Boris Johnson’s comments about women wearing the burka have given an impression that the Tories are “insensitive to Muslim communities”, an independent review into alleged Islamophobia and discrimination in the Conservative Party has said.
The inquiry found anti-Muslim sentiment was seen at local association and individual levels but claims of “institutional racism” were not borne out by evidence of the way complaints were handled.
In a pointed message to Mr Johnson, the review led by Professor Swaran Singh said the leadership of the Conservative Party “ought to set a good example for appropriate behaviours and language”.
Would I use some of the offending language from my past writings today? Now that I am Prime Minister, I would not
The Prime Minister was cleared by a majority on an independent panel over a complaint he broke the party’s code of conduct following a Daily Telegraph column in 2018 which described Muslim women who wear the burqa as looking like “letterboxes” and “bank robbers”.
Mr Johnson said he was “sorry for any offence taken” over his journalism and told Prof Singh’s investigation: “Would I use some of the offending language from my past writings today? Now that I am Prime Minister, I would not.”
The Singh Investigation report, seen by the PA news agency, said several interviewees who spoke to the inquiry considered Mr Johnson’s language “discriminatory and unacceptable”.
In response to Mr Johnson’s assertion he would not make such remarks now, the report said: “While this could be considered leading by example, 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.”
The investigation also examined the controversial and unsuccessful mayoral campaign Zac Goldsmith – now Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park – ran in London against Sadiq Khan in 2016, during which he accused his Muslim Labour rival of associating with extremists.
The report said Lord Goldsmith “accepts poor judgement in the way his campaign was conducted but forcefully denies harbouring anti-Muslim sentiments or using such sentiments for political advantage”.
The report said high-profile cases like Mr Johnson’s and Lord Goldsmith’s “give the impression to many that the Party and its leadership are insensitive to Muslim communities”.
Prof Singh told PA: “I’m not saying that the party leadership is insensitive to Muslim communities. I’m saying that the perception is very strong.”
The inquiry carried out by Prof Singh, a former commissioner at the Equality and Human Rights Commission, was established by the party following a series of allegations about Islamophobic behaviour in the party and was widened to consider all forms of discrimination.
From 2015-2020 the party’s central database recorded 1,418 complaints relating to 727 incidents of alleged discrimination – an average of 237 complaints about 122 incidents a year in a party of 200,000 members.