Boris Johnson has apologised for the “hurt and offence” that has been caused by Islamophobia within the Conservative Party ranks.
The Prime Minister said his party would hold an inquiry into “every manner of prejudice and discrimination” in his party, adding that it would start before Christmas.
It comes after Jeremy Corbyn faced a backlash for repeatedly refusing to apologise during a TV interview on Tuesday for the way Labour acted on the issue, despite a blistering attack on his record by the Chief Rabbi.
The Conservatives were also criticised for their handling of Islamophobia allegations by the Muslim Council of Britain on Tuesday, who accused the party of “denial, dismissal and deceit”.
Mr Johnson, speaking on a visit to Goonhilly Earth Station on the Lizard peninsula in Cornwall, told reporters: “Obviously whenever we have an incident of anti-Semitism or Islamophobia or whatever in the Conservative Party we take a zero tolerance approach… We have a one bounce and we deal with it approach to this.
“We are going to have an independent inquiry into Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, every manner of prejudice and discrimination and it will start before Christmas.”
Asked if he apologised for the Islamophobia that has taken place in the Tory Party, he replied: “Of course and for all the hurt and offence that has been caused – of course we do.
“And all that is intolerable and it’s so important as a country that we don’t allow that kind of thing and that’s why we’re going to have the independent inquiry.”
STATEMENT: The Muslim Council of Britain Responds to Chief Rabbi's Comments | 26 November 2019 pic.twitter.com/hr6KypBlw3— MCB (@MuslimCouncil) November 26, 2019
Earlier, the Conservative parliamentary candidate for Luton South, Parvez Akhtar, called on Mr Johnson to “unequivocally apologise” for his comments and commit to holding a “full independent” inquiry into Islamophobia in the party.
Mr Akhtar said Mr Johnson’s comments about Muslim women were having an effect on the doorstep, adding that the Tories have a “blind spot when it comes to Muslims”.
In a statement, Mr Akhtar said that as a party member since 2005 he knows about “anti-Muslim hatred within the party” and experienced it himself as a candidate in 2009 and 2017.
He added: “During my campaign for Luton South, where 30% of the population is Muslim, it has become increasingly obvious, the hurt and anger that has been caused by the comments of the Prime Minister about Muslim women.
“Whatever the intent of the column, the effect has been to reinforce the widely held view that the Conservative Party has a blind spot when it comes to Muslims.”
He added: “I am therefore calling on the Prime Minister to unequivocally apologise for his comments about Muslim women and agree to hold a full independent and transparent inquiry into Islamophobia within the Conservative Party.”
Writing in Tuesday’s edition of The Times, the UK’s Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis said Labour’s handling of the issue, which has dogged the party under Mr Corbyn’s leadership, was “incompatible” with British values.
Responding, the Labour leader insisted anti-Jewish racism was “vile and wrong” and that the party had a “rapid and effective system” for dealing with complaints.
Mr Corbyn called on the Conservatives to “address the issues of Islamophobia that appear to be a problem within their party”.
In response to the Chief Rabbi’s comments, a spokesman for the Muslim Council of Britain said: “As a faith community, we commonly are threatened by Islamophobia.
“This an issue that is particularly acute in the Conservative Party, who have approached Islamophobia with denial, dismissal and deceit.
“It is abundantly clear to many Muslims that the Conservative Party tolerate Islamophobia, allow it to fester in society and fail to put in place the measures necessary to root out this type of racism.
“It is as if the Conservative Party has a blind spot for this type of racism.”
Tory peer and former co-chair of the Conservative Party Baroness Warsi said the party had, “dragging and screaming”, finally started to acknowledge the issue of Islamophobia.
Asked about the Prime Minister, she told BBC Radio 4’s World At One programme: “I don’t believe that he is an Islamophobe, but I do believe that there is a space of privilege within which he exists where he feels sadly that there are no consequences to the words that he uses, even when those words are crass, offensive and racist.”