May set­ting up Boris for ‘show trial’

Rees-mogg warns Tories are dam­ag­ing the party by pur­su­ing John­son over com­ments on burkas

The Daily Telegraph - - Front page - By Steven Swin­ford Deputy po­lit­i­cal edi­tor

THERESA MAY’S “per­sonal ri­valry” with Boris John­son has led to the for­mer for­eign sec­re­tary fac­ing a “show trial” over his burka com­ments, in a row that has only helped Labour, Ja­cob Rees-mogg warns to­day.

In an ar­ti­cle for The Daily Tele­graph, the Europ­s­cep­tic Tory back­bencher ac­cuses Mr John­son’s crit­ics of “envy” and says dis­ci­plinary pro­ceed­ings are be­ing used to stop him from be­com­ing party leader.

Mr John­son is re­fus­ing to bow to calls by the Prime Min­is­ter to apol­o­gise for a com­ment piece he wrote for The

Tele­graph in which he com­pared women wear­ing burkas to “let­ter­boxes” and “bank rob­bers”.

Mr Rees-mogg says: “When Mar­garet Thatcher was leader, she and Michael He­sel­tine were hardly soul­mates but she would not have al­lowed per­sonal ri­valry to take the heat off the Labour Party.

“Nor would she have coun­te­nanced any at­tempt to have a show trial. Attacking Boris merely helps the Op­po­si­tion. It is time for good sense to as­sert it­self, free speech to be en­cour­aged and as the sum­mer rain falls for hot­headed ac­tion to be cooled down.”

A Down­ing Street source said: “This is not about in­di­vid­u­als or per­son­al­i­ties. This is about the fact that a com­plaint has been re­ceived and the party has to in­ves­ti­gate it.”

The Tele­graph has been in­un­dated with let­ters on the is­sue, the vast ma­jor­ity of which voice sup­port for Mr John­son. To­day we de­vote the let­ters page en­tirely to the re­ac­tion to his com­ments.

This news­pa­per has also learnt that a for­mal com­plaint has been lodged about the con­duct of Bran­don Lewis, the Con­ser­va­tive Party chair­man, af­ter he called on Mr John­son to apol­o­gise.

The com­plaint, which has been sub­mit­ted by a Tory party mem­ber, ac­cuses Mr Lewis of “de­ceiv­ing” a Lib­eral Demo­crat MP who was on ma­ter­nity leave by break­ing “pair­ing” ar­range­ments”. He in­sists it was a mis­take by the whips.

A Tory MP said: “If the party chair­man is right in his pre­pos­ter­ous claim that all com­plaints au­to­mat­i­cally trig­ger an in­ves­ti­ga­tion then Bran­don Lewis has no al­ter­na­tive but to launch an im­me­di­ate in­ves­ti­ga­tion into him­self.”

Mr Lewis was yes­ter­day scram­bling to defuse the row as grow­ing numbers of Tory MPS ac­cused the party of mount­ing a “witch hunt” against Mr John­son. In a sign of the mount­ing furore, the Equal­ity and Hu­man Rights Com­mis­sion de­scribed Mr John­son’s

com­ments as “in­flam­ma­tory and di­vi­sive” and said that they risked “vil­i­fy­ing Mus­lim women”.

Mr Lewis has been call­ing crit­ics of the dis­ci­plinary ac­tion di­rectly in an ef­fort to re­as­sure them. One MP said that they had been told that there would be “no neg­a­tive out­come from this in­quiry”.

Se­nior Tory fig­ures said that Mr John­son was only likely to face mild cen­sure and be told to at­tend a di­ver­sity course. He will not be sus­pended or have the whip with­drawn.

Euroscep­tic Tory MPS be­lieve that the dis­ci­plinary ac­tion is mo­ti­vated by “Brexit not burkas” as they ac­cused the party of seek­ing re­venge against Mr John­son af­ter he quit the Gov­ern­ment in protest at the Che­quers plan.

Leaked What­sapp mes­sages yes­ter­day re­vealed that Tory MPS were lin­ing up to give their sup­port to Mr John­son and vent­ing their fury at the party.

They shared an ar­ti­cle by Mu­nira Mirza, who served as deputy mayor of Lon­don un­der Mr John­son, in which she said that Mr John­son’s crit­ics were em­pow­er­ing “the un­rep­re­sen­ta­tive griev­ance mon­gers and ex­trem­ists”.

An­drea Lead­som, the Leader of the Commons, said she agreed with Ms Mirza’s ar­ti­cle, de­scrib­ing her as a “smart lady”, while Kemi Bade­noch, a vice-chair­man of the Con­ser­va­tive party, de­scribed the ar­ti­cle as “mea­sured, very well-ar­gued and quite frankly bril­liant”.

Mr Rees-mogg says that Mrs May and Mr Lewis must play no part in the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Mr John­son.

“No fair sys­tem al­lows a critic to turn into both pros­e­cu­tor and judge, so the chair­man has em­bar­rass­ingly had to stand aside and the leader must also ex­cuse her­self from any role in this in­quiry,” he says.

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