POLITICS
28/05/2019 12:43 BST | Updated 28/05/2019 13:03 BST

Formal Investigation Into Tory Islamophobia Requested By Muslim Council Of Britain

Conservatives facing statutory probe if watchdog now agrees

PA Wire/PA Images

The UK’s leading equalities watchdog has received a formal request to investigate Tory Islamophobia.

The Muslim Council of Britain wrote to the Equality and Human Rights Commission on Tuesday to seek a statutory probe into claims of widespread anti-Muslim conduct.

The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), which submitted a dossier of evidence, claimed that “the problem of Islamophobia runs deep into the party” with around 150 of its members and representatives found to have engaged in the practice.

In coincidental timing, the request came as the EHRC announced it was formally investigating Labour’s alleged anti-Semitism following a raft of complaints.

The MCB claims that the Conservatives, including chairman Brandon Lewis, have “demonstrated a callous attitude to complaints, misleading members and the public” with a lack of transparency.

Among its complaints of breaches of the 2006 Equalities Act, it alleges that the Tories took no action when London Mayoral candidate Zac Goldsmith launched a campaign highlighting rival Sadiq Khan’s religion.

Former party chairman and Cabinet minister Sayeeda Warsi last month accused Lewis of displaying a “classic trait of institutional racism” after he refused to reveal the number of complaints about anti-Muslim incidents, or how many members have been suspended or expelled from the party.

The Guardian
Boris Johnson

There was also fury among the Muslim community when the party cleared Boris Johnson of breaking a code of conduct after he compared wearers of the niqaab to “letterboxes” and bank robbers.

In several cases, critics complain that those Conservatives found to have indulged in anti-Muslim conduct were allowed to quietly leave the party and no action taken.

MCB general secretary Harun Khan wrote: “Members of the Party and prospective members from a Muslim background specifically, have felt and publicly stated that there is an institutional problem of Islamophobia, where racism against Muslims is not dealt with other than where there is a media spotlight on the issue.”

It emerged last month that 15 Conservative councillors, who had been suspended over posting Islamophobic or racist content online, had their membership quietly reinstated.

Some of the councillors had described Saudis as “sand peasants” and shared material comparing Asian people to dogs.

Other incidents reported are calls on a pro-Jacob Rees-Mogg Facebook group for Muslims to be “turfed out of public office” and descriptions of home secretary Sajid Javid as “Trojan horse”.

The EHRC last week gave the Tories one month to respond to requests for information about various complaints.

The party recently faced criticism for refusing to adopt a definition of Islamophobia that classifies discrimination against Muslims as a form of racism.

Warsi, who was the first female Muslim cabinet minister and was herself Tory chairman under David Cameron, said she had agreed to keep quiet about Islamophobia to “work with the party” to resolve the problem.

But she broke her silence after Lewis refused to reveal the extent of the problem in a Sunday broadcast interview, saying only there had been a “very, very small number” of complaints about members.

Lewis was asked in March by anti-racism charity Hope Not Hate if he had misled the public over the extent of Islamophobia in the party after he claimed in November that there were no cases outstanding, despite members continuing to raise anti-Muslim incidents with chiefs.

The Conservative party has strongly rejected all claims that Muslim hatred is a widespread problem in the party and has insisted it deals with complaints swiftly. 

Lewis did undertake an investigation into Boris Johnson after he compared Muslim wearers of the niqaab to “letterboxes” and bank robbers.

But Johnson, now the favourite to succeed Theresa May as the next Tory leader, was cleared in December of breaching the party’s code of conduct.

An independent panel decided the former foreign secretary was “respectful and tolerant” and was entitled to use “satire” in his Daily Telegraph newspaper column in August.

MIqaad Versi, of the MCB, added: “As the leadership race ensues, will any of the candidates prioritise dealing with the sheer scale of Islamophobia that has consumed the Conservative Party?”

The Tory party has been approached for comment. 

The MCB letter in full:

 

28 May 2019

 

Dear David Isaac CBE,

 

I am writing on behalf of the Muslim Council of Britain – the largest umbrella body of Muslim organisations in the UK – to formally request the Equalities and Human Rights Commission to investigate whether the Conservative Party has breached its obligations under the Equality Act.

 

Given the Act makes it unlawful for the Party to discriminate against its members, prospective members or its guests, we believe there is sufficient evidence to suggest that there is a prima facie case to answer of systemic unlawful acts by the Party.

 

The main pillars of the case proposed are as follows:

 

  1. Islamophobia amongst Members of Parliament: When Members of Parliament engaged in Islamophobia or a campaign for Mayor of London engaged in Islamophobia, no action was taken, demonstrating a tolerance for Islamophobia at the highest levels of the Party;
  2. Atmosphere of Hostility Against Muslim Conservative Party Members: Islamophobia has also been tolerated towards Muslim members of the Party, indicating an atmosphere of hostility towards Muslims in the Party;
  3. Scale of Islamophobia in the Party: The problem of Islamophobia runs deep into the Party with a total of c.150 representatives of the Party and members of the Party who have engaged in Islamophobia;
  4. Failure of Complaints Process: Those in charge of the process of handling complaints within the Party (Chair, Deputy Chair) have demonstrated a callous attitude to complaints, misleading members and the public with limited (if any) transparency; and
  5. Denial of Islamophobia: The Party and its representatives have denied there is even a major problem of Islamophobia in the Party.

 

Any one of these charges should be sufficient to indicate a serious problem. Taken together, this has led to there being a situation where members of the Party and prospective members from a Muslim background specifically, have felt and publicly stated that there is an institutional problem of Islamophobia, where racism against Muslims is not dealt with other than where there is a media spotlight on the issue.

 

We believe that the evidence we have collated – attached in an Appendix to this letter – is sufficient to support the case outlined above. We also recognise that the EHRC is able to request further evidence given the lack of transparency within the Party and request the relevant individuals within the Conservative Campaign Headquarters (CCHQ) to add further examples of potential breaches of the Equality Act.

 

Despite the escalation in the number of cases of Islamophobia, there appears to have been no change in the approach taken. The Party has thus far failed to sufficiently engage with members of the Party who have raised these concerns privately and then publicly (from Baroness Warsi and Lord Sheikh to the Conservative Muslim Forum), or Muslim community groups such as the Muslim Council of Britain.

 

Given this lack of willingness to take any opportunity to tackle this problem once and for all, we are hoping that the EHRC will be able to launch a formal investigation into this presumed breach of the Equality Act, and identify ways to ensure to rectify this serious issue within the governing Party of this country.

 

If there is any further information that may support your work, please do not hesitate to get in touch.

 

Look forward to hearing from you

 

Yours

 

Harun Khan

Secretary General, Muslim Council of Britain