Peer says criticism he faces for attending same Palestinian conference as Jeremy Corbyn is motivated by Islamophobia
A Conservative peer has said that calls for him to be expelled from the party because he attended the same Palestinian rights conference as Jeremy Corbyn are motivated by Islamophobia and his criticism of Boris Johnson.
Lord Sheikh has faced criticism for attending the 2014 event in Tunisia in the wake of a furore surrounding the Labour leader’s presence there and claims that Corbyn was involved in commemorating Black September terrorists behind the Munich Olympics attack in 1972. These claims have been described as “false and misleading” by the party.
On Wednesday, Tory MPs Robert Halfon and Zac Goldsmith complained that Sheikh was in breach of the party’s code of conduct, while Goldsmith tweeted that he should be “immediately expelled”.
The Tory peer took particular umbrage at the involvement of Goldsmith, a close friend of Johnson, who defended the foreign secretary’s comments likening Muslim women to letterboxes, and who was accused of trying to exploit anti-Muslim feeling when he stood for mayor of London against Sadiq Khan.
Sheikh told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think the complaints against me are politically motivated, I think the complaint against me is totally trivial and I think these people, whoever are trying to complain against me, are perhaps doing this because I have talked about what Boris Johnson has said being wrong.”
He continued: “I was very surprised about the fact that Zac Goldsmith has made the complaint. When Zac Goldsmith was standing for mayor at the election, he made some unsavoury remarks about Sadiq Khan and that campaign backfired and I feel Zac Goldsmith should have learnt following his failure to be elected mayor of London.”
Asked if he believed the complaint was motivated by Islamophobia, he replied: “I presume so.”
Sheikh said he is a member of the all party parliamentary group on antisemitism and promoted good relationships between different communities. He said he had gone to the Tunisian conference to speak about the Arab Spring and settlements in Palestine.
Challenged about the title of the conference – the International Conference on Monitoring the Palestinian Political and Legal Situation in the Light of Israeli Aggression – Sheikh said he was not aware of it.
“I did not meet any members of Hamas,” he said. “I was not aware that there were people there who had extreme views. I am totally against extremism, I am totally against any form of terrorism.”
In their letter to the Conservative party board, Halfon and Goldsmith wrote: “We cannot, as a party, rightly and robustly criticise the leader of the opposition for his attendance at this conference while allowing the attendance of a Conservative peer at the same event to pass without comment or complaint. To do so would be to indulge in hypocrisy and double standards.”
Another Tory peer, Andrew Percy, has reportedly filed a separate complaint about Sheikh and called for the whip to be suspended.