What's the government's record on tackling Islamophobia?

By Westminster Producer Maya Bowles and Political Correspondent Shehab Khan

The Conservative Party's efforts to tackle Islamophobia have come under scrutiny after comments by a number of high-profile Conservatives over the weekend.

The former deputy chair of the party, Lee Anderson, lost the Conservative whip on Saturday after failing to apologise for claiming “Islamists” had “got control” of the London mayor in an interview with GB News.

Suella Braverman, former Home Secretary, echoed similar sentiments when she wrote in the Telegraph on Friday that "Islamists are in charge of Britain".

And former Prime Minister Liz Truss is under fire for claiming "a radical Islamic party" could win the Rochdale by-election, and remaining silent during an interview with Steve Bannon, in which he hailed far-right figure Tommy Robinson a “hero”.

Last week it was reported that the number of Islamophobic incidents in the UK has tripled since the Hamas attacks in October last year.

The Conservative Party has battled with accusations of Islamophobia for years, and the events over the weekend have led many to ask whether the party is doing enough to tackle it.

Allegations of Islamophobia in the Conservative Party

In 2016, Zac Goldsmith's London Mayoral campaign was repeatedly accused of being Islamophobic and smearing Sadiq Khan. Mr Goldsmith denied the claims at the time.

In 2018, Boris Johnson wrote a column comparing Muslim women to "letterboxes" and "bank robbers".

At the time, Tell Mama - a group that records Islamophobic hate incidents in the UK, reported that in the week after Mr Johnson's comments, Islamophobic incidents rose by 375 per cent.

In 2018, the Muslim Council of Britain wrote to the Conservative Party calling for an independent inquiry after incidents of Islamophobia rose at a local level within the Conservative party.

The MCB letter was supported by 350 mosques across the UK.

In 2019, then-Prime Minister Johnson, ordered a report into Islamophobia within the party.

The report was published in 2021 and while it concluded that anti-Muslim views were seen at local association and individual levels, it found no evidence of "institutional racism".

It was met with criticism by Conservatives like Baroness Warsi, former MEP Sajjad Karim who said the investigation was too restrictive in its scope.

Other campaigners said Muslims had been excluded from the investigations.

Former prime minister Boris Johnson. Credit: PA

In 2022, Conservative MP Nus Ghani said she was dismissed as a minister after a government whip told her that her "Muslimness was raised as an issue", and her "Muslim woman minister status was making colleagues feel uncomfortable".

Chief whip Mark Spencer came forward as the person who spoke to Ms Ghani and said the allegations were untrue. He was later cleared of any misconduct.

In 2024, the Muslim Council of Britain said Islamophobia in the Conservative Party was "institutional, tolerated by the leadership and seen as acceptable by great swathes of the party membership”, after comments by Anderson and Braverman.

Defining "Islamophobia"

For years, there have been disputes over exactly how to define Islamaphobia, with the Conservatives using a different definition to the one used by other parties and over 750 British Muslim organisations.

In 2019, the all-party parliamentary group on British Muslims produced a working definition of Islamophobia as being a "type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness.”

However, at the time the Conservative Party refused to adopt that definition.

On Sunday, Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch tweeted that Conservatives use the term "anti-Muslim hatred" instead because of concerns that Islam cannot be properly criticised under the more commonly used definition.

She said Labour's definition "creates blasphemy law via the back door".

The prime minister's spokesperson told reporters: "There are issues in relation to the APPG’s definition of Islamophobia, which conflates race with religion, does not address sectarianism within Islam, and may unintentionally undermine freedom of speech.

“But ... we have always been clear that this Government does not and will not tolerate anti-Muslim hatred.”

He added: “More broadly in terms of any racism, any prejudice in relation to Islam, the Government clearly does not tolerate anti-Muslim hatred in that respect and will always seek to combat it, wherever it occurs.”

Independent advisor on Islamophobia

In 2019, the government appointed an independent advisor on Islamophobia, but he was dismissed after he endorsed a controversial campaign for cinemas to cancel a "blasphemous" film called The Lady of Heaven.

But many have criticised the government for not reappointing a replacement three-and-a- half years later, when it has an independent advisor on anti-semitism.

In December 2023, Labour MP Naz Shah raised the lack of an Islamophobia adviser in a debate on Islamophobia in the Commons, saying: "many Muslims are fearing for a future in Britain for their children, and those who can afford to do so are leaving Britain".

Anti-semitism has also been increasing, with more than 4,000 antisemitic incidents recorded in the UK by a Jewish charity in 2023, with the all-time high being put down to the “sheer volume” which took place following the Hamas attacks on October 7.

The Labour Party has also faced its own battles with discrimination - the Equality and Human Rights Commission concluded in 2020 that Labour broke equality law under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, finding evidence of antisemitic harassment and discrimination.

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