Operation Get Boris: Party probe into Burkagate could now take in suicide vest jibe made by Johnson
- Boris Johnson’s allies have accused Theresa May of being ‘rattled’ by his speech
- Foreign Secretary and a key aide hit with the threat of fresh party investigations
- The Conservative probe into Mr Johnson over ‘burkagate’ may be expanded
Allies of Boris Johnson have accused Theresa May of being ‘rattled’ by his barnstorming appearance at last week’s Tory conference – after the former Foreign Secretary and a key aide were hit with the threat of fresh party investigations.
Friends of Conservative chairman Brandon Lewis have privately warned that a controversial Tory HQ inquiry into ‘burkagate’ – triggered when Mr Johnson wrote that Muslim women wearing religious dress looked like ‘letterboxes’ and ‘bank robbers’ – could be expanded to include his ‘suicide vest’ comments in this newspaper.
Meanwhile, the Tory MP closest to Mr Johnson has been hit with a separate investigation into allegedly racist remarks about travellers.
Scrum: Boris Johnson and Conor Burns, left, battle through the media pack
The developments come after a febrile Tory conference in Birmingham, during which Mr Johnson urged a packed rally to ‘chuck’ Mrs May’s Chequers plan for Brexit.
Mrs May fought back the following day by dancing on to the stage to the sounds of Abba’s Dancing Queen, before delivering her best conference speech as Prime Minister. Her performance quelled some of the speculation about her future as leader and Mr Johnson’s ambitions to succeed her in Downing Street.
But it has left a legacy of acrimony, with one senior ally of Mrs May telling The Mail on Sunday: ‘Mark my words, if Boris becomes leader we are going to f*** him up.
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‘There are 50 or 60 of us MPs who would mount a guerilla campaign to block everything he did – nothing important would ever pass the Commons’.
Friends of Mr Lewis said that Tory HQ was looking at complaints received about the words that Mr Johnson used to castigate Mrs May’s ‘backstop’ solution to the Irish border after Brexit.
The Prime Minister plans to ensure no hard frontier by effectively leaving Northern Ireland as part of the single market and customs union if no other workable solution is found.
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Mr Johnson wrote in The Mail on Sunday last month: ‘We have opened ourselves to perpetual political blackmail. We have wrapped a suicide vest around the British constitution – and handed the detonator to [EU chief negotiator] Michel Barnier.’
The article led to civil war in the party, with a string of senior figures lining up to condemn his language.
Tory officials are already investigating whether Mr Johnson’s comments on burkas are a breach of the party’s code of conduct, which says MPs and other party members should ‘not use their position to bully, abuse, victimise, harass or unlawfully discriminate against others’ and should ‘lead by example to encourage and foster respect and tolerance’.
Asked why it was taking so long for the burka investigation to conclude, the friend of Mr Lewis said: ‘It is being slowed down by complaints we have also received about the suicide vest remarks.’
Under the party’s constitution, a complaint is automatically considered for investigation.
But friends of Mr Johnson say that it is ‘ridiculous’ to investigate him at all for expressing his opinion, and argue that it is a breach of his freedom of speech. And they say that the net is being widened to include his supporters.
Mr Johnson’s chief lieutenant, Bournemouth MP Conor Burns, is also being probed by Tory party chiefs over accusations of ‘racism’ for branding illegally camped travellers a ‘blight on the community’.
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Mr Burns has been notified that he is under investigation by the party after saying ‘these people think the normal rules of civilised society do not apply to them’.
He spoke out this summer after travellers were blamed for disturbances in the centre of his constituency, and The Mail on Sunday understands his comments sparked a formal complaint to the party.
But last night, colleagues of Mr Burns labelled the racism inquiry ‘ridiculous’ and accused party chiefs of targeting the MP because he was so close to Mr Johnson.
One said: ‘I’ve near heard anything so daft in my life. It sounds as if Conor is being targeted by party bigwigs because he is so close to Boris.’
The row broke out after an ‘illegal’ traveller encampment was linked to a spate of problems in the Dorset resort in August, including one night in which large groups allegedly ‘stampeded’ through the town centre.
Mr Burns, MP for Bournemouth West since 2010, responded by telling his local paper that the behaviour was ‘utterly unacceptable in a town like ours in the middle of August with an economy that depends on tourism’.
The MP, parliamentary aide to Mr Johnson when he was Foreign Secretary, claimed those involved had turned parts of the town into ‘a no-go area’. He added: ‘This issue has been a running sore throughout the entire time that I have been an MP and before.’
Mr Burns, who was at Mr Johnson’s side for his flying visit to the Tory conference last week, vowed to fight for tougher measures against illegally camped travellers.
He said: ‘There are inadequate enforcement powers to swiftly move on these illegally set-up camps in settled communities, causing profound disturbance to decent people who make their full contribution to society and pay their taxes.
‘I have consistently urged Government to review legislation to give police greater powers to deal with this blight on our community.’
Local reports said that, on one night, several bars were forced to close early because of fights.
Last night, one friend of Mr Johnson’s said: ‘Conference has once again shown that reports of Boris’s political death are greatly exaggerated. He connects with the electorate in a way few other politicians can, which is why they queued for hours to hear his speech. But what has most rattled No 10 is that party members clearly agree with Boris and think Chequers must be chucked’.
Last night, a spokeswoman for the Conservative Party said: ‘We do not comment on code of conduct complaints.’
But a source added that complaints raised over the suicide vest article would not automatically trigger a fresh investigation into Mr Johnson.
Mr Burns last night declined to comment.
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