A Labour MP says Boris Johnson is too embarrassed by his notorious description of Muslim women as “letterboxes” to look her in the eye.

Jess Phillips described the clear Tory leadership favourite as a “chastened child whenever I see him” who “shuffles uncomfortably and looks at the ground”.

She also warned that Muslim women were “frightened for their country” by the growing likelihood that Mr Johnson will succeed Theresa May in Downing Street.

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“He can't even take me looking at him in the eye. He's a bullies’ patsy with no guts,” Mr Phillips said, on her chance encounters in the Commons corridors.

The criticism comes after the jeering, at his campaign launch, of a journalist who said Mr Johnson’s comments about Muslim women had made fellow Tories question if he was “fit to be prime minister”.

Supporters of the former foreign secretary turned on a reporter, who asked if he had brought “shame on your party”, the heckling, coming from a group which included Conservative MPs.

In the column last year, Mr Johnson said wearing the burka was “looking like a bank robber”, adding: “It is absolutely ridiculous that people should choose to go around looking like letterboxes.”

Ms Phillips, an MP in Birmingham, tweeted: “I pass Boris Johnson in the corridors a lot. He shuffles uncomfortably and looks at the ground.

“On one occasion before the Tory conference in Birmingham, I said to him that I hope the Muslim women in my city show him how welcome he is there. Again he shuffled uncomfortably,” she claimed.

"He does not defend his position, he looks like a chastened child whenever I see him. He's being told to say these things by a racist machine.”

The column triggered calls for Mr Johnson to apologise from the prime minister, Brandon Lewis, the Tory chairman and Ruth Davidson, the Scottish Conservative leader.

But a panel set up by the party decided he had been “respectful and tolerant” and was entitled to use “satire” in his writing.

At his campaign launch, Mr Johnson was uncomfortable when quizzed on the controversy, saying he was sorry for any offence caused – but also that the public was sick of politicians “muffling and veiling our language”.

Ms Phillips added: “I do not fear him as an opponent to be honest, I pity him, because he doesn't passionately believe in anything and his authenticity rubs off with even the slightest brushing. He's a hollow icon who cannot even defend his words.”

And she said: “If you think I'm being harsh on BJ you don't have any Muslim women friends or family because mine have all been messaging me sadly this morning frightened for their country.”

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