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The United Kingdom's equalities watchdog has abandoned plans to investigate claims of Islamophobia in the ruling Conservative Party, prompting a backlash from critics, Muslim groups and individuals.

An Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) spokesperson said on Tuesday that because the party itself has said it would probe complaints of anti-Muslim discrimination, "it would not be proportionate to initiate our own investigation at this stage".

"We will be monitoring the review and requiring the party to provide regular updates on progress. If we are not satisfied with progress or how the investigation is conducted we will review our decision and do not rule out the use of our legal powers."

Earlier, the Conservative Party set out new details of its own investigation.

Following the EHRC's announcement on Tuesday, Harun Khan, secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), said: "We have previously described the Conservative Party's attitude to Islamophobia as one of denial, dismissal and deceit. The publication of the terms of reference for its inquiry reflects that regrettable attitude.

"They are a facade to hide the hundreds of incidences of Islamophobic bigotry we have identified in its ranks. In sum, it seems even today, the Conservative Party refuses to acknowledge that there can be bigotry and prejudice directed at Muslims."

MCB previously submitted a dossier of 300 cases to the EHRC regarding alleged Islamophobia, including allegations against prominent MPs and special advisers.

One of MCB's examples was from 2016, when Zac Goldsmith, a Conservative politician, faced allegations of attempting to connect the Labour Party's Sadiq Khan to Muslim "extremists". 

During the London mayoral election campaign, in which both were candidates, Goldsmith said Khan had "provided cover for extremists", adding the former human rights lawyer "tried to silence questions about his links [to extremists] by shamelessly accusing anyone who raises them of being Islamophobic".

In 2019, several Conservative politicians and members posted anti-Muslim rhetoric on social media, prompting accusations that Islamophobia is prevalent at all levels, from local representatives to the upper echelons of the party.

In an investigation by The Guardian, dozens of former and current Conservative councillors were found to have referred to Muslims as "barbarians" and "the enemy within", and called for mosques to be banned.

The party suspended councillors who were still members and said it would open an investigation.

Meanwhile, the EHRC is investigating the main opposition Labour Party's handling of alleged anti-Semitism within its ranks. 

"The EHRC has become a political tool of the Tories [Conservatives]. The evidence drops investigation into Tory #Islamophobia whilst continuing to investigate the Labour Party for #AntiSemitism Pure hypocrisy," said Bame lawyers for justice, an anti-racism group advocating for ethnic minority lawyers.

Natalie Sedacca, a teaching fellow at University College London, tweeted: "A terrible decision by the EHRC - the Conservative party’s own investigation, even if proclaimed to be independent, is no substitute for this, just as it would not have been for Labour. The same standards need to apply to parties across the board."

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