Nusrat Ghani: PM urged to launch inquiry as MP says government failed to take Islamophobia complaints ‘seriously’

Ms Ghani alleged she was told her Muslim faith was ‘making colleagues feel uncomfortable’

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
Sunday 23 January 2022 11:06
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Nusrat Ghani Islamophobia claims won’t be looked at until ‘she makes a formal complaint’, says Raab

Boris Johnson is facing calls to launch an inquiry after an MP who made allegations of Islamophobia accused the government of failing to take her complaints “seriously”.

Nusrat Ghani claimed a government whip told her that her Muslim faith was “making colleagues feel uncomfortable” when she was sacked from her transport minister job in 2020 during a mini-reshuffle.

In an explosive interview, the MP for Wealden suggested she had not pursued the matter at the time after being warned she would face being “ostracised by colleagues” and her “career and reputation would be destroyed”.

But on Sunday, a No 10 spokesperson revealed Mr Johnson had met with Nusrat Ghani in the summer of 2020 over the allegations and later “wrote to her expressing his concern and inviting her to begin a formal complaint process”.

The spokesperson added: “She did not subsequently do so. The Conservative Party does not tolerate prejudice or discrimination of any kind.”

Dominic Raab, the deputy prime minister, echoed the comments on Sky News, saying there will not be a “specific investigation” into Ms Ghani’s “incredibly serious” allegations – denied by the chief whip, Mark Spencer – until a formal complaint has been made by the MP.

In a statement published on Sunday by Ms Ghani, however, the former minister made clear using the Conservative Party’s internal complaints procedure was “not appropriate”.

“When I told the prime minister in June 2020 what had been said to me in the government whips’ office I urged him to take it seriously as a government matter and instigate an inquiry,” she said.

Ms Ghani added: “He wrote to me that he could not get involved and suggested I use the internal Conservative Party complaints process. This, as I had already pointed out, was very clearly not appropriate for something that happened on government business – I do not even know if the words that were conveyed to me about what was said in reshuffle meetings at Downing Street were by members of the Conservative Party”.

“In my statement yesterday I was careful not to mention any names or implicate the prime minister. All I have ever wanted was for his government to take this seriously, investigate properly and ensure no other colleague has to endure this.

“I have many things that I want to achieve in politics, not least my campaigns on human rights and genocide, and I am deeply disappointed that it has come to this.”

The former minister also told The Sunday Times 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 said.

The alleged remarks brought immediate condemnation from her colleagues on the backbenches and also led to calls for an investigation, including from cabinet minister Nadhim Zahawi on Saturday evening.

Echoing his call on Sunday, the health secretary, Sajid Javid, described Ms Ghani as a “friend and credit to the Conservative Party”, saying: “This is a very serious matter which needs a proper investigation. I would strongly support her in making a formal complaint – she must be heard”.

Labour frontbencher Emily Thornberry, however, demanded the Tories hold an independent inquiry into Islamophobia after the explosive claims, claiming they “just don’t take Islamophobia in their midst seriously”.

Speaking to Sky News, Mr Raab stressed that a formal complaint had to be submitted before an investigation is launched. “On these specific allegations, it’s very unusual, but the chief whip has come out and said the conversation concerned was with him, Mark Spencer. He has categorically denied in what can only be described as the most forthright and robust terms,” he said.

After Ms Ghani’s interview in The Sunday Times, chief whip Mr Spencer outed himself as the individual who spoke to the Conservative MP but 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.”

He added: “It is disappointing that when this issue was raised before Ms Ghani declined to refer the matter to the Conservative Party for a formal investigation. I provided evidence to the Singh Investigation into Islamophobia which concluded that there was no credible basis for the claims.”

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