U.K. Conservative Party Sets Out Investigation into Racism and Prejudice Among Members

The U.K. Conservative Party has set out an update to its investigation into all forms of prejudice and discrimination among its members.

The party has set out the "terms of reference" for the independent investigation, which sets out the scope of the inquiry and the issues that it will consider.

The document promises to hold an independent investigation that will report on all alleged discrimination because of any protected characteristics like religion or beliefs. The document singles out "specifically Islam" as a focus of this inquiry.

The leader of the Conservatives, Prime Minister Boris Johnson, had previously committed to holding a specific inquiry into Islamophobia among party members during the party's leadership election in 2019.

The Conservative Party had faced growing pressure from Muslims and equalities campaigners and suspended a number of members following allegations of Islamophobia in the run-up to the 2019 general election.

In one example, a report compiled by the campaign group Hope Not Hate, an advocacy group in the U.K. which campaigns against racism, showed anti-Muslim online comments made by Tory members, including six councilors.

The Tories suspended all of those who were party members.

In April 2019, Buzzfeed News published a list of 20 party members who had made Islamophobic comments, including calling Muslims "muzz rats" and "subhuman scum".

A poll of Tory members in June 2019, carried out by YouGov for Hope Not Hate, found that nearly half would prefer not to have a Muslim prime minister and more than two-thirds of members believe that parts of the UK are under sharia law.

However, Prime Minister Boris Johnson's decision to launch an investigation into all forms of prejudice was criticized by Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), it accused the party of "refusing to acknowledge that there can be bigotry and prejudice directed at Muslims."

Today the party set out the Terms of Reference for the investigation into all forms of prejudice and discrimination among its members.

The Party said: "The independent investigation will consider and report on:

"The nature and extent of complaints against the party, party members, party representatives and/or volunteer leaders of alleged discrimination because of a protected characteristic (including religion or belief and specifically Islam) or of indirect discrimination.

"The independent investigation will also consider and report on any related complaints of harassment and/or victimization.

"How the party has investigated and dealt with such complaints, including any sanctions applied by the party in circumstances where complaints have been investigated and upheld."

Swaran Singh, professor of social and community psychiatry at the University of Warwick, has been appointed as the independent chair of the investigation. This has drawn criticism from the former Conservative Party chairwoman, Baroness Sayeeda Warsi.

"The Runnymede Trust [a race equality think tank] encapsulated it when they said he is somebody who believes racism is a contested term and that institutional racism simply doesn't exist," she told BBC Politics at the time of his appointment.

"That gives an indication of where the inquiry will end up."

The Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), which is responsible for the enforcement of non-discrimination laws in England, Scotland and Wales, says it will not be investigating the party at this "current stage."

The Commission launched an investigation into the U.K. Labour Party over claims of anti-Semitism in the party in May 2019. That investigation is still ongoing.

The MCB has repeatedly asked the body to investigate the Conservative Party after handing over what it says is a dossier of evidence showing evidence of Islamophobia among party members in May 2019.

The Conservative Party has been accused of failing to tackle Islamophobia
The Conservative Party has been accused of failing to tackle Islamophobia Getty

The EHRC told Newsweek: "We have given very careful consideration to complaints raised about discrimination and islamophobia in the Conservative Party.

"We have concluded, in the light of the decision by the Party to institute an independent investigation, that it would not be proportionate to initiate our own investigation at this stage.

"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."

The MCB called the Conservative Party's terms of reference a "facade".

Harun Khan, secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain 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 façade to hide the hundreds of incidences of Islamophobic bigotry we have identified in its ranks. In sum, it seems even today, the Conservative Party refuses to acknowledge that there can be bigotry and prejudice directed at Muslims."

The group also criticized the appointment of Professor Singh as chair, saying he was someone who was "mired in controversy."

Khan said: "By restricting the terms to an inquiry merely into the complaints received, the Party is choosing to summarily dismiss all the issues of the toxic culture of racism that have been raised by the Muslim Council of Britain and many others.

"This inquiry appears aimed at deceiving the public and the Equalities and Human Rights Commission that the problem is being looked into, when in reality the majority of the issue has already been dismissed, and the person tasked with doing the investigation is mired in controversy, making claims of true independence hard to justify.

"Whilst 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 Conservatives say that the investigation will be thorough, will investigate any alleged Islamophobia and will make sure that no abusive behavior is left in the political party.

Commenting on the latest update, Amanda Milling MP, co-chairman of the Conservative Party, said: "This is another positive step forward in Professor Singh's investigation into all forms of prejudice and discrimination.

"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."

Professor Singh has been contacted for comment.