Muslim leaders urge May to ensure Boris Johnson faces full inquiry

Former former secretary compared fully-veiled Muslim women to ‘letter boxes’

Boris Johnson brings tea to journalists outside his home in Oxfordshire on Sunday. Photograph: Aaron Chown/PA Wire

Boris Johnson brings tea to journalists outside his home in Oxfordshire on Sunday. Photograph: Aaron Chown/PA Wire

 

Britain’s largest Islamic organisation will write to British prime minister 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.

The Muslim Council of Britain said Islamophobic incidents had spiked since Mr 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 council 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 Mr Johnson’s column was published a week ago.

In his column for the Daily Telegraph last Monday, the former foreign secretary compared fully veiled Muslim women to “letter boxes” and “bank robbers”.

He has not apologised for the comments and on Sunday he told reporters waiting outside his house: “I have nothing to say about this matter, except to offer you a cup of tea.”

Mr Johnson is subject to a disciplinary investigation by the Conservative Party, after it received 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.

Diversity training

Several of Mr Johnson’s allies have complained about the process. The MP Jacob Rees-Mogg claimed it amounted to a “show trial”. Mr 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 Mr 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 Tell Mama , said Mr 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 Mr Johnson’s column. There were five such incidents in the previous week.

Mr Mughal said: “Johnson thinks his flippant comments were funny, and whilst his comments were about the burka the fact is that visible Muslim women are also impacted by these comments. Perpetrators don’t sit around thinking, ‘oh there is a burka-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.

Bannon endorsement

The Muslim Council of Britain said it had received hate mail after Mr 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 Mr Johnson was potentially “a great prime minister” who had “nothing to apologise for”. Mr 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 Mr 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,” Mr 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.” – Guardian