General election: Boris Johnson condemned after Tommy Robinson endorses him for general election

Andy Gregory
Tommy Robinson tells supporters to vote for Boris Johnson's Conservative Party outside the High Court in London: EPA/Andy Rain

Boris Johnson has been criticised for his failure to categorically reject the election endorsement of far-right activist Tommy Robinson.

The EDL founder declared “everyone should vote for Boris Johnson” in the upcoming general election, speaking to reporters on Friday outside the High Court where he is facing a libel case over comments about a Syrian refugee who was attacked at school.

Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson wrote to the prime minister later that day, urging him to disavow the endorsement and “dog-whistle politics” of Robinson, whose real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon.

“There should be no place for figures such as Yaxley-Lennon in British politics and his endorsement should be anathema to any candidate seeking to improve the lives of people across the UK,” Ms Swinson wrote.

“Hate crimes are on the rise across the UK and politics has been blighted by threats and violent language. It is incumbent on all those in the public eye to reject toxic rhetoric and figures who seek to sow division and fear.”

Several hours later, a spokesperson for Mr Johnson told The Independent: “The prime minister is clear that divisive politics has no place in our society and does not condone the views of Tommy Robinson.”

Robinson’s public support of Mr Johnson is not new, but it is the first time since the start of the general election campaign that he has urged voters to support the Tory leader.

The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) said Number 10’s response did not go far enough, and called attention to the party’s Islamophobia crisis.

“The prime minister says he does not condone the views of Tommy Robinson, but he has not condemned them either,” the MCB’s secretary general, Harun Khan told The Independent.

“Mr Johnson is right in saying that divisive politics has no place in our society, that is why bigots such as Tommy Robinson who trade in Islamophobia should be clearly condemned.

“The prime minister must reflect on whether his party’s attitude towards Muslims and inaction on Islamophobia may have played a role in such endorsements.

“This underscores once again the challenge the Conservative Party faces in rooting out Islamophobia within its ranks.”

Robinson also speculated Nigel Farage “should attack the Labour heartlands”, telling reporters on Friday that he was “so happy with what [the Brexit Party leader] has done”.

In November 2018, Mr Farage said he was “appalled” at Robinson’s appointment as a Ukip adviser. Weeks later, Mr Farage quit the party, citing its “obsession” with Islam.

The Conservative Party has faced a raft accusations of Islamophobia and has been accused of dragging its feet with an inquiry, which the MCB has called for since Zac Goldsmith's London mayoral campaign in 2016.

Responding to a dossier of Islamophobic and racist social media posts by Tory councillors, revealed this week, former party chair Baroness Warsi accused her party of failing to act on its “serious and deep problem”.

She said: “Here we are, four years later, with dossier after dossier, dozens and dozens of cases, with the most vile evidence of racism within the party at every level – from members of parliament all the way down to our ordinary activists – the latest being these 25 former and current councillors.”

The Conservative Party said all those implicated in the dossier had been immediately suspended pending investigation.

The MCB accused the party of “denial, deflection and discounting” after Mr Johnson told the BBC that instead of a specific probe into Islamophobia, as ministers had previously pledged, there would now be a “general investigation into prejudice of all kinds”.

Chancellor Sajid Javid, who previously forced all Tory leadership candidates to promise an investigation, later refuted Andrew Marr’s claim that a general inquiry was “very different”, saying: “If you’re going to look into prejudice it is right at the same time that you look at all other types of prejudice.”

On Saturday, the Lib Dem leader suggested Tommy Robinson’s support carried implications for the current direction of the Tory party.

“Tommy Robinson spreads hate and division and poisons our communities,” Ms Swinson wrote on Twitter. “The fact he now backs Boris Johnson says everything you need to know about the ‘modern’ Conservative party.”

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