Conservative peer hits back at criticism over 2014 Tunis conference, saying he is being targeted for complaining about Boris Johnson
A senior British Muslim politician who openly called for the resignation of former foreign secretary Boris Johnson has described calls for his removal from the Conservative Party as "politically motivated".
Lord Sheikh, who is president of the Conservative Muslim Forum, came under fire from two Conservative MPs, Robert Halfon and Zac Goldsmith, after the senior Muslim peer attended a Palestinian rights conference in 2014.
The conference, which took place in Tunisia, has been a source of controversy after it emerged that Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn attended it and was then present at a wreath-laying ceremony honouring dead Palestinians. Among those buried in the cemetery where the ceremony was held were two Palestinian officials allegedly linked to the 1972 Munich massacre, in which 11 Israeli athletes were killed.
Both Goldsmith and Halfon claimed Lord Sheikh had "breached party protocol", following claims that the conference was attended by "anti-Semites and suspected terrorists", in a letter sent to the Conservative Party HQ.
'I was very surprised about the fact that Zac Goldsmith has made the complaint. When Zac Goldsmith was standing for mayoral election, he made some unsavoury remarks'
- Lord Sheikh
The pair demanded the Conservative Party open an investigation into Lord Sheikh's attendance to determine whether the peer broke "party protocol".
However, Goldsmith, who was criticised for running an Islamophobic smear campaign against Labour rival Sadiq Khan during the 2016 London mayoral election campaign, demanded Lord Sheikh be "immediately expelled".
On Thursday, Lord Sheikh hit back, saying that the complaints against him were "trivial" and "lacking substance".
"These people who are trying to complain about me are perhaps doing this because I have talked about what Boris Johnson has said as being wrong," Lord Sheikh told the BBC on Thursday.
If this man is not immediately expelled from the Conservative Party, the Party hierarchy’s complaints about Corbyn will look entirely cynical. https://t.co/kO7ZMEAUxs
— Zac Goldsmith (@ZacGoldsmith) August 14, 2018
"I've done nothing wrong. I attended the conference. I made the appropriate declarations. So I've done everything in accordance with the book.
"I was very surprised about the fact that Zac Goldsmith has made the complaint. When Zac Goldsmith was standing for mayoral election, he made some unsavoury remarks about Sadiq Khan, and that campaign backfired."
Lord Sheikh said he was "not aware" that Corbyn would be in attendance.
Mohammed Amin, the chairman of the Conservative Muslim Forum, told Middle East Eye on Thursday that Halfon and Goldsmith's comments had "very little foundation".
"When you attend a conference, you have no power over who is invited to it," Amin told MEE.
'This is most certainly a ridiculous way for an MP to behave. He's called for an investigation. Pre-judging it will further undermine the process'
- Mohammed Amin, Conservative Muslim Forum chairman
"This was an event hosted purely by the Tunisian government, which Britain has fantastic relations with."
Amin added further criticism to Goldsmith for his calls to expel Lord Sheikh from the party, accusing the Tory MP of "pre-judging" the investigation before it had taken place.
"This is most certainly a ridiculous way for an MP to behave. He's called for an investigation. Pre-judging it will further undermine the process," said Amin.
According to the Conservative party's code of conduct, once a complaint is lodged, the respondent is given an opportunity to provide any evidence to establish their position. An investigating officer may, at this point, dismiss complaints that are trivial or lacking in merit.
If the complaint does move forward, it goes before a panel appointed by the party chairman and, then eventually if it continues on, directly to the chairman.
The Conservative peer was in the limelight earlier this month after he demanded Johnson be removed from the party following the former foreign secretary's offensive comments about the burqa.