Angela Rayner and Anneliese Dodds condemn ‘toxic Islamophobia’ in Rishi Sunak’s Tory ranks

Exclusive: Angela Rayner and Anneliese Dodds have written to the government after anti-Muslim hatred group has not met for four years

Archie Mitchell
Wednesday 13 March 2024 14:07 GMT
Starmer says Sunak 'lacks backbone' to call out Lee Anderson's Islamophobia

Angela Rayner is piling pressure on Rishi Sunak to tackle “toxic Islamophobia“ in the Conservative Party after a series of damning revelations in recent weeks.

The Conservatives have been rocked by ex-deputy chairman Lee Anderson’s anti-Muslim rant about Sadiq Khan, as well as the chair of its own Anti-Muslim Hatred Working Group (AMHWG) revealing that it has not met in more than four years.

The Labour deputy leader and shadow women and equalities secretary Anneliese Dodds have now written to ministers demanding to know what is being done to combat Islamophobia in the Tory ranks and why the AMHWG has been inactive for so long.

They have also piled pressure on Michael Gove and Kemi Badenoch to explain what is being done to get the group back up and running.

Angela Rayner and Anneliese Dodds said it ‘beggars belief’ that the government’s Anti-Muslim Hatred Working Group has not met in four years
Angela Rayner and Anneliese Dodds said it ‘beggars belief’ that the government’s Anti-Muslim Hatred Working Group has not met in four years (Henry Nicholls/Reuters)

The letter comes after Akeela Ahmed, the chair of the working group, revealed that its last meeting took place in January 2020. Ms Dodds and Ms Rayner said that at a time when Islamophobic hate crimes are soaring it “beggars belief” for the AMHWG to not be meeting.

Recent figures from anti-Muslim hate crime monitoring agency Tell Mama showed the number of Islamophobic incidents reported in the UK has more than tripled in the four months since the Hamas attacks in Israel last year.

Ms Dodds and Ms Rayner also lashed out at the government’s failure to appoint a new Independent Adviser on Islamophobia, with the post having sat vacant since Qari Asim was removed in 2022.

The pair wrote to equalities minister Ms Badenoch and levelling up secretary Mr Gove about the “chaotic scenes” which unfolded as the government was set to appoint a new adviser this week who then “resigned” before being appointed.

Revealing that the role would have been for only two days per month, Fiyaz Mughal said he had questions “about the veracity of the government’s drive against anti-Muslim hate”.

The top Labour duo said Mr Sunak’s failure to bring together the AMHWG and appoint an adviser on Islamophobia were linked to the prime minister’s failure to condemn Lee Anderson’s “racist” remarks about Sadiq Khan.

And they pointed to an independent review which last year found that “turmoil” at the top of the Conservative Party had delayed government plans to tackle Islamophobia.

The Labour duo demanded to know what action Rishi Sunak is taking to combat Islamophobia in the Tory ranks
The Labour duo demanded to know what action Rishi Sunak is taking to combat Islamophobia in the Tory ranks (Daniel Leal/PA Wire)

In the letter, seen by The Independent, the pair said: “What steps are you taking, as Conservative frontbenchers, to root out toxic Islamophobia and other extreme views within your party, and to begin to rebuild faith that the Conservative Party, as a party of Government, is capable of governing in the interest of the whole country?”

And with Mr Gove expected on Thursday to unveil a new definition of “extremism”, Ms Dodds said: “The Conservatives talk about extremism but they do not have a serious plan. They are taking no action on Islamophobia and are failing to appoint an Independent Adviser in the most chaotic scenes.

"When tensions are at a high, with Islamophobic hate crime soaring, this wilful lack of action from the Government is inexcusable.”

And she called on the PM to “explain why his Government has made such little progress on tackling Islamophobia and why he is too weak to root it out of his own party”.

Ms Rayner added: “It beggars belief that Ministers have abandoned any pretence of tackling Islamophobia, just as data shows it skyrocketing.  If the Anti-Muslim Hatred Working Group isn’t even meeting, there are serious questions over whether anyone left in government is even focused on fighting this violent hatred.

“Muslim communities need the government to take this seriously. They should be able to expect that Ministers will appoint an adviser who has their trust, and convene the Working Group as a priority.”

Housing minister Lee Rowley said: “The government is clear that all forms of racial and religious discrimination are unacceptable, and they have no place in our communities.

“We continue to take a broad approach to religious hatred which will develop on the work of the previous Antisemitism and Anti-Muslim Hatred Working Groups.”

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