Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab has said there will be no “specific investigation” into a claim by a Tory MP that she was told she had been fired as a minister due to concerns about her “Muslimness”
Nusrat Ghani said she was informed by a Government whip that her faith was “making colleagues uncomfortable” when she lost her job as a transport minister in 2020.
The claim was strongly denied by Chief Whip Mark Spencer who said her comments in an interview with The Sunday Times were “defamatory”.
In a statement, a No 10 spokesman said Boris Johnson had met Ms Ghani after learning of her “extremely serious claims” in July 2020.
“He then wrote to her expressing his serious concern and inviting her to begin a formal complaint process. She did not subsequently do so,” the spokesman said.
Mr Raab said that while Ms Ghani’s allegation was “incredibly serious” there would be no investigation by the Conservative Party unless she submitted a formal complaint.
“He (Mr Spencer) has categorically denied it in what can only be described as the most forthright and robust terms indeed,” Mr Raab told Sky News’s Trevor Phillips On Sunday programme.
“If there are any claims like this they should result in a formal complaint which allows a formal investigation to take place.
“As the Chief Whip has pointed out Nus hasn’t made a formal complaint. She was asked to do so. In the absence of doing so there will be no specific investigation into this.”
In her interview, Ms Ghani said she had not pursued the matter at the time after being warned she would be “ostracised by colleagues” and her “career and reputation would be destroyed”.
Her explosive claim brought immediate condemnation from Conservative MPs and opposition parties alike, with Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi leading demands for an inquiry.
But in a dramatic move, Mr Spencer outed himself as the individual who spoke to Ms Ghani – although he strongly denied using the words claimed.
“To ensure other whips are not drawn into this matter, I am identifying myself as the person Nusrat Ghani MP has made claims about this evening,” he said in a statement posted on Twitter.
“These accusations are completely false and I consider them to be defamatory. I have never used those words attributed to me.”
The row erupted at the start of a crucial week for Mr Johnson, with Sue Gray, the senior civil servant investigating lockdown parties in Downing Street expected to deliver her report.
The conduct of the whips’ office has come under intense scrutiny following claims that tactics amounting to blackmail were used to pressurise Tory MPs seeking to oust the Prime Minister.
In her interview, Ms Ghani, the MP for Wealden, said she was shocked when the issue of her background and faith was raised during a meeting in the whips’ office after the mini-reshuffle in February 2020.
“It was like being punched in the stomach. I felt humiliated and powerless,” she told the paper.
“I was told that at the reshuffle meeting in Downing Street that ‘Muslimness’ was raised as an ‘issue’, that my ‘Muslim women minister’ status was making colleagues uncomfortable and that there were concerns ‘that I wasn’t loyal to the party as I didn’t do enough to defend the party against Islamophobia allegations’.
“It was very clear to me that the whips and No 10 were holding me to a higher threshold of loyalty than others because of my background and faith.
“In the following weeks, I was informed that if I persisted in raising this that I would be ostracised by colleagues and my career and reputation would be destroyed.”
Mr Zahawi said it was essential that Ms Ghani’s claims were properly addressed by the party.
“There is no place for Islamophobia or any form of racism in our Conservative Party,” he tweeted.
“Nus Ghani is a friend, a colleague and a brilliant parliamentarian. This has to be investigated properly and racism routed out. #standwithNus.”
In a further blow to the Prime Minister, The Sunday Times reported Ms Gray has widened her inquiry to include allegations that parties were held in his Downing Street flat.
The paper said that two aides, Henry Newman and Josh Grimstone – both said to be friends of Mr Johnson’s wife Carrie – visited the flat over No 11 on numerous occasions during lockdown.
Initially Ms Gray was said to have accepted the visits were for work purposes, however investigators were reported to have questioned why they were spending so much time in Downing Street when they were working for the Cabinet Office.
Mr Raab insisted Tory MPs were rallying behind the Mr Johnson although he acknowledged the PM would have to resign if he was found to have misled Parliament.
“The code of conduct for ministers is very clear that if you mislead Parliament it is a resigning matter,” he told the BBC’s Sunday Morning programme.
While Mr Raab promised there would be “full transparency” around the Gray report, he refused to confirm that it would be published in full.
Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner said the report must be published “in its entirety with all accompanying evidence”.
“Boris Johnson cannot be allowed to cover-up or obscure any of the truth when he has insisted on a hugely protracted internal probe to tell him which parties he attended and what happened in his own home,” she said.
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