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Boris Johnson must face full inquiry, Muslim leaders tell May

Monday August 13, 2018
Dan Sabbagh

The Muslim Council of Britain said Islamophobic incidents had spiked since Johnson’s controversial column article was published. Photograph: Denis Balibouse/Reuters

Islamophobic incidents have increased after Johnson’s column disparaging veils worn by women, says Muslim Council

Britain’s largest Islamic organisation will write to Theresa May on Monday demanding that Boris Johnson be subject to a full disciplinary inquiry, arguing that no one should be allowed to victimise minorities with impunity.

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The Muslim Council of Britain said Islamophobic incidents had spiked since Johnson’s controversial article was published a week ago and therefore the Conservative party process needed to go beyond its initial stage.

“We are hopeful that the party will not allow any whitewashing of this specific inquiry currently in process. No one should be allowed to victimise minorities with impunity,” the letter prepared by the MCB will say.

Data from Tell Mama, a project that measures and monitors anti-Muslim incidents, shows a specific increase of abuse directed at women wearing niqabs and hijabs since Johnson’s column was published a week ago.

The former foreign secretary did not apologise or even refer to the controversy in his latest column for Monday’s edition of the Daily Telegraph, which was on the subject of housing. He told reporters waiting outside his house on Sunday: “I have nothing to say about this matter, except to offer you a cup of tea.”

In his column for the newspaper a week ago, he compared fully veiled Muslim women to “letter boxes” and “bank robbers”.

Johnson is subject to a disciplinary investigation by the Conservative party, after receiving dozens of complaints about his remarks, including one from the Tory peer Lord Sheikh. An independent assessor is examining the complaints to decide whether a panel of three should be appointed to formally investigate.

Several of Johnson’s allies have complained about the process. The MP Jacob Rees-Mogg claimed it amounted to a “show trial”. Johnson’s father, Stanley, claimed to Sky News that much of the criticism was “synthetic indignation” which had been “whipped up” by critics.

The inquiry could conclude with Johnson being suspended or even thrown out of the Conservative party, a decision that would almost certainly have to be signed off by Theresa May as party leader. However few believe that would be likely; instead the MP could be asked to take diversity training – although his friends have indicated he would not willingly do so.

Fiyaz Mughal, founder of , said Johnson’s remarks had served to “embolden mainly male perpetrators to have a go at visible Muslim women as a whole”. The organisation said it had received reports of 14 incidents of abuse directed at women wearing the full-veil niqab and the headscarf hijab in the five days that followed the publication of Johnson’s column. There were five such incidents in the previous week.

Mughal said: “Johnson thinks his flippant comments were funny, and whilst his comments were about the burqa the fact is that visible Muslim women are also impacted by these comments. Perpetrators don’t sit around thinking, ‘oh there is a burqa-clad woman and I will only vent my anger to her’. They see a visibly identifiable woman and off they go with their bigotry and prejudice.”

The bulk of the incidents reported were in London, but Tell Mama said it had reports from Luton, Leicester and Guildford.

The Muslim Council of Britain added that it had received hate mail after Johnson’s column was published. One began: “Boris Johnson was saying what most of us think about your pathetic phoney religion,” adding “this is not your country”.

Over the weekend the former foreign secretary received an endorsement from Donald Trump’s controversial former adviser Steve Bannon. The rightwing populist told the Sunday Times that Johnson was potentially “a great prime minister” who had “nothing to apologise for”. Bannon also lauded the far-right agitator Tommy Robinson in the interview, claiming he spoke for the British working class.

The former Conservative minister Damian Green, an ally of Theresa May, said he feared Johnson was “being turned into a martyr by the alt-right”, which would be “a disaster for him and the Conservative party”.

“I am particularly concerned by reports that President Trump’s sacked adviser Steve Bannon is forming a Europe-wide far-right campaign group – and has been in touch with Boris. I hope that no Conservative politician, including Boris, is taking advice from him about how the Conservative party should behave,” Green wrote in an article for the Mail on Sunday.

Labour urged the Tories to take action. Naz Shah, shadow minister for women and equalities, said: “Boris Johnson’s divisive comments risk driving more attacks against Muslims. Theresa May needs to urgently get a grip on Islamophobia in the Conservative party before the situation gets completely out of hand.”

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