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Furious Tories Complained To No.10 En Masse About Lee Anderson

Lee Anderson MP, who lost the Conservative MP at the weekend (Alamy)

4 min read

A growing row over perceived Islamophobia in the Conservative Party threatens to engulf the Government after a deluge of complaints from Tory MPs led to Rishi Sunak suspending the whip from the party's former chair Lee Anderson.

Anderson, the now-independent MP for Ashfield, on Monday doubled down on his contentious comments about London Mayor Sadiq Khan.

Speaking on GB News on Monday, Anderson said apologising for his claim that Islamists had "got control" of the Labour Mayor, which ultimately led to the Prime Minister suspending Anderson from the parliamentary Tory party at the weekend, would amount to a "sign of weakness".

Anderson's comments on Friday, also on GB News, prompted a furious backlash from figures across the political spectrum, including senior Tory figures.

Sajid Javid, the former Cabinet minister, was the first high-profile Conservative politician to publicly criticise Anderson's remarks, describing them as "ridiculous". He was followed by figures like ex-secretary of state Robert Buckland and the former Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson. 

PoliticsHome understands that a large number of Tory MPs complained to Downing Street and Government Whips prior to Sunak withdrawing the whip from Anderson. "Most of my colleagues are absolutely appalled," said one MP who made their feelings known. 

The same MP said there was a feeling that Javid, who describes himself as a Muslim MP, couldn't be left to challenge the remarks by himself, and that "enough" Conservative back benchers eventually complained to the Government to force Sunak to take action.

Another senior Conservative MP, a former secretary of state, questioned the decision by the Prime Minister in the first place to make Anderson the deputy chair of the Tory party and give the outspoken MP a prominent "platform".

"His political judgement of people is atrocious. Even Boris [Johnson] didn't give Lee a job," they complained.

The incident involving Anderson has reignited an long-running row over whether the Conservative party has done enough to tackle Islamophobia within its ranks.

Rehman Chishti, the Conservative MP for Gillingham and Rainham, today renewed his call for Sunak to address what he describes as the Conservative government's failure to take Islamophobia as seriously as other forms of racism. 

Speaking to PoliticsHome in December, the former minister said Sunak had "written off" engagement with Muslim communities for political reasons, and claimed that the Government did not take Islamophobia as seriously as other forms of racism.

He said Sunak had vowed "work together" with him on tackling Islamophobia when Chishti agreed to support his bid to be leader of the Conservative party and Prime Minister, but that since entering Downing Street in late 2022 his actions have not matched those words.

Speaking to PoliticsHome today, Chishti said he asked for a meeting with Sunak following his intervention in December but so far has not heard back from Downing Street.

"In the December debate on Islamophobia I asked the whip covering the debate to pass on to Government that I would like a meeting with PM in light of my real concerns as expressed in my speech."

"No meeting with the Prime Minister was offered," he said.

Speaking to reporters this morning, the Prime Minister's official spokesperson said Anderson's remarks were “wrong and unacceptable" and that the Government was committed to fighting what they described as "anti-Muslim hatred".

“The PM has been clear that we don’t tolerate any anti-Muslim hatred in any form and we will combat any sort of discrimination of that kind, as we do any racism or prejudice and intolerance wherever it occurs," they said.

The spokesperson refused, however, to use the term "Islamophobia" because the Government believes there are issues with the definition produced by the All Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims, adopted by the Labour Party and others. 

“As the government has stated previously, there are issues in relation to the APPG’s definition of Islamophobia which conflates race with religion, does not address sectarianism within Islam and may unintentionally undermine freedom of speech.

“But we have always been clear that this government does not and will not tolerate anti-Muslim hatred," they said.

A separate row about the Tory party's approach to Muslim communities broke out between a former minister and Andy Street, the Conservative Mayor of the East Midlands.

Conservative MP Paul Scully this morning told BBC Radio London there were "no go areas" in parts of Tower Hamlets in east London and Birmingham, prompting Street to accuse "those in Westminster" of "nonsense slurs".

Street tweeted: "The idea that Birmingham has a ‘no-go’ zone is news to me, and I suspect the good people of Sparkhill. It really is time for those in Westminster to stop the nonsense slurs and experience the real world. I for one am proud to lead the most diverse place in Britain."

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