Anti-Muslim sentiment “remains a problem” in the Conservative Party, according to an independent report into Islamophobia in the party.
The report found Boris Johnson’s comments about burka-wearing women gave the impression the Tories are “insensitive to Muslim communities”.
And it found anti-Muslim sentiment was seen at local association and individual levels – but claims of “institutional racism” were not borne out by evidence of the way complaints were handled.
Tory party chairwoman Amanda Milling apologised to “anyone who has been hurt by discriminatory behaviour of others or failed by our system”.
And former Tory chairwoman Baroness Warsi, who has accused the party of “institutional racism”, said the findings of the report vindicated her six-year long campaign and showed evidence of a system that “failed to protect victims of racism”.
Former chancellor Sajid Javid, who made the commitment to hold an inquiry into Islamophobia a key issue in the 2019 Tory leadership election, said the investigation found “distressing examples of anti-Muslim sentiment at local association and individual levels, as well as serious shortcomings in the party’s complaints process”.
The report was described as a “whitewash” by Muslim Engagement and Development (Mend).
And the the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) said the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) must determine whether the party broke the law.
The EHRC say they are considering whether to press ahead with a probe of their own.
1. The Tories have an Islamophobia problem
The report found “anti-Muslim sentiment remains a problem” in the Conservative Party.
“While the party leadership claims a ‘zero tolerance approach’ to all forms of discrimination,” it read, “our findings show that discriminatory behaviours occur, especially in relation to people of Islamic faith.”
But the investigation did not find evidence of a party which “systematically discriminated against any particular group”.
2. The party investigated 727 incidents of discrimination over five years – and two thirds were related to Islam
From 2015-2020 the party’s central database recorded 1,418 complaints relating to 727 incidents of alleged discrimination – an average of 237 complaints about 122 incidents a year.
More than two-thirds of the incidents – 496 cases – related to Islam and 74% of all the cases involved social media activity.
Around a third of cases – 231 – resulted in a sanction, with 50% resulting in a suspension and 29% an expulsion from the party.
No action was taken in 418 incidents for reasons including the complaint being in relation to someone who was not a party member, insufficient evidence or a prior investigation.
3. The Tories’ complaints process is “clunky, slow and not transparent” – but not racist
The report said claims that “institutional racism” was visible in the party’s complaints process were not borne out by the evidence.
There was no evidence that complaints related to Islam are treated differently from those related to other forms of discrimination, nor did the panel find evidence of attempts to pressure or interfere with the handling of individual complaints.
But Prof Singh told PA the complaints process was “clunky, cumbersome and slow, and not transparent”.
Former Tory chairwoman Baroness Warsi has accused the party of “institutional racism” and submitted a dossier of 30 cases to the inquiry.
The report said it carried out “in-depth scrutiny” of the cases provided by Lady Warsi but “we concluded that her allegation of ‘institutional racism’ against the party was not borne out by evidence available to the investigation as regards the way the party handled the complaints process”.
4. Boris Johnson still won’t apologise for his comments about Muslim women
In discussions with the probe, the Prime Minister refused to apologise for comparing Muslim women to “letterboxes” and “bank robbers”.
He told the review: “I do know that offence has been taken at things I’ve said, that people expect a person in my position to get things right, but in journalism you need to use language freely.
“I am obviously sorry for any offence taken. Would I use some of the offending language from my past writings today? Now that I am Prime Minister, I would not.”
The review added: “While this could be considered leading by example, the Investigation would like to emphasise that using measured and appropriate language should not be a requirement solely for senior people, but ought to be expected throughout the Conservative Party.”
Mr Johnson also argued his writings are “often parodic, satirical” and claimed the article in question “was an honest defence for a woman’s right to wear what she chooses.”
He has frequently used this excuse, despite the article defending those who wish to ban face veils in workplaces, MP surgeries, schools, universities and “branches of government” as “sensible”.
5. The PM argued the person who complained about him was trying to damage him politically
The Conservative Party convened an Independent Panel chaired by a QC to investigate a complaint against Mr Johnson about the article, accusing him of being “deliberately offensive” – which is not acceptable under the Tory Code of Conduct.
But the PM argued to the Panel that “just because offence had been taken, he felt his words should not be withdrawn or prohibited.”
And the report says Mr Johnson “believed that the complaint was meant to damage him politically.”
The Panel thought otherwise – and was “unanimous that there was no evidence that the complaint was vexatious or malicious, nor was it trivial.”
The Panel ruled that Mr Johnson did not break the rules, because “the Code of Conduct did not preclude a member of the Party from using satire to emphasise a particular viewpoint.”
But there was a minority view on the panel that while Mr Johnson’s right to hold and express a viewpoint was not in question, the language used in the article was offensive and did not lead by example to encourage and foster respect, and that as a result Mr Johnson had breached the Code of Conduct.
Mr Johnson was cleared by the panel on the majority’s findings.
6. Zac Goldsmith continues to deny his campaign was racist – complained opponents had used race as a tactic against him
The investigation examined unsuccessful mayoral campaign run in London by Zac Goldsmith, as he was then, against Labour’s Sadiq Khan in 2016.
Lord Goldsmith said it was “important to hold Sadiq Khan to account for his record of associating with extremists, in particular Islamists”.
But he insisted: “I never believed that Sadiq himself was an extremist”, and claimed his campaign had not suggested it.
Instead he claimed the racial element of the campaign was used “as a tactic” against by his opponents.
But he acknowledged that the mayoral contest turned out to be “ugly and heavily racially charged”.
Lord Goldsmith said: “On one side, there were anti-Muslim groups and individuals actively accusing Sadiq of being an extremist – a gross calumny.
“And on the other, Labour campaigners reframed legitimate questions about their candidate’s judgment in such a way that it appeared he was being smeared because of his faith… a large number of Muslim Londoners felt personally insulted by what they had been told was my campaign message, that is of course a source of major regret and sadness on my part.”
The report said Lord Goldsmith “accepts poor judgment in the way his campaign was conducted, but forcefully denies harbouring anti-Muslim sentiments or using such sentiments for political advantage”.
The mayoral campaign received one complaint, which was dismissed as unsubstantiated.
7. Bob Blackman MP claims he retweeted a Tommy Robinson post by mistake, because he was “new to Twitter”
The Harrow East MP has been criticised in the past for hosting an event at which Tapan Ghosh, a Hindu nationalist speaker alleged to have made anti-Muslim remarks in India, appeared.
Mr Blackman described his role as an “arm’s length sponsor” for events hosted by the Hindu Forum of Britain and National Council of Hindu Temples, and he was not involved in the decision to invite Mr Ghosh, nor was he present during his speech at the event in Parliament.
The MP said he was “furious” with the National Council of Hindu Temples, publicly condemned the remarks attributed to Mr Ghosh and now conducts more due diligence on invited speakers.
The report said: “Mr Blackman acknowledges that hosting Mr Ghosh to Parliament without due diligence and knowledge of his social media posts were errors of judgment on his part, which he deeply regrets.”
In 2016, Mr Blackman retweeted a post by Tommy Robinson that contained a link to an article in one of the major Indian newspapers about Muslim violence against Hindus.
When questioned about this retweet, Mr Blackman said he was new to Twitter and he had not realised who had originally posted the story.
Mr Blackman said that all of the complaints discussed in the interview with the Singh Investigation had been put to the party chairman and had been dismissed.
The MP said he had frequently taken up issues affecting Muslim communities around the world and he did not consider himself to hold anti-Islamic views, “but I do think it is possible to criticise people who use their faith as a reason for bad behaviour”.
There does not appear to have been a formal complaint against Mr Blackman recorded by the Conservative Campaign Headquarters (CCHQ) team, the report said.