Equalities watchdog drops plan for Tory Islamophobia inquiry

Conservative party commits to own investigation but UK’s largest Muslim body brands it a ‘facade’

The equalities watchdog has dropped plans to launch an inquiry into Tory Islamophobia after the party set out new details of its own investigation, which the largest Muslim body in Britain has branded “a facade”.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) have said it does not think it is proportionate to carry out its own inquiry after the Conservatives committed to an independent investigation looking into complaints of discrimination over “religion or belief and significantly Islam”.

However, the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), which submitted a dossier of 300 cases to the watchdog cataloguing alleged Islamophobia, said the terms of reference set out by the Tories was inadequate.

Harun Khan, secretary general of the MCB, said: “We have previously described the Conservative party’s attitude to Islamophobia as one of denial, dismissal and deceit. The publication of the terms of reference for its inquiry reflects that regrettable attitude. They are a facade to hide the hundreds of incidences of Islamophobic bigotry we have identified in its ranks.”

An EHRC spokesperson said it had carefully considered the complaints and, given the party’s decision to launch an investigation, it would not take further action but would monitor the review and ask the Tories to provide updates.

Khan said the MCB is concerned about the inquiry’s limited focus, only looking at the way complaints are handled, rather than the issue of racism within the party. It also claims the Tory’s inquiry has been broadened to include all discrimination and is not focusing enough on anti-Islamic sentiment.

It is being led by former commissioner of the EHRC, Prof Swaran Singh. The terms of reference were formally supported by the watchdog on Monday.

Among the examples submitted to the party by the MCB was the London 2016 mayoral campaign by Tory peer Zac Goldsmith. He was accused of falsely linking Labour’s Sadiq Khan, who is a Muslim, to extremism. Goldsmith has said he does not have a “racist bone in his body” and regretted the portrayal of his campaign.

Sally-Ann Hart, the MP for Hastings and Rye, was placed under investigation by the party for sharing a post claiming the Women’s March had been hijacked by the Muslim Brotherhood for a “Muslim agenda”. She had not commented on this incident directly.

Anthony Browne, the MP for South Cambridgeshire, was also listed for having questioned the loyalty of Muslims to Britain when responding to Muslim leaders’ concerns about the Iraq war. He had said they were “a large minority with such divided loyalties”. He later apologised.

Khan said: “While it is clear that Islamophobia is not treated equally to other forms of racism in the public domain including by many public bodies, we still hold out hope that many will see through this facade, and we can – sooner rather than later – have a true independent inquiry into Islamophobia in the party.”

The Labour MP Afzal Khan, vice-chair of the all party parliamentary group on British Muslims, said: “[The government] has let down the British Muslim community at every turn and their recent publication of the terms of reference for its inquiry demonstrates that they do not take Islamophobia seriously.”

He said the Conservative party’s decision not to adopt the group’s definition of Islamophobia like other political parties was indicative of a government “dragging its feet” on the issue and it needed to tackle the issue within its own ranks.

The Labour party is being investigated by the EHRC for its handling of antisemitic complaints and it is due to report its findings later this year.

Amanda Milling MP, co-chairman of the Conservative party, said having the terms of reference agreed was a positive step forward.

She said: “The Conservative party will never stand by when it comes to prejudice and discrimination of any kind. It is why we are committed to this investigation, to ensure that any abuse that is not fit for public life is stamped out. The Conservative party is committed to ensuring everyone’s rights are respected and everyone is treated with fairness and dignity.”

A spokesperson for the EHRC said: “We will be monitoring the review and requiring the party to provide regular updates on progress. If we are not satisfied with progress or how the investigation is conducted we will review our decision and do not rule out the use of our legal powers.”


Kate Proctor

The GuardianTramp

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