Lee Anderson launches fresh attack on Sadiq Khan as ministers still refuse to call his comments Islamophobic

Former Tory deputy chair was suspended by the party at the weekend

Kate Devlin
Politics and Whitehall Editor
Wednesday 28 February 2024 10:52 GMT
Lee Anderson offers blunt six-word response to questions on Islamophobia row

Lee Anderson has launched a fresh attack on Sadiq Khan days after he claimed the London mayor was controlled by “Islamists”.

The former deputy chair of the Conservatives was suspended by the party over the remarks.

But ministers have still refused to say his comments were Islamophobic, stating only that they were wrong.

Now Mr Anderson has accused the Labour mayor of enjoying protest scenes in Whitehall which cause disruption to parliament and cast the government “in a bad light”.

His comments will pile more pressure on the government to distance themselves from the East Midlands MP.

But he has also piled pressure on the Tory leadership by hinting he could defect to Nigel Farage’s Reform party and stand at the next general election.

Tory MPs are already fearful of the impact Reform will have at the election. The party is not currently on course to take any seats at Westminster. But senior Conservatives are concerned they could win enough votes in key constituencies to hand victory to Labour.

In his latest comments made during an interview with Channel 5 news, Mr Anderson was asked if he would take back last week’s remarks.

He said he would “probably change my words slightly”.

He added: “I think it’s all political, I think he almost enjoys seeing these scenes on Whitehall and on Parliament Square, which disrupts parliament, which puts my government in a bad light. I think he just turns a blind eye. It’s politics.”

Mr Anderson lost the Tory whip at the weekend after he claimed “Islamists” had “got control” of the mayor of London.

Pressed over whether he would join the right-wing Reform UK party, the former Labour councillor declined to comment but told GB News he had “been on a political journey”.

He said: “You’ll say ‘Lee Anderson rules out/doesn’t rule out joining the Reform party’, so I’m making no comment on my future.”

He also said he intended to stand at the next election.

His comments came as senior Conservatives faced mounting pressure to describe his attack on Sadiq Khan as “Islamophobic”.

Radio station LBC abruptly halted an interview with illegal immigration minister Michael Tomlinson, accusing him of failing to answer the question.

In questions from broadcasters on Tuesday, Mr Tomlinson refused 11 times to explain why he thought Mr Anderson’s comments were “wrong”.

His Home Office colleague Tom Pursglove also refused to use the term, telling Times Radio: “I don’t think Lee personally is racist but what he said was unacceptable.”

The prime minister and others have condemned Mr Anderson’s comments, but have so far shied away from calling them “Islamophobic”.

Labour has criticised that stance as “weak”, with one frontbencher saying the prime minister was “in hock” to “a strange coalition of MPs”.

Bridget Phillipson, the shadow education secretary, said on Tuesday: "He [Anderson] should know better than that, he has been a senior figure within the Conservative Party.

“But I think it speaks to Rishi Sunak’s weakness on this that his response has been wholly inadequate.”

On Tuesday morning, Downing Street said the PM regarded Mr Anderson’s comments as wrong because they had conflated all Muslims with Islamist extremism.

The row over Lee Anderson’s attack on Sadiq Khan has entered its fifth day
The row over Lee Anderson’s attack on Sadiq Khan has entered its fifth day (PA)

In a separate move, James Cleverly, the home secretary, joined calls for Mr Anderson to apologise.

The prime minister also declined to criticise former home secretary Suella Braverman, who claimed “the Islamists, the extremists and the antisemites are in charge now”.

“I think that those comments were not about an individual in particular,” he said, adding that “it’s important that we call out” the kind of “unacceptable” scenes “we have been witnessing on our streets in recent times”.

On Tuesday, Mr Tomlinson said he thought Ms Braverman was “not right” in her comments, but added he did not think she should have the whip withdrawn.

Reform UK leader Richard Tice did not rule out opening the door to Mr Anderson after his suspension, saying MPs considering defection “have my number”.

Later, GB News, where Mr Anderson works, revealed he held “one to one” talks with Mr Tice at a Holiday Inn off junction 28 of the M1 just 24 hours after he lost the Tory whip.

The Liberal Democrats have tabled a so-called censure motion calling on parliament to rebuke Mr Anderson’s comments and demanding he come to the House and apologise.

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