Johnson was on Wednesday visiting a gurdwara in St. George’s, Bristol, where he made remarks about ending tariffs on whisky traded between Britain and India.
In a BBC recording of the event, a female worshipper can be heard taking him to task, asking, “How dare you talk about alcohol in a Sikh temple?” The Sikh religion forbids drinking alcohol.
“You are standing in a Sikh (temple) talking about alcohol, which is absolutely not right,” she said.
After the unidentified woman also told him about alcoholism in her family, Johnson apologized several times, the Guardian reported.
“I’m very sorry if you think that alcohol is a bad thing — I understand your point of view,” he said.
The former London Mayor, wearing a bright orange turban, said “a free trade deal with India could be good for both countries”.
He told the crowd in the gurdwara that he was going to sign a free trade deal in order to boost the trade in whisky.
“I hope I’m not embarrassing anybody here by saying that when we go to India, we have to bring ‘clinky’ in our luggage,” he said. “We have to bring Johnnie Walker”.
“There is a duty of 150% in India on imports of Scottish whisky. So we have to bring it in for our relatives duty free. Imagine what we could do with a trade deal with India, which there will be, because then the tariffs would go.”
Other members of the crowd reportedly told Johnson that if he had made the comments in India, he “would not have got out of the temple alive”.
Narinderjit Singh, General Secretary of the Sikh Federation, said that “no politician in his right mind” would speak in a gurdwara about a trade deal involving alcohol, the newspaper reported.
Singh said Johnson should know better, given that his wife Marina Wheeler is half Sikh.
A spokesperson for Johnson denied that it was a gaffe, claiming instead that he was sympathising with the woman’s personal situation.
“Boris was simply making the point that a free trade deal with India could be huge for both sides,” the spokesperson said.