May setting up Boris for ‘show trial’
Rees-mogg warns Tories are damaging the party by pursuing Johnson over comments on burkas
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.