Muslim veils, but says he is “uneasy” about a college that has brought in a blanket ban.
The deputy prime minister said he could “totally understand” teachers who did not want full-face veils in the classroom as they needed to make “eye contact and face contact with pupils”. However, Clegg said these were “exceptional circumstances” and he generally supported people’s right to wear whatever religious clothing they liked.
“I’m really quite uneasy about anyone being told what they have to wear,” he said on LBC 97.3. “I think I’ve set the bar very high to justify something like that because one of the things that is great about our country is that we are diverse, we are tolerant.
“People do dress differently, people do have different faiths, people do have different convictions and that is reflected in what they wear, in how they present themselves.”
He spoke out after Muslim students at Birmingham Metropolitan college protested about being prevented from wearing veils. The college has said it brought in a ban on face coverings, which includes the Muslim niqab, for security reasons.
Clegg said he “intuitively” did not support a “blanket prohibition” on any type of religious clothing in schools. However, he said he would look into the issue further after it was raised by a listener on his weekly Call Clegg phone-in.