Tory MP candidate calls on Boris Johnson to apologise for Islamophobic comments

Conservatives have ‘Muslim blind spot’, Parvez Akhtar says

Thursday 28 November 2019 02:20 GMT
Boris Johnson apologises for 'hurt and offence' caused by Islamophobia in Tory Party

A Conservative election candidate has called on Boris Johnson to apologise for his past statements about Muslims, as the prime minister said sorry for the “hurt and offence” caused by Islamophobia within Tory ranks.

Mr Johnson said on Wednesday his party would hold an inquiry into “every manner of prejudice and discrimination” in his party, adding that it would start before Christmas.

But Parvez Akhtar, the Tory candidate for Luton South, earlier called on the PM to “unequivocally apologise” for his own comments and commit to holding a “full independent” inquiry into Islamophobia in the party.

It followed Mr Johnson’s grilling by a BBC Question Time audience over his likening of women in niqabs to “letterboxes”.

Mr Akhtar said his party leader's comments about Muslim women were having an effect on the doorstep, adding that the Tories have a “blind spot when it comes to Muslims”.

In a statement, Mr Akhtar said that as a party member since 2005 he knows about “anti-Muslim hatred within the party” and experienced it himself as a candidate in 2009 and 2017.

He added: “During my campaign for Luton South, where 30 per cent of the population is Muslim, it has become increasingly obvious, the hurt and anger that has been caused by the comments of the prime minister about Muslim women.

“Whatever the intent of the column, the effect has been to reinforce the widely held view that the Conservative Party has a blind spot when it comes to Muslims.”

He added: “I am therefore calling on the prime minister to unequivocally apologise for his comments about Muslim women and agree to hold a full independent and transparent inquiry into Islamophobia within the Conservative Party.”

It comes after Jeremy Corbyn faced a backlash for repeatedly refusing to apologise during a TV interview on Tuesday for the way Labour acted on the issue, despite a blistering attack on his record by the chief rabbi.

The Conservatives were also criticised for their handling of Islamophobia allegations by the Muslim Council of Britain on Tuesday, who accused the party of “denial, dismissal and deceit”.

Mr Johnson, speaking on a visit to Goonhilly Earth Station on the Lizard peninsula in Cornwall, told reporters: “Obviously whenever we have an incident of antisemitism or Islamophobia or whatever in the Conservative Party we take a zero tolerance approach... We have a one bounce and we deal with it approach to this.

“We are going to have an independent inquiry into Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, every manner of prejudice and discrimination and it will start before Christmas.”

Asked if he apologised for the Islamophobia that has taken place in the Tory Party, he replied: “Of course and for all the hurt and offence that has been caused – of course we do.

“And all that is intolerable and it’s so important as a country that we don’t allow that kind of thing and that’s why we’re going to have the independent inquiry.”

Writing in Tuesday’s edition of The Times, the UK’s Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis said Labour’s handling of the issue, which has dogged the party under Mr Corbyn’s leadership, was “incompatible” with British values.

Responding, the Labour leader insisted anti-Jewish racism was “vile and wrong” and that the party had a “rapid and effective system” for dealing with complaints.

Mr Corbyn called on the Conservatives to “address the issues of Islamophobia

Sajid Javid defends Boris Johnson over 'letterbox' comments about Muslim women

Sajid Javid defends Boris Johnson over ‘letterbox’ comments about Muslim women that appear to be a problem within their party”.

In response to the chief rabbi’s comments, a spokesman for the Muslim Council of Britain said: “As a faith community, we commonly are threatened by Islamophobia.

“This an issue that is particularly acute in the Conservative Party, who have approached Islamophobia with denial, dismissal and deceit.

“It is abundantly clear to many Muslims that the Conservative Party tolerate Islamophobia, allow it to fester in society and fail to put in place the measures necessary to root out this type of racism.

“It is as if the Conservative Party has a blind spot for this type of racism.”

Tory peer and former co-chair of the Conservative Party Baroness Warsi said the party had, “dragging and screaming”, finally started to acknowledge the issue of Islamophobia.

Asked about the prime minister, she told BBC Radio 4’s World At One programme: “I don’t believe that he is an Islamophobe, but I do believe that there is a space of privilege within which he exists where he feels sadly that there are no consequences to the words that he uses, even when those words are crass, offensive and racist.”

Additional reporting by Press Association

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