The Conservatives have been accused of “giving a license to bigotry” by the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) after the party ruled Boris Johnson’s comments on Muslim women wearing burqas were “respectful and tolerant”.
An independent panel cleared the former foreign secretary of wrongdoing after he compared veiled women to letter boxes and bank robbers.
The investigation was launched after Mr Johnson’s comments in his Daily Telegraph column, in which he claimed he felt “fully entitled” to expect women to remove face coverings when talking to him at his MP’s surgery, attracted a number of complaints.
In the months after the column, Islamophobic attacks on Muslim women who wear veils increased, a watchdog found.
Tell Mama, which records hate crimes, said there was a “direct link” between the comments and an uptick in incidents targeting women who wear the niqab.
The independent panel, chaired by Naomi Ellenbogen QC, found his use of language in the column could be considered “provocative” but claimed it would be “unwise to censor excessively the language of party representatives or the use of satire to emphasise a viewpoint, particularly a viewpoint that is not subject to criticism”.
In response, a spokesperson for the MCB said: “Mr Johnson is not a satirist – he is a member of parliament, and as such has a responsibility to set the tone for the rest of the UK to follow. In this case, it is far-right Islamophobes who have been empowered to follow his rhetoric.
“The MCB further fails to see how Mr Johnson’s remarks were ‘respectful’ and ‘tolerant’ as the panel has concluded.
“In a year where over half of all Home Office recorded hate crimes targeted Muslims, over a hundred women who choose to wear the niqab or burqa wrote to the Conservative party chair to express the daily threat they face as a result of the prejudice whipped up by Mr Johnson.”
A source close to Mr Johnson told The Independent: “It is welcome news that Boris has rightly been cleared of any breach of the code.
“The panel’s ruling completely supported what Boris said from the very beginning – his article did foster respect and tolerance for the wearing of the burqa.”
The party has come under increasing criticism after refusing to launch a formal inquiry following a number of allegations of Islamophobia.
More than 350 mosques and Muslim organisations across the country wrote to the Conservative Party to express their concerns after more than a dozen examples of Islamophobia from party members in a two-month period in 2018 were revealed.
The calls were backed by former Conservative Party chairman, Baroness Warsi and senior Tory peer, Lord Sheikh.
The government has also been urged by more than 50 cross-party parliamentarians to adopt a new definition of Islamophobia, which would classify discrimination against Muslims as a form of racism, The Independent revealed.
Members of a cross-party group of MPs and peers have warned discrimination against Muslims in the UK is going “unreported and unchallenged” because of the absence of a concrete definition.
The warning came only weeks after official government statistics showed reports of racial and religiously motivated hate crime in England and Wales had risen for a fifth consecutive year.
The Independent has contacted the Conservative Party for comment.
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