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Labour MP Says New Commons Leader Is "Wholly Inappropriate" While Islamophobia Inquiry Is Underway

Naz Shah said the promotion was "wholly inappropriate" while the investigation was ongoing

4 min read

Naz Shah has questioned Boris Johnson's "zero tolerance" approach to Islamophobia after he appointed Mark Spencer as Leader of the House of Commons, despite the former chief whip being implicated in an ongoing inquiry.

Spencer is facing an investigation led by Boris Johnson's standards adviser, Lord Geidt, over claims made by Conservative MP Nus Ghani who alleges she lost her job as a junior minister because her "Muslimness had been raised as an issue" by her colleagues.

Ghani did not name Spencer, but he identified himself as the accused when her allegations were made public last month. He strenously denied the remarks and said they were "defamatory".

Spencer was promoted to leader of the Commons as part of a mini-reshuffle on Tuesday, making him responsible for "upholding the rights and interests of the backbench members of the House".

Speaking to PoliticsHome, Labour MP Naz Shah, who is vice-chair of the all party group on British Muslims, criticised the decision. 

"It is wholly inappropriate that an individual who allegedly made Islamophobic comments is being promoted as the Leader of the House without the investigation into the matter having even been concluded," she said. 

"If this is the change the Prime Minister was talking about, clearly, it doesn't include having a zero-tolerance approach to Islamophobia."

Lord Sheikh, founder of the Conservative Muslim Forum, said Spencer should have stayed "in situ" as chief whip until an investigation had been completed, rather than being moved into another job. 

"If there are going to be any changes in regards to Mark Spencer's [job], they should have been deferred until the issue is closed," he said. 

The Tory peer said Spencer used very strong language in his rebuttal to Ghani's claims, saying her accusations were false and defamatory. He suggested that considering there are two different accounts of what happened it's right that there is an independent inquiry with its results made public. 

"My own feeling is that if the promotion was to be made, it could have been done later, or until the matter is closed. We've got a minister who says she was asked to go because of her Muslimness and I feel very strongly if there's discrimination, then it needs to be looked into to see if the complaint is justified. 

"I'm not taking anyone's side. The only way we can get to the bottom of this is an investigation."

Following Spencer's promotion, Labour's deputy leader Angela Rayner wrote to Cabinet Secretary Simon Case demanding an update on the investigation and urged the government to set out the terms of reference.

"The discrimination Nusrat Ghani says she experienced from her own Conservative Party colleagues is shocking," she said.

"There's no place for racism and Islamophobia in any part of our society, let alone at the highest levels of the Government. The Ministerial Code is also clear in saying discrimination will not be tolerated. Everyone should be treated with respect at work."

Spencer confirmed to the BBC on Wednesday that Lord Geidt had been asked to investigate the incident and any possible breach of the ministerial code.

He described the investigation as "ongoing", and said that he was feeling "a bit rough" about the episode. 

"When you're accused of something of that nature, it's a bit rough not being able to defend yourself until the results of that investigation come forward," he explained. 

"I've just got to keep my mouth shut, present the facts to Lord Geidt, who is doing the investigation, and once that's concluded we'll be able to have a fairly open conversation about that."

Ghani has not commented on Spencer's promotion, but instead retweeted a message she had posted when the investigation was originally announced in January.

"As I said to the Prime Minister last night all I want is for this to be taken seriously and for him to investigate," she wrote at the time," she wrote in the 24 January statement

"I welcome his decision to do that now. The terms of reference of the inquiry must include all that was said in Downing Street and by the Whip."

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