Theresa May condemned for silence on Islamophobia in Tory party after Boris Johnson's niqab 'letter box' comments

Prime minister urged to speak out over inflammatory article penned by the man who was her foreign secretary until a few weeks ago - as his former junior joins criticism

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Tuesday 07 August 2018 10:27
Tell MAMA founder Fiyaz Mughal condemns Tory government silence surrounding Boris Johnson's 'letter box' comment

Theresa May has been accused of staying silent on Islamophobia in the Tory party after failing to criticise Boris Johnson for suggesting women wearing niqabs resemble “letter boxes” and “bank robbers”.

The prime minister has been urged to end her silence over the controversial article penned by the man who was her foreign secretary until a few weeks ago.

Tell MAMA – an organisation which records anti-Muslim hate – also protested that “absolutely nothing” had happened since the Conservative party chairman vowed to act on Islamophobia two months ago.

Mr Johnson has been widely condemned for the article – in which he said it was “absolutely ridiculous” that people should "choose to go around looking like letter boxes” – but No 10 declined to comment

Fiyaz Mughal, Tell MAMA’s founder, said: “There should have been some response from Downing Street distancing themselves from these comments.

“That was the first thing that should have been done, we are still waiting for that. It sends out a signal, sadly, to Muslim communities sadly that their worries are not taken into account.”

Asked if it amounted to Islamophobia, Mr Mughal told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Clearly it does. These are the kind of comments we have seen made by extremist far right groups and people who have been maliciously attacking Muslims.”

Theresa May to tackle racism in UK

Alistair Burt, a Foreign Office minister, did criticise his former boss, saying: “I would never have made such a comment - I think there's a degree of offence in that, absolutely right.”

Mr Mughal condemned the “sheer flippancy” of Mr Johnson’s comments – at a time of “the highest number of anti-Muslim hate incidents since we started seven years ago”.

And, asked what had followed from the group’s meeting with Brandon Lewis, the Tory chairman, in June, he replied: “Nothing. The reality is we had one meeting.

“A series of correspondence went back to the chair’s office saying a number of steps needed to be taken to build reassurance around tackling anti-muslim hatred or islamophobia. And absolutely nothing happened.

“There was no response back and it was all in effect, quote unquote, taken in house. It was effectively said to us that they would manage the issues. The reality is again it’s not good enough.”

Naz Shah, Labour's shadow minister for equalities, said it was “appalling that the Tory party chairman is refusing to tackle Islamophobia within his own party's ranks”.

“The prime minister has refused to condemn Boris Johnson's racist article, sending a clear message to the Muslim community that their concerns are being ignored.

“This issue clearly goes right to the party's core. They should listen to the calls of several prominent Muslim organisations, and members of their own party, and conduct an inquiry.”

Asked about the article on Monday, the prime minister’s spokesman refused to be drawn on it, saying only: “The longstanding government position on this is clear – we do not support a ban on wearing of the veil in public.

“Such a prescriptive approach would be out of keeping with British values such as religious intolerance and gender equality.”

Mr Johnson’s article, for The Daily Telegraph, came after Denmark imposed fines for wearing the religious headgear in the streets, which he described as “oppressive”.

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