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‘Anti-Muslim’ allegations denied by peers

01 March 2023


Baroness Cox attends a MARIAS (Mothers against radical Islam and Sharia) protest in Westminster in August 2018

Baroness Cox attends a MARIAS (Mothers against radical Islam and Sharia) protest in Westminster in August 2018

AN INVESTIGATION by the civil-society group Hope not Hate has alleged that a group of peers and campaigners is promoting an “anti-Muslim” agenda in Parliament.

In an article published last Friday, Hope not Hate disclosed the findings of an investigation based on leaked documents relating to the New Issues Group (NIG), which show regular meetings of a variable group of peers and campaigners since 2012.

Hope not Hate allege that the group’s purpose is to advance an anti-Islam agenda in Parliament through lobbying, drafting questions to be asked in Parliament, and promoting a Bill that concerns the influence of sharia courts.

Two life peers are identified as core members of the group — Baroness Cox and Lord Pearson — along with Tim Dieppe, who is head of public policy for the campaign group Christian Concern, and who Hope not Hate suggests is the current organiser of the meetings.

All three this week denied accusations that the group is “anti-Muslim”.

Mr Dieppe said on Wednesday that he has been a member “for some years in a personal capacity”, and is “pleased to support Baroness Cox by helping to organise some meetings for her”.

“The NIG can in no way be described as ‘anti-Muslim’”, Mr Dieppe said: “It supports Baroness Cox’s work to help Muslims, and Muslim women in particular.”

On Tuesday, Lord Pearson told the Church Times: “The New Issues Group is a group of people who support Caroline Cox in her valiant work trying to help Muslim women who are trapped in unregistered marriages in the UK.”

He said that that the NIG had been “mischaracterised” by Hope not Hate: “We are not vaguely anti-Muslim, and always draw the vital distinction between Islam and Islamism. But we do want to be free to discuss both.”

Baroness Cox has a long-standing Private Member’s Bill which attempts to provide legal protection for women whose marriages are currently certified only by sharia courts, and therefore hold no weight in UK law (News, 10 April 2015).

Since Baroness Cox first introduced the Bill in 2011, it has never got beyond a second reading in the House of Lords, though Lord Pearson said this week that the NIG still hoped that it would be taken up by the Government.

Hope not Hate revealed minutes from a NIG meeting in March 2016, which suggest that Lady Cox attended a meeting with Michael Gove, who was at that point Secretary of State for Justice, to discuss the Bill.

Alan Craig — a former leader of the Christian Peoples Alliance, a fringe political party which stands on a right-wing platform (News, 1 May 2015), before he defected to UKIP — is also alleged to have attended the meeting, which Hope not Hate says is “just one example where Baroness Cox and Lord Pearson opened doors for far-right activists to lobby powerful people”.

Hope not Hate describes Mr Craig as a “far-right activist”, and notes that he is one of the founding members of the NIG, and has regularly attended meetings. In 2020, he set up an organisation with a fellow campaigner and NIG-attender Peter McIlvena, called Hearts of Oak, which presents itself as a free-speech organisation, and lists as its issues “a new tyranny” of Covid lockdowns and combating “the militant LGBT lobby”, as well as topics related to Islam.

The report also reveals notes from a meeting of the NIG in 2013, which suggest that Anne Marie Waters, who has attended several meetings, helped to draft a question for Lady Cox to ask in the House of Lords.

Ms Waters went on to found Sharia Watch UK in 2014, which was launched at an event in Parliament organised by Lady Cox. She subsequently formed Pegida UK with Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, better known as Tommy Robinson, and, after leaving UKIP, formed a far-right political party, For Britain, which folded last year.

On Tuesday evening, Lady Cox told the Church Times that the “primary focus” of her work in Parliament was “providing aid and advocacy to victims of persecution in diverse countries”.

In a statement distributed in response to media enquiries, she said: “I am now writing to demand a correction of implications and allegations that I am ‘anti-Islam’. I always make a distinction between ‘Islam’ and ‘Islamism’. . . I have worked for many years trying to help Muslim women in this country who suffer from sharia marriages which are not legally registered, and who are vulnerable to divorce with the husband just saying ‘I divorce you’ three times. They are often left desolate and destitute.

“I have personally witnessed the deeply disturbing policies of Islamism with genocidal assaults on innocent civilians — such as the murder of many thousands in Nigeria and the consequent displacement and suffering of millions of survivors, some of whom I and my colleagues are supporting with aid and advocacy.”

The Church Times has seen some of the documents on which Hope not Hate based the investigation. They reveal that a senior Christian leader in a non-Anglican denomination is listed as attending a meeting in 2014 in order to further his work promoting interfaith dialogue and the protection of persecuted Christians. It is understood that he has not attended any meetings for many years, and was not aware of — and is appalled by — links between the group and far-right activists.

Several former Church of England bishops were also copied into an email sent by Lord Pearson in January last year, in which he writes that “Islam is a vast subject. But if we try to discuss it in public, we are accused of ‘Islamophobia’, which many of our Muslims want to be a criminal offence. Our MPs are too frightened of the growing Muslim vote to discuss it honestly, if at all, and several of my fellow peers jeer when I raise it in the Lords.”

The 235 addresses include BBC journalists, employees at think tanks, and Christian organisations, as well as the Dutch politician Geert Wilders, and the American activist Pamela Geller, both of whom have previously been banned from entering the UK.

There is no indication that any of those in receipt of the email from Lord Pearson support his views, and many of the addresses used are available in the public domain.

Hope not Hate also raises questions about the funding of the NIG, suggesting that it comes through Equal and Free Limited, a company of which Lady Cox is listed as a director, along with Mr Dieppe. The company, originally called One Nation One Law, is described in the minutes of one NIG meeting in 2015 as being “set up as a channel behind [Baroness Cox’s] Bill”.

Minutes from an earlier meeting reveal a $40,000 donation from Fieldstead & Company, which distributes funds on behalf of Howard and Roberta Ahmanson, mainly to art museums, educational institutions, and Evangelical Christian organisations.

The report noted that Lady Cox’s directorship of Equal and Free did not appear on her Register of Interests until she was approached for comment. In her statement on Tuesday, Baroness Cox wrote: “I have acknowledged my error in failing to register support for the not-for-profit organisation ‘Equal and Free’. As soon as this fault was brought to my attention, I immediately contacted relevant authorities in the House of Lords, apologised and corrected the omission.”

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