Stay up to date with notifications from The Independent

Notifications can be managed in browser preferences.

Tory minister suggests Lee Anderson could return despite ‘repugnant’ rant about Sadiq Khan

Labour has called on Rishi Sunak to confirm that no ‘deal or undertakings’ have been offered that would see Anderson sit as a Tory MP again

Archie Mitchell
Sunday 25 February 2024 19:12 GMT
Oliver Dowden refuses to answer if Tory party regards Lee Anderson as 'racist'

The deputy prime minister has refused to rule out Lee Anderson having the Tory whip restored despite a senior Conservative calling Mr Anderson’s remarks “repugnant”.

Oliver Dowden said on Sunday that he “certainly would not rule out” the possibility of Mr Anderson returning from his suspension, which was imposed in response to an anti-Muslim rant on GB News.

But Robert Buckland, the Tory former justice secretary, said Mr Anderson had “crossed a line” and that his comments were “repugnant”.

In an appearance on GB News, Mr Anderson said: “I don’t actually believe that the Islamists have got control of our country, but what I do believe is they’ve got control of [Sadiq] Khan and they’ve got control of London... He’s actually given our capital city away to his mates.”

Lee Anderson has been accused by Sadiq Khan of making Islamophobic comments (PA Wire)

A Conservative source initially backed Mr Anderson, but after intense media pressure and the controversial MP’s refusal to apologise, the party suspended him. He will now sit as an independent MP.

Rishi Sunak has so far failed to address Mr Anderson’s comments, made on Friday, or the surging Islamophobia across Britain, despite having spoken publicly about a rise in “prejudice and antisemitism”.

And on Sunday Mr Dowden said Mr Anderson, who was deputy Tory chair until last month, had simply “used the wrong words”.

“I don’t believe that Lee Anderson said those remarks intending to be Islamophobic,” Mr Dowden told the BBC.

Mr Buckland was among several senior Tories who were critical of Mr Anderson’s remarks, telling BBC Radio 4 on Sunday that they were “racist and repugnant”.

“This man has clearly crossed a line,” Mr Buckland added.

Rishi Sunak has so far failed to address Anderson’s comments (PA Wire)

Labour said it was “concerned” about Mr Dowden’s suggestion that the Tories could give Mr Anderson the whip back.

Shadow paymaster general Jonathan Ashworth has called on Mr Sunak to confirm that no “deal or undertakings” have been offered that would see Mr Anderson sit as a Tory MP again.

In a letter to the prime minister, Mr Ashworth said: “The removal of the Conservative whip from Lee Anderson was the correct decision after his disgusting racist and Islamophobic remarks aimed at the mayor of London.

“I was so concerned to see your deputy prime minister Oliver Dowden tell GB News this morning that he ‘certainly wouldn’t rule that out’ when asked if Mr Anderson could have the whip returned.

“This extraordinary suggestion comes less than 24 hours after his removal from the Conservative Party and with no apology or retraction having yet been offered. It will inevitably lead to concerns that the withdrawal of the whip was merely a temporary measure taken in response to media criticism, and that the possibility of Mr Anderson being allowed back into the Tory party is being kept on the table.”

He added: “Can you confirm that no deal or undertakings have been offered to Mr Anderson by you or anyone speaking on behalf of the Conservative Party that would see him have the Tory whip returned?”

In a statement on Saturday night, Mr Sunak highlighted “recent” events, including the pro-Palestinian protests that have been held across the country since the 7 October attacks.

“The events of recent weeks are but the latest in an emerging pattern which should not be tolerated,” Mr Sunak said. But Mr Sunak has not yet responded to Mr Anderson’s comments.

Sir Keir Starmer said it was right that Mr Anderson had been suspended from the party over his “appalling racist and Islamophobic outburst”. The Labour leader also challenged Mr Sunak on the wider matter of Islamophobia in the Conservative Party.

“What does it say about the prime minister’s judgement that he made Lee Anderson deputy chairman of his party?” Sir Keir asked.

He added: “Whether it is Liz Truss staying silent on Tommy Robinson or Suella Braverman’s extreme rhetoric, Rishi Sunak’s weakness means Tory MPs can act with impunity.

“This isn’t just embarrassing for the Conservative Party, it emboldens the worst forces in our politics. Rishi Sunak needs to get a grip and take on the extremists in his party.

“The Tories may be getting more and more desperate as the election approaches, but Rishi Sunak has a responsibility to stop this slide into ever more toxic rhetoric.”

Khan condemned the ‘moral rot’ of anti-Muslim hatred in the Conservative Party (AP)

It came as Mr Khan condemned the “moral rot” of anti-Muslim hatred in the Conservative Party. The London mayor said Mr Anderson’s “belated” suspension showed that “Muslims are fair game as far as the Conservative Party is concerned”.

On Sunday the Muslim Council of Britain wrote to the chair of the Conservative Party demanding an investigation into “structural Islamophobia” in the party.

In a letter to Richard Holden, the organisation said it welcomes the removal of the whip from Mr Anderson, but alleged that Islamophobia “persists” in the party.

Zara Mohammed, secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, said: “Our view is that the Islamophobia in the [Conservative] Party is institutional, tolerated by the leadership and seen as acceptable by great swathes of the party membership.”

The letter also criticised the Conservatives for removing the whip from Mr Anderson only after he had refused to apologise.

It said: “We note that he [Mr Anderson] was only censured for refusing to apologise, not for making the racist remarks in the first place. We also note that the whip was withdrawn only after there was widespread condemnation across the board, while the prime minister and the rest of the cabinet remained silent.”

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in