Conservative Party may take action after local councillor claims prospective MP was rejected due to 'handicap of being brown and a woman'

Tory constituency president in rural Sussex John Barnes said Suella Fernandes may have been held back partly by this so-called 'double whammy'

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The Conservative Party may take further action against the head of a local association who said that a prospective MP was not selected in part because of “being brown and a woman”.

John Barnes, a Tory councillor for Bexhill and Battle, said this apparent “double whammy” represented a “handicap” for London barrister Suella Fernandes as she vied to replace retiring MP Greg Barker in the safe seat.

It is not the first time Ms Fernandes has run for selection, and Mr Barnes told the Financial Times (£) that she put in a “wowzer performance on the night”.

But the daughter of parents from Mauritius and Kenya was beaten into third place, as party members selected local lawyer Huw Merriman to be their parliamentary candidate.

Mr Barnes told the FT that Ms Fernandes had been “battling three good men”, including the mixed race London Assembly Member James Cleverly, and added: “The double whammy of being brown and a woman probably handicaps her still.”

A Conservative Party spokesperson told The Independent that Mr Barnes’ language “isn’t acceptable”, and said that the idea that people are handicapped in the party because of their race or gender “just isn’t true”.

He said that across all the safest Tory seats where MPs from the party are retiring ahead of May’s election, around a third of candidates selected had been women and more than one in six were from ethnic minority backgrounds.

The matter of whether or not Mr Barnes himself will face action from Tory HQ is “still open”, the spokesperson added.

In a statement, the party said: “These comments are unacceptable and they neither reflect the views of the Conservative party nor the reality, which is that people from all backgrounds are being selected to be candidates for the party.”

Mr Cleverly himself said there was a case to be made that the selection process for candidates should be broadened out. Nusrat Ghani, one of five ethnic minority candidates selected for safe Tory seats, was picked in the neighbouring Wealden constituency – among the small number to use an open primary process.

He nonetheless wrote on Twitter that he felt the issue “in rural seats like Bexhill and Battle” was one more of “the urban/rural dynamic than gender or ethnicity”.