“Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness.”
James Brokenshire, the communities secretary, told MPs the government would appoint two advisers to draw up an alternative definition “as a matter of urgency”.
It was a change of tune from March 2018, when Home Office minister Victoria Atkins told the House of Commons that the government “does not accept the need for a definitive definition”.
A year is a long time in politics, particularly one that has seen “Punish a Muslim Day” letters sent across the UK, rising hate crimes and growing pressure on the Conservative Party over Islamophobes in its own ranks.
As Boris Johnson confirmed he would run for the Tory leadership, Labour MPs ripped into the lack of disciplinary action over his comparison of Muslim women who wear veils to “letterboxes”.
Members of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on British Muslims questioned why their definition – the product of a six-month inquiry – had been accepted by the Scottish Conservatives but not their counterparts in Westminster.
Co-chair Wes Streeting, the Labour MP for Ilford North, pointed out that Labour, the Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru, Scottish National Party and others had backed it.
“The government has no more credibility to define Islamophobia than the Labour Party had to redefine antisemitism,” he told the House of Commons.
“I have watched, with some amazement and even greater despair, the Conservative Party making exactly the same mistakes over Islamophobia as my party has with antisemitism.”
Mr Brokenshire defended his decision by claiming the APPG’s definition was not in line with the Equality Act 2010, had “potential consequences for freedom of speech” and that the combination of race and religion would cause “legal and practical issues”.
Police had written to the prime minister with concerns that the definition could hamper their work by fuelling legal claims of discrimination, but Dominic Grieve dismissed parts of a report claiming the definition would “cripple counterterrorism” as “total and unadulterated rubbish”.
The former attorney general and chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee, who should be well-versed in both law and security issues, said critics were “flying off the handle and disappearing into the most extraordinary and bizarre places”.
Mr Grieve said: “There is a real problem here, and we need to tackle it. This is an area in which we need to show leadership.”
It is not the first time the Tories have been questioned over their commitment to combating anti-Muslim hatred.
In the wake of the Christchurch terror attack, mosques revealed they had been refused security funding. While the government doubled the pot for bids from different places of worship, it did not bring the funding up to the £14m awarded specifically to Jewish institutions.
And while Conservative politicians have held Labour to account over the party’s antisemitism scandal, the Tory party has been condemned for failing to take disciplinary action over anti-Muslim remarks and refusing to hold an Islamophobia inquiry.
It was notable that under a dozen Conservative MPs attended Thursday’s backbench debate on the Islamophobia definition, being outnumbered by the Labour benches opposite. Only four Tories spoke in two-and-a-half hours.
And so Mr Brokenshire was safe to make his announcement in the knowledge that it would likely receive less press attention than the number of ovens in his kitchen.
He said the government’s priority was to “arrive swiftly at a collective position”, but with the Brexit impasse continuing and a looming Tory leadership contest, Islamophobia faces being kicked into the long grass.