The former foreign secretary Boris Johnson is to a face a disciplinary investigation following a string of complaints that his comments about the burqa breached the Conservative party’s code of conduct.
The investigation represents the first step in any disciplinary process, which could ultimately lead to Johnson being expelled or suspended from the party, a verdict that would almost certainly have to be signed off by Theresa May.
Party sources said dozens of complaints about the column had been received after it was published on Monday and it was important they were properly examined. In the article for the Daily Telegraph, Johnson compared women in burqas to “letterboxes” and “bank robbers”.
The party’s code of conduct says that MPs and other holders of public office should “not use their position to bully, abuse, victimise, harass or unlawfully discriminate against others” and “foster respect and tolerance”. It promises that complaints will be investigated “in a timely and confidential manner”.
Johnson, who is on holiday, has refused to apologise for his controversial descriptions despite calls for him to do so by the Tory party hierarchy. He was asked to apologise by Brandon Lewis on Tuesday and was told by Theresa May to use more care in his language.
The party will evaluate the complaints and decide whether to appoint an investigating panel of three to take matters further. If appointed, the investigating panel will comprise three people, including one independent person.
Party chairman Brandon Lewis will nominate two members of the panel, and because the complaint is about a member of parliament, a third will be nominated by Graham Brady, the chairman of the party’s backbench 1922 committee.
Their first task will be to determine if Johnson’s behaviour was in breach of the party’s code or not, and recommend the appropriate level at which it should be resolved. The code of conduct adds: “If appropriate, the complaint may then be referred by the Chairman to the Leader and/or to the Board of the Conservative Party, who shall take such action as they see fit.