Conservative Party MP and ex-Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has been cleared by a party disciplinary panel following comments he made in a column for the Telegraph in August regarding Burkas.
The disciplinary panel, which was led by an independent investigator, was tasked with deciding whether the numerous complaints weighed against the MP over his views and comments on Islam, and more specifically, female Muslim headwear, was serious enough to warrant disciplinary action.
Complaints were filed against Johnson by several of his fellow party members, including Lord Sheikh, the founder of the Conservative Muslim Forum, and one of the only Muslim members of the House of Lords.
However, at the time, a number of other public figures came to Johnson’s aid, including Mr Bean star Rowan Atkinson, who wrote a letter to the Times saying he should only ‘apologise for a bad joke’.
The complaints came following a column made in The Daily Telegraph by Johnson in response to a law passed in Denmark that banned Burkas in August, that compared Muslim women wearing the Burka to ‘Bank Robbers’, and calls the headwear ‘Oppressive and ridiculous’
Johnson likened women wearing Burkas to ‘letterboxes’, mentioned that it was perfectly ok for the MP to demand women take off the headwear to address him in a medical setting and that schools and Universities should treat women coming to their facilities in a Burka to someone coming ‘dressed as a bank robber’.
The Conservative Party Code of Conduct, Displayed on their official website, mentions that MPs cannot use their positions to bully, abuse or unlawfully discriminate against others. However, the panel decided that this rule does not override Johnson’s rights to express his opinions in the newspaper, despite regarding the language in the article as ‘provocative’, but also adding that it was ‘unwise’ to censor his language or his use of ‘satire’ to emphasise his views.
Many have accused Johnson’s article of giving legitimate support for extreme Islamophobic views, in a term known as ‘dog-whistling’ to the Far-right. Lady Sayeeda Warsi, a member of the House of Lords, tweeted in August that Johnson’s article served as a ‘dog-whistle’ to Islamophobic elements in the Conservative party and that the party wasn’t doing enough to deal with it.
Recent statistics from the Office of National Statistics show that hate crime rates have continued to increase exponentially in recent years and have doubled since 2012 up to almost 95,000 offences between 2017 and early 2018, and the percentage change in hate crimes based on religion has increased by 40% between 2016 and 2017.
One explanation for this rise could be the slow creep of far-right intolerance into mainstream party politics, catalysed by the EU referendum and resulting discourse on immigration. Many in mainstream political parties may have taken the opportunity to introduce adherence to their more radical voters through disguised conversation on what the ‘British Identity’ is. The recent panel findings have shown that the ‘guardians of British civility’ in the Conservative party are more than complacent in allowing ‘dog-whistling’ to the far-right by their more outspoken members.