A Conservative peer has launched a blistering attack on Boris Johnson, branding his career a “saga of moral emptiness”.
Lord Andrew Cooper, the former Downing Street aide to David Cameron, on Saturday accused Johnson of “casual racism (and) courting of fascism” following days of outrage sparked by Johnson saying woman who wear burkas look like “letter boxes”.
The Remain campaign pollster wrote on Twitter: “The rottenness of Boris Johnson goes deeper even than his casual racism & his equally casual courting of fascism.
“He will advocate literally anything to play to the crowd of the moment. His career is a saga of moral emptiness & lies; pathetic, weak & needy; the opposite of strong.”
The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) said on Saturday that Johnson’s comments had “shone a light on the underbelly of Islamophobia” within the Tory party.
Harun Khan, MCB secretary general, said in the days since Johnson’s Daily Telegraph column was published on Monday, it had received Islamophobic hate mail, with some letters describing Muslims as “barbarians”.
In a statement, Khan said: “The impact of Boris Johnson’s comments are real and worrying and indicate the importance of a full, transparent and independent investigation into his conduct, in particular given the lack of action in previous cases of Islamophobia in the party.
“The comments and belief by a number of Conservative MPs that not even an apology is required has shone a light on the underbelly of Islamophobia that is present within the party – one that can only be tackled by sincerely changing course and positively responding to calls for an independent inquiry into Islamophobia in the party.”
Khan’s comments came as Tory, Jacob Rees-Mogg, on Saturday suggested a Conservative Party investigation into Johnson was a “show trial” being used to stop him becoming the next party leader.
Rees-Mogg, writing in the Daily Telegraph, claimed Prime Minister Theresa May’s “personal rivalry” with the former foreign secretary was taking the “heat” off Labour who are engulfed in an anti-semitism row.
The backbencher wrote in a column for the newspaper that it was “hard to see” how Johnson had breached the party’s code and said he “entirely agrees” with his colleague on the issue.
He added that it would be “absurd” to call Johnson’s remarks “either victimising or harassing” .
Johnson, who argued against a ban on full-face veils, has rejected calls - including from the PM and Conservative Party chairman Brandon Lewis - for him to apologise.
The Telegraph on Saturday dedicated its whole letters page to reaction from readers after being “inundated” with messages of support for Johnson.
And it was reported that letters have been sent to the party complaining about Lewis demanding Johnson apologise.
On Friday, the UK’s equalities watchdog said Johnson’s remarks were “inflammatory and divisive” and risked “vilifying Muslim women”.
An independent panel will look at the complaints made about Johnson and could refer him to the Conservative’s board who has the power to expel him.
A Downing Street source told the BBC the investigation was “not about individuals or personalities”.
In his column, Rees-Mogg claimed senior Tories have criticised Johnson because they are envious of his “many successes, popularity with voters and charisma”.
The North East Somerset MP wrote: “Could it be that there is a nervousness that a once and probably future leadership contender is becoming too popular and needs to be stopped?
“This may explain the attempt to use the Conservative Party’s disciplinary procedures, but it has been handled so ham-fistedly that it brings only sympathy and support for Mr Johnson.”
A panel including one independent figure, one representative of the voluntary party and one nominated by the backbench 1922 Committee, will look into complaints that Johnson’s comments breached the Conservative Party’s code of conduct.
Under party rules, the head of the panel may dismiss the complaints if they are found to be obviously trivial, lacking in merit or unable to be fairly investigated.
Disciplinary action could lead to Johnson being suspended or even expelled from the Tories, but would risk igniting civil war in a party where many of the members see him as the best option to succeed May as leader.
But there have also been suggestions that he could be ordered to attend a diversity training course.