Under-fire Tory peer: Complaints against me are revenge for Boris Johnson attack

Posted On: 
16th August 2018

An under-fire Conservative peer has accused his critics of seeking revenge after he attacked Boris Johnson's remarks about the burqa.

Lord Sheikh reserved special criticism for Tory MP Zac Goldsmith (left)
Credit: 
PA Images

Lord Sheikh hit out at Tory colleagues who called for his explusion for attending a 2014 Tunisian conference allegedly addressed by extreme anti-Israel figures.

He accused them of a “politically motivated” attack in response to his call for Mr Johnson to be kicked out of the party for saying Muslim women who wear burqas look like "bank robbers" and "letter boxes".

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And he reserved special criticism of Zac Goldsmith, saying the Richmond MP should have "learnt" from his "unsavoury remarks about Sadiq Khan" in the 2016 London mayoral election. 

Mr Goldsmith and fellow Tory MP Robert Halfon submitted a formal complaint to Conservative HQ after Lord Sheikh admitted attending the Tunisian get-together.

But the peer - who founded the Conservative Muslim Forum - told the Radio 4 Today programme: “I think the complaints about me are politically motivated. I think the complaint against me is totally trivial.

“And I think these people who are trying to complain about me are perhaps doing this because I have talked about what Boris Johnson has said being wrong.”

He fumed: “I was very surprised about the fact that Zac Goldsmith has made the complaint.

“When Zac Goldsmith was standing for Mayor in the election he made some unsavoury remarks about Sadiq Khan and that campaign backfired.

"And I feel Zac Goldsmith should have learnt following his failure to be elected as Mayor of London.”

Mr Goldsmith was accused by critics of running a racially motivated campaign after it sought to link Mr Khan to extremist figures and sent out leaflets to Tamil Londoners suggesting he would tax their jewlery. 

Lord Sheikh suggested his critics may be motivated by Islamophobia themselves.

And he insisted: "I am not anti-Semitic... In fact I am a member of the all-party group against anti-Semitism.

"I have some very good Jewish friends in Parliament and outside parliament. I am totally against anti-Semitism.”

TUNISIA CONFERENCE

The Tunisia event in question was the 'International Conference on Monitoring the Palestinian Political and Legal Situation in the Light of Israeli Aggression'.

It was the same conference attended by Jeremy Corbyn - after which the Labour leader joined a delegation for the now-infamous wreath-laying ceremony at a Palestinian “martyrs” graveyard.

According to reports, the get-together included a speech by senior Hamas figure Oussama Hamdan, who said violence was “magnificent” and claimed “Jews drank Christian blood”.

Ex-Tunisian foreign minister Othman Jerandi meanwhile told delegates: “ISIS and Israel are the same thing.”

But Lord Sheikh defended his decision to attend, saying he had done so in “good faith”.

“I was there because I feel we need to talk about these issues,” he told the programme.

“I did not meet any members of Hamas, I was not aware that there were people there who had extreme views. I am totally against extremism. I am totally against any kind of terrorism."

Speaking to PoliticsHome, Mr Goldsmith said: "Lord Sheikh's complaint about Boris Johnson is not relevant to this. What matter is that he attended an unpleasant event in Tunis, surrounded by dubious people, including those who glorify terrorism - and that my Party has rightly criticised Jeremy Corbyn for attending the same event.

"That Lord Sheikh now claims he was tired at the time, unaware of what was going on or even what the conference was titled is certainly an explanation, but not a very convincing one.

"I am conscious that anyone calling out extremism is going to be labelled Islamophobic by people who have a very direct interest in deflecting attention and criticism. But self-evidently it is no more Islamophobic to criticise Islamist extremism that it is Christianophobic to criticise white supremacists."

Mr Halfon was approached for comment.