Revealed: How Conservatives sat on report into racism within Tory Party

Exclusive: Labour calls for release of review that was completed as long as two months ago

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Friday 02 April 2021 21:38 BST
Boris Johnson apologises for 'hurt and offence' caused by Islamophobia in Tory Party

The Conservatives’ inquiry into racism within the party was completed as long as two months ago, The Independent can reveal – but Tory leaders are still yet to say when it will be released.

The party acknowledged that it had received the review, set up by Boris Johnson as he apologised for Islamophobia, but would say only that it would be published “in due course”.

Labour has called on the party chair, Amanda Milling, to commit to immediate release of the review, carried out by social psychiatry expert Swaran Singh, while victims of alleged racism have raised concerns that they were ignored by the inquiry.

The government has faced criticism this week for a string of issues with its official race review which was accused of glorifying slavery, while several experts cited in the document said they had never submitted evidence.

Mr Johnson committed to the party’s own inquiry during the race to replace Theresa May as Conservative leader in June 2019, agreeing to the review in a live TV debate when pressed by rival Sajid Javid.

In his letter to the party chair, Afzal Khan, the shadow deputy leader of the Commons, said: “Can you now confirm whether the inquiry is finished, and whether the report will be published immediately?

“We are now nearly two years on from the prime minister’s commitment to hold an inquiry into Islamophobia in the Conservative Party.”

The inquiry was already under fire for a very tight remit, restricted to simply exploring the handling of complaints rather than the wider controversy of Tory members’ attitudes, and its website is a blank page.

Now Tories who have made high-profile allegations of racism have told The Independent they were shunned by Swaran Singh’s team, while another protested that only written evidence was accepted.

One complainant not contacted is Sajjad Karim, a former Conservative MEP who has spoken of his experience of Islamophobia from “very senior members of the party”, including a minister.

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“This is further proof of a lack of seriousness within the Conservative Party about dealing properly with this issue,” he told The Independent, “it is more interested in trying to get the issue to go away.”

“It is difficult to see how they could complete a proper inquiry or report without contacting people who have made serious allegations,” he added.

Leo Ciccarone, an Italian-born former Tory association chair in Portsmouth, is pursuing a legal case against the party after an official wrote that “his political culture is more in keeping with Sicily than Southsea”, making him untrustworthy.

He said: “I did not get an invitation to give any evidence about what has been going on in Portsmouth – in fact, I was not told about this inquiry.”

A third ethnic minority complainant in the Midlands, remaining anonymous because of their own legal case, did submit written evidence about being “hounded out” by prominent local Tories – but suggested that was a poor substitute.

“If they are going to do an independent inquiry then surely that requires listening to evidence? Not only to see it, but to listen it,” the former council vice-chair said.

“It really should have spoken to people about what happened to them. The investigation appears to have been done behind closed doors.”

The inquiry, which has been dogged by controversy, came after a deluge of racist comments by Tory councillors were said to have exposed anti-Muslim prejudice “at every level” of the party – and as Mr Johnson’s own past remarks came back to haunt him.

The party is also under pressure from the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, which has threatened its own inquiry if it is not “satisfied with progress or how the investigation is conducted”.

Nevertheless, the Conservatives rebutted pressure to widen the terms of reference, restricting its first phase to the party “providing all of the appropriate information”.

Professor Singh, a social psychiatry expert, then asked for “evidence relating to allegations of discrimination which have been raised in the past, but which may not have been considered by the complaints department”.

Mohammed Amin, who quit as chairman of the Conservative Muslim Forum and is now a Liberal Democrat, did give verbal evidence and said he was “satisfied” with how that was carried out.

But he warned: “There are serious concerns about the terms of reference which were very narrowly drawn to be simply about the party’s complaints process and nothing else.

“It is not designed to address what is it about the Conservative Party that makes lots and lots of anti-Muslim bigots believe they belong in the party.”

The complaints come after race equality campaigners condemned a “deeply cynical” report on racial injustice, after it dismissed the notion of “institutional racism” in British society.

The office for the Singh investigation has been asked to respond to criticisms that its inquiry has not been thorough enough.

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