Downing Street confirms ban on Muslim Council of Britain contacts

New controversy surrounds Penny Mordaunt after 2021 meeting with MCB

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Downing Street has stated that ministers should continue to boycott the Muslim Council of Britain following controversy over a meeting with one of its leaders by Conservative leadership candidate Penny Mordaunt in defiance of the long-standing policy.

The trade minister has been accused of breaching government guidelines after she met the organisation’s leader last year.

She has also failed to remove a tweet in which shesaid she was delighted to the see MCB general secretary Zara Mohammed in February 2021 when she was the Paymaster General, then a position in the Cabinet Office. The Cabinet Office has oversight of the National Security Secretariat, the country's intelligence and security policy hub.

“Great to have met with Zara today, to wish her success and hear more about her plans, look forward to working with her,” the tweet dating from 2021 read.

Under a code drawn up by the Labour government in 2009, the government implemented a policy of not engaging with the MCB after its deputy secretary general Daud Abdullah signed the Istanbul Declaration that called for violence against Israel and condoned attacks on British forces. “We have said before the UK government has a long-standing policy since 2009 of not engaging the Muslim Council of Britain and that policy hasn't changed," a spokesman for the prime minister said on Monday.

A report by Sir John Jenkins, the former UK ambassador to Saudi Arabia, in 2015 set out the history behind the decision to axe contacts with the MCB, which seeks to exert influence over policy by cultivating politicians and officials. It laid out how the Muslim Brotherhood shaped the Islamic Society of Britain (ISB), which went on to dominate the Muslim Association of Britain (MAB) and played an important role in establishing and then running the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB).

"In 2009 the then government suspended dialogue with the MCB after an office holder signed a public document which appeared to condone violence against any country supporting an arms blockade against Gaza," Sir John stated. "There has been no substantive dialogue since then between any part of the Brotherhood in the UK and government."

As of Monday, Ms Mordaunt’s tweet remained in place, and Downing Street appeared unwilling to order its removal in the middle of the contest to be the next Conservative Party leader.

The National asked the prime minister’s spokesman whether the tweet should be deleted.

“This is going back a number of years,” he said. “I'm conscious some of these issues relate to issues during the leadership campaign.”

When asked whether she had been asked to remove the tweet, Ms Mordaunt’s team did not respond.

Some political commentators claimed that the meeting called into question Ms Mordaunt’s judgment and her suitability for high office.

Penny Mordaunt arriving at the BBC on Sunday for an interview during the Conservative leadership contest. PA

But there are also questions over whether the story has been highlighted by British media outlets hostile to the possibility of the 49-year-old becoming the next British prime minister.

However, it is understood that Miss Mordaunt has claimed to have been acting in her capacity as a constituency MP and meeting the group in a personal capacity, rather than as a member of the British government.

The MCB purports to represent British Muslims and has said there are more than 500 mosques associated to its charter. Its stated aim is to “empower the Muslim community” although it has run into controversy over a number of issues.

In a statement that was highly critical of the official boycott of the group in meetings organised by Whitehall officials, Ms Mohammed condemned the Conservatives for attempts to “delegitimise” Muslims in Britain and accused the party of “weaponising” Islamophobia..

Updated: July 18, 2022, 3:09 PM