Rowan Atkinson has defended Boris Johnson over his comments on women wearing burkas and said the former Foreign Secretary's remarks were funny.
Mr Johnson is facing an investigation and could be disciplined by Conservative party bosses after saying women in burkas looked like 'letterboxes' and 'bank robbers'.
Atkinson, 63, said: 'As a lifelong beneficiary of the freedom to make jokes about religion, I do think that Boris Johnson's joke about wearers of the burka resembling letterboxes is a pretty good one.'
The actor, known for his comedy performances in Blackadder and Mr Bean, wrote in a letter to the Times: 'All jokes about religion cause offence, so it's pointless apologising for them.
'You should really only apologise for a bad joke. On that basis, no apology is required.'
Atkinson has previously argued in favour of a 'right to offend', saying in 2004 that proposed religious hatred laws would silence 'creative thinkers'.
He said at the time: 'Freedom of expression must be protected for artists and entertainers and we must not accept a bar on the lampooning of religion and religious leaders.'
Mr Johnson is to face an investigation by an independent panel after complaints that his comments breached the Conservative Party's code of conduct.
Tory sources have insisted the party was left with no choice but to launch the probe because it was triggered automatically after they received a flurry of complaints.
But the move has sparked a furious backlash from Mr Johnson's allies who have accused No10 of trying to 'destroy' the ex minister because they see him as a threat.
Tory MP Andrew Bridgen said: 'I believe this is politically motivated, by the internal politics of the Tory party, by politicians who want to humiliate and destroy Boris Johnson.'
He added: 'I believe that the public will see this for what it is – an internal Conservative party witch hunt instigated by Number Ten against Boris Johnson, who they see as a huge threat.'
Mr Bridgen said he was shocked an investigation had been triggered as other Tory MPs have criticised the head veils before but not faced probes over it.
He said: 'I'm surprised that an investigation is going to be instigated into Boris' article and his refusal to apologise, especially given Ken Clarke in 2013 described burqas as peculiar.
'I don't remember any outcry or calls for an investigation into Ken Clarke's alleged Islamophobia.'
Meanwhile former Tory former chief whip Andrew Mitchell said Mr Johnson had used 'colourful' language but had not committed an offence.
Mr Mitchell, who was chief whip in 2012, told BBC Two's Newsnight: 'I don't think he should apologise.
'But I think what's important is that the procedures of the party now take place.
'This is quite an important issue about free speech and it's got nothing to do with the dreadful events that take place over Enoch Powell and the Rivers of Blood speech.
'Boris was speaking out against a ban of the type that's taken place in Denmark and some other countries.'
Tory party chairman Brandon Lewis has decided to stand down from his role in selecting the panel if the investigation gets that far as he has already publicly condemned Mr Johnson over the remark.
Several Tory Brexiteers have rallied to his defence and said Mr Johnson is only expressing the views of people across the country and should not be muzzled.
And senior British Imam Taj Hargey, from the Oxford Islamic Congregation, today defended the ex minister, who he said 'did not go far enough' because the burqa has 'no Koranic legitimacy' and should be banned in Britain.
And he said that the former Cabinet minister must 'not apologise for telling the truth' about the burka because it is 'un-Muslim' and a 'hideous tribal ninja-like garment'.
And Mr Johnson is facing another political storm after a parliamentary watchdog wrote to wrap him for breaking rules by taking up the £275,000-a-year job as a Daily Telegraph columnist.
Under the ministerial code, ex ministers must apply to the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (Acoba) and wait three months before they can take up a new job.
Under the Tory Party investigation announced today, Mr Johnson could be suspended or even expelled from the party.
Under Conservative rules, the party can investigate any member who is accused of beaching their code of conduct, which was unveiled late last year in the wake of the Westminster sex pest scandal.
This sets out how members of the Conservative party are expected to behave - including showing a commitment to 'support equality of opportunity, diversity and inclusion'.
A Conservative party spokesman said: 'The code of conduct process is strictly confidential.'
Meanwhile, Met Police Commissioner Ms Dick, made it clear Mr Johnson has not broken any laws.
She said: 'I know that many people have found this offensive.
'I also know that many other people believe strongly that in the whole of the article, what Mr Johnson appears to have been attempting to do was to say that there shouldn't be a ban and that he was engaging in a legitimate debate.'
Asked what she made of the language the former foreign secretary used, Ms Dick told the BBC Asian Network: 'Some people have clearly found it offensive.
'I spoke last night to my very experienced officers who deal with hate crime and, although we have not yet received any allegation of such a crime, I can tell you that my preliminary view having spoken to them is that what Mr Johnson said would not reach the bar for a criminal offence.
'He did not commit a criminal offence.'
Nadine Dorries, a backbench Tory MP, said the backlash showed Mr Johnson's rivals were terrified of him challenging the Prime Minister.
She told TalkRadio: 'People who are outraged – who are utterly terrified – know that at some stage, any day soon, Boris may make a challenge for the leadership and the position in No 10. Yes, some people were offended but they are not people who would vote for Boris or ever vote Conservative anyway.'
The first opinion poll on the row showed backing for Mr Johnson.
According to the survey by Sky Data, 60 per cent believe it was not racist to compare Muslim women wearing burqas to bank robbers or letter boxes, while 33 per cent said it was.
Forty-eight per cent thought Mr Johnson should not apologise for his remarks, compared with 45 per cent who thought he should.
This article has been adapted from its original source.
© Associated Newspapers Ltd.