Britain’s equality watchdog writes to the Conservative Party following Islamophobia complaints

Credit: PA

Words by ITV Political Reporter Shehab Khan and ITV News Correspondent Angus Walker

ITV News has learned that Britain’s equality watchdog has written to the Conservative Party requesting more information following complaints about Islamophobia within the Party.

The Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) is in communication with the Conservatives and is now awaiting a response before determining next steps.

The Conservative Party has been given one month to reply to the EHRC’s request for further information regarding the nature of the complaints.

The EHRC rarely takes action against political parties but earlier this year wrote a formal letter to the Labour Party asking for a response to complaints about anti-Semitism. Labour replied in April and the EHRC is currently contemplating what their next steps will be.

Labour said they "completely reject any suggestion the party has acted unlawfully, and we are cooperating fully."

The EHRC wrote a formal letter to the Labour Party earlier this year about anti-Semitism. Credit: PA

ITV News understands the complaint about the Conservative Party hasn’t reached the same stage as the Labour Party but this is due to when the complaints were first received as opposed to the nature of the incidents.

A Conservative spokesperson said the party "will always be happy to work with organisations who support equality, tolerance and human rights."

The latest revelation about Islamophobia comes on the day the House of Commons held a debate on the All-party parliamentary group (APPG) on British Muslim’s suggested definition of Islamophobia.

The definition classifies discrimination against Muslims and Muslimness as a form of racism and has been adopted by the Scottish Conservatives, the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats, the Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru.

The government said it will not adopt the definition and that "further careful consideration" was required.

In the Commons, when speaking about the definition, Naz Shah, the Labour MP for Bradford West, read out a list of abusive messages she has received on social media and said she feared for her life.

Ms Shah said: "I ask which Muslim’s life must go next for us to simply recognise and understand Islamophobia. Never before have I shared this openly, but I do question, as many Muslims across the country do, which Muslim’s life will be next, will it be mine?"

The debate was however not one sided and Khalid Mahmood, the Labour MP for Birmingham, Perry Barr, disagreed with the definition and called for "balance".

"We as Muslims able to condemn both sides. When radical action, radicalisation and terrorism take place, we should condemn that, just as we should condemn attacks from the right. We should all do that," he said.

The Conservative Party has faced increased pressure following a spate of suspensions of members who had posted racist and Islamophobic content online.

In recent months dozens of party members have been suspended, including several councillors from across the country.

Anna Soubry, the co-chair of the APPG for British Muslims, said the scale of Islamophobia had been "underestimated".

"The government should embrace the APPG definition of Islamophobia and then get on with rooting out Islamophobia in Britain," the Change UK MP said.

"They could do no better than to start in rooting it out in the Conservative Party itself," she added.

Anna Soubry said the scale of Islamophobia had been 'underestimated'.

Wes Streeting, the co-chair of the APPG for British Muslims, said there was an "urgent and compelling case" for adopting the definition.

The Labour MP said: "There is a ready-made definition available that has the support of over 750 Muslim community organisations."

He added: "It is time for the Government to get this agreed so that we can get on with tackling Islamophobia and creating a society in which everyone can flourish, regardless of their background."

James Brokenshire, the Housing, Communities and Local Government Secretary, outlined why the government would not be accepting the definition raising concerns about freedom of speech and the impact of combining racism and religion.

"It is clear that with such a complex issue, we need to interrogate this further as a matter of urgency," he said.

In response to calls about adopting the definition a government spokesperson said: "Any hatred directed against British Muslims and others because of their faith or heritage is utterly unacceptable.

"We are conscious that the APPG's proposed definition has not been broadly accepted - unlike the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism before it was adopted by the UK government and other international organisations and governments.

"This is a matter that needs further careful consideration."