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Boris Johnson's Burka Comments Suggest Tory Party Is "Insensitive To Muslim Communities", Independent Report Finds

Boris Johnson's Burka Comments Suggest Tory Party Is 'Insensitive To Muslim Communities', Independent Report Finds
4 min read

A long-awaited probe into alleged discrimination within the Conservative party found evidence of "overt and nasty" discrimination, but concluded there was no "systemic" problem in the party.

The independent review published today, first announced in 2019, was set up following a series of demands for the party to investigate Islamophobia in the party after a wave of media reports about racist incidents.

Professor Swaran Singh, who led the probe, examined 1,418 complaints which had been recorded in the party's complaints database between 2015 and 2020, finding that two-thirds of incidents related to allegations of anti-Muslim discrimination.

Announcing the findings, Singh said that "judging by the extent of complaints and findings of misconduct by the party itself that relate to anti-Muslim words and conduct, anti-Muslim sentiment remains a problem within the party.

"This is damaging to the party, and alienates a significant section of society."

The probe also examined the handlings of complaints made against specific senior Tory figures, including a fresh examination of Boris Johnson's comments in a 2018 Daily Telegraph column in which he described Muslim women who wear the burka as looking like "letterboxes" and "bank robbers".

Johnson had been cleared by a majority in an earlier independent panel inquiry following a complaint he broke the party's code of conduct when he made the comments.

But the latest report said several interviewees who spoke to the Singh inquiry considered the language to be "discriminatory and unacceptable".In a response to Singh's investigation, Johnson said he was sorry for "any offence taken" but appeared to defend his work, insisting that "in journalism you need to use language freely".

"I do know that offence has been taken at things I've said, that people expect a person in my position to get things right, but in journalism you need to use language freely. I am obviously sorry for any offence taken," he said.

"Would I use some of the offending language from my past writings today? Now that I am Prime Minister, I would not."

Singh, a former commissioner for the Equality and Human Rights Commission said that while Johnson's insistence he would not repeat the comments "could be considered leading by example" that "the investigation would like to emphasise that using measured and appropriate language should not be a requirement solely for senior people, but ought to be expected throughout the Conservative party."

He said the report would make for "uncomfortable reading" in the party which he urged to "fully accept" his recommendations.

"Racism and other forms of discrimination have a long-lasting and pernicious effect on individuals and communities," he said.

"We were tasked with scrutinising how the Conservative Party dealt with allegations of such discrimination and whether its policies and processes to deal with complaints of discrimination were fit for purpose. Our report should make for uncomfortable reading for the Party and, more importantly, spur it into action." 

He added: "I hope the Party will fully accept our recommendations and implement the changes needed in a transparent and timely manner."

A spokesperson for the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said:  "We will assess the report alongside the investigation’s terms of reference and await the Conservatives' response on the actions they will take.

"This process will take some time and we do not anticipate making any further comments until that work is completed."

Meanwhile, Tory MP Sajid Javid, who had challenged the Conservative candidates to commit to a probe during 2019's leadership contest, said he "welcomed" the publication of the report.

"Although the investigation didn't find any evidence of institutional or systemic anti-Muslim prejudice, it did find distressing examples of anti-Muslim sentiment at local Association and individual levels, as well as serious shortcomings in the Party's complaints process," he said.

"Stamping out discrimination, whether against Muslims or any other minority group, is an issue where our country's political parties have a responsibility to demonstrate leadership."

He added: "I strongly urge the Conservative Party to adopt the independent investigation's recommendations - unconditionally and in full."

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