Disturbingly Orwellian ... a witch hunt ... and no, Boris ISN’T racist
As Johnson faces a Tory probe into the burka row, Mail readers — with quiet fury — deliver one of our biggest mailbags ever to give their withering response
TORY activists last night mounted a furious revolt after Conservative chiefs launched disciplinary proceedings against Boris Johnson over his burka comments.
Grassroots supporters and association chairmen accused the party’s high- command of orchestrating a ‘witch hunt’ to ‘finish off’ the former foreign secretary.
Rank-and-file members demanded the investigation be dropped immediately, amid warnings that any action against Mr Johnson could backfire and bring down Theresa May.
Tory Party chairman Brandon Lewis was accused of attempting to ‘ kneecap’ Mr Johnson after he refused to apologise.
Last night he stepped back from running the disciplinary process following accusations he was orchestrating a ‘ kangaroo court’ and acting as ‘Mrs May’s thug’.
Sources close to Mr Lewis claimed party rules meant it had no choice but to launch a probe after it received a number of complaints over Mr Johnson’s remarks. The former London mayor compared Muslim women wearing the burka to letter boxes and bank robbers in a newspaper column on Monday.
But last night the party faithful said the move to launch a formal probe had re-ignited a row that had already been allowed to drag on for too long.
Ed Costelloe, chairman of Grassroots Conservatives, an independent activist group, said the disciplinary action was a ‘witch hunt’ against Mr Johnson.
‘Some people felt that his words were a little bit rude ... but there is a lot of feeling that this is being built up to finish off Boris,’ he said. ‘I’m disappointed that Brandon Lewis has let this go on, but he is representing the party machine and the party machine does not like Boris.’
David Goldson, chairman of South Norfolk constituency association, said the decision was ‘highly regrettable’. Essex councillor Delyth Miles added: ‘This is blowing out of all proportion and I fear for the future of the party.’
He warned that taking action ‘could be inflammatory and cause internal turmoil that backfires on’ Mr Lewis and Mrs May.
One Tory MP told the Telegraph: ‘ This is a complete own goal by Brandon Lewis. To anyone objective, it looks like a crude and unprincipled kneecap job on the favourite to succeed Theresa May. In the process he has managed to turn a minor story into a five- day frenzy of virtue signalling nonsense. Brandon needs to close this down or he won’t last as party chairman.’
Tory MP Andrew Bridgen described the probe as a ‘witch hunt instigated by No 10 against Boris Johnson, who they see as a huge threat. They want to humiliate and destroy him’. Under the Tory Party code of conduct, an investigating officer will now decide if the complaints should be looked into by a disciplinary panel.
Members would normally be appointed by the chairman, but Mr Lewis last night said he would not do so on this occasion.
If a panel is formed, it will judge if Mr Johnson has breached the code, which includes a requirement that holders of public office should ‘lead by example to encourage and foster respect and tolerance’. If Mr Johnson is found at fault, he could face suspension or even expulsion.
Last night a source close to Mr Lewis, who backed Remain, denied accusations he was pursuing an anti-Brexit agenda.
‘It is not personal and it has nothing to do with Brexit, it is simply the same rules that apply to everyone,’ they said. ‘It is not unusual for the chairman not to be involved in code of conduct complaints involving MPs.’
Mr Johnson, who is on holiday in Italy, yesterday declined to comment. But an ally said: ‘Nobody will have confidence in it. Brandon Lewis is digging a deeper hole.’
It came as 100 Muslim women who wear a burka or niqab sent a letter to Mr Lewis backing calls for action against Mr Johnson.
The letter, obtained by Sky News, said: ‘Given a deliberate choice was made to inflame tensions in a way which makes it easier for bigots to justify hate crimes against us, we concur with the Conservative peer Lord Sheikh who has demanded that the whip be withdrawn from Mr Johnson.’
It added that following concerns from MPs and the Muslim Council of Britain ‘there must now be an independent inquiry into Islamophobia in the party to tackle this issue once and for all’.