Boris Johnson accused of ‘insult to British Muslims’ after failing to respond to Islamophobia concerns for a year

Prime minister warned he is ‘answerable to MPs’ after failing to answer November 2020 letter demanding action

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Correspondent
Monday 01 November 2021 18:15 GMT

The prime minister’s failure to answer questions on Islamophobia for a year is an “insult to British Muslims”, an MP has said.

Afzal Khan raised a point of order in Parliament on Monday, saying Boris Johnson had “ignored” a letter marking Islamophobia Awareness Month in November 2020.

“This time last year to mark this month, I wrote to the prime minister raising concerns over Islamophobia, urging him to better safeguard British Muslims and to fulfil his promise to carry out an independent investigation into his party,” he told the House of Commons.

“A year on, the prime minister has still not responded. This is wholly unacceptable and an insult to British Muslims.”

Mr Khan asked what action could be taken and urged Mr Johnson to make a statement on this year’s Islamophobia Awareness Month.

Sir Lindsay Hoyle, speaker of the House of Commons, said questions from all MPs must be answered in a “timely way” by Downing Street.

“I would expect the prime minister or any minister to respond to members from all sides of this house, that is what ministers are there for,” he added. “As I’ve said before they are answerable to this house, they are answerable to MPs … I hope it was a genuine mistake.”

Sir Lindsay has previously issued warnings over parliamentary scrutiny, and took aim at the government for announcing Covid lockdown changes to the press before MPs.

A debate marking Islamophobia Awareness Month will be held in Parliament’s Westminster Hall on Tuesday.

It was founded in 2012 and sees campaigners, politicians and faith groups raise awareness of the issue.

Addressing the House of Commons following Mr Khan’s question on Monday, communities secretary Michael Gove said that the equalities minister would be attending the debate.

He said the government had appointed an independent adviser on Islamophobia and had an anti-Muslim hatred working group.

Boris Johnson apologises for 'hurt and offence' caused by Islamophobia in Tory Party

Mr Khan, a member of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on British Muslims, wrote to the prime minister in November 2020 warning of rising hate crime and questioning “the inaction of this government in tackling” Islamophobia.

An official guide says that government departments should respond to correspondence from MPs within 20 working days, but Mr Khan has not received a reply.

A report into Islamophobia in the Conservative Party, published in May, found that two thirds of discriminatory incidents reported to the party’s headquarters over six years related to anti-Muslim hatred.

The review was commissioned in December 2019 after accusations of Islamophobic behaviour by some Conservative party members and representatives.

It considered cases including a column written by Mr Johnson comparing Muslim women who wear full-face veils to “letter boxes” and “bank robbers” in 2018.

The review said such incidents “give an impression to some of a party and leadership insensitive to Muslim communities”.

The government was previously accused of “utterly neglecting” Islamophobia by failing to produce a definition that can be used to combat anti-Muslim hatred for over two years.

A group of MPs and peers formulated a working definition and called for it to be adopted in 2018, saying the lack of one was allowing Islamophobia to “increase in society to devastating effect”.

The Conservative government rejected the proposed definition in May 2019, and announced that it would commission independent experts to draw up a different one.

But only one adviser is known to have been appointed and no proposals have ever been published.

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