Report says UK Conservatives seen as insensitive to Muslims

FILE - In this file photo dated Wednesday, May 19, 2021, wearing a face covering British Prime Minister Boris Johnson waves at the media as he leaves 10 Downing Street in London. An independent report Tuesday May 25, 2021, says British Prime Minister Boris Johnson helped create an impression that his Conservative Party is insensitive to Muslims.(AP Photo/Matt Dunham, FILE) (Matt Dunham, Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

LONDON – Prime Minister Boris Johnson helped create an impression that his Conservative Party is “insensitive” to Muslims with a newspaper column comparing veil-wearing women to “letter boxes,” a report into prejudice in Britain’s governing party said Tuesday.

The inquiry, set up by the party in 2019 to investigate all forms of discrimination, said “anti-Muslim sentiment remains a problem” within the Conservative Party at local and individual levels. But it didn't find that the party was institutionally racist or failed to take complaints seriously.

“While the party leadership claims a ‘zero tolerance approach’ to all forms of discrimination, our findings show that discriminatory behaviors occur, especially in relation to people of Islamic faith,” said the committee, led by Srawan Singh, an academic and former member of Britain’s equalities commission.

But it said it didn't find evidence of a party which “systematically discriminated against any particular group.”

Johnson has a long history of making provocative and offensive comments in a career that has combined politics and journalism. He has called Papua New Guineans cannibals, claimed that “part-Kenyan” Barack Obama had an ancestral dislike of Britain and, in a 2018 newspaper column, compared Muslim women who wear face-covering veils to “letter boxes” and “bank robbers.”

The inquiry committee cleared Johnson of breaking the party’s code of conduct, but said Conservative leaders “ought to set a good example for appropriate behaviors and language.”

Johnson has previously apologized for any offense given by his language, but not for writing the words. He has dismissed such comments as jokes or plain-speaking, or accused journalists of distorting his words.

He told the committee that he wouldn't use “some of the offending language from my past writings” now that he is prime minister.

Conservative chairwoman Amanda Milling said the party accepted the report's findings and apologized “to anyone who has been hurt by discriminatory behavior of others or failed by our system.”

“The Conservative Party will continue to take a zero-tolerance approach to discrimination of any kind and take immediate action to improve our handling of complaints," she said.