UK Politics

Islamophobia: Tory chairman won't reveal complaint numbers

Baroness Warsi Image copyright PA
Image caption Baroness Warsi was the UK's first female Muslim cabinet minister

Tory chairman Brandon Lewis says the party's approach to Islamophobia is "transparent" but would not say how many complaints it has received.

He told the BBC he would not go into "specific numbers" but that the complaints against party members had been "very, very small" in total.

Mr Lewis said the party was "transparent" about "our processes and how we deal with these things".

But ex-chair Baroness Warsi said his response "reeked of a cover-up".

The Conservative peer, who has been urging tougher action on the issue for two years, said it was "no clearer" how many members had been disciplined and whether some had been subsequently allowed to stay in the party.

Asked whether he still considered the party's approach to be "fully transparent" and one of "zero tolerance", Mr Lewis told BBC One's Andrew Marr Show: "Our processes are transparent and I think any case of any kind of abuse or bullying is one case too many."

He was asked about the Conservatives' approach to dealing with the issue after Buzzfeed reported that a member suspended over a Facebook post had been told they could be re-admitted in six months.

"There's a whole range of things, depending on what the offence is in the first place from diversity training, through to apologies, suspension, expulsion from the party," he said.

"We believe in trying to change behaviour... If somebody shows contrition, apologises, understands why what they did was wrong and doesn't reoffend I think, like our general justice system, people do have the opportunity to have a second chance."

But asked how many party members had been expelled over Islamophobia, he said: "I'm not going to go into details of specific numbers. It's actually a very, very small number of people who we have had complaints about who are actually members of the Conservative Party."

He also would not say how many overall complaints about Islamophobia the party had received.

'Opaque and evasive'

"We deal with complaints immediately," Mr Lewis said, adding that there was a code of conduct members had to abide by and the party had strengthened its ability to deal with online abuse.

"I'm always looking at how we can further review and improve our processes - my main focus, I have to say, is on making sure that any form of abuse, whatever it is, is dealt with quickly, firmly, so people understand that it is unacceptable in the Conservative Party and if you want to behave that way, there is no place for you in our party."

Baroness Warsi, the UK's first female Muslim cabinet minister, suggested Mr Lewis's answers had been "opaque and evasive".

In March, she accused Prime Minister Theresa May of "burying her head in the sand" about the problem and senior party officials of being "in denial".

Reacting to Mr Lewis' interview on Twitter, the peer suggested she had subsequently agreed to "stop publicly raising the issue" and, instead, work with the party.

But despite this, she said she had still to get answers on a number of issues.

In March, the party confirmed 14 members had been suspended for Islamophobic Facebook posts and said "decisive action" would be taken against anyone making offensive remarks.

The Muslim Council of Britain has also said the level of prejudice within the party was "astonishing" and has called for an independent inquiry into the issue.

More on this story