Tory MP says she was sacked as minister because her Muslim faith ‘made colleagues uncomfortable’

Nusrat Ghani says incident, which Tory whips deny, was like ‘being punched in the stomach’

Zoe Tidman,Ashley Cowburn
Sunday 23 January 2022 10:28 GMT
Nusrat Ghani Islamophobia claims won’t be looked at until ‘she makes a formal complaint’, says Raab

A Conservative MP claimed she was told her Muslim faith was “making colleagues feel uncomfortable” after asking why she was sacked as a minister.

Nusrat Ghani, who lost her government job in 2020, told The Sunday Times she had asked a party whip about the decision and was told her religion was discussed at a Downing Street meeting.

The former transport minister also said she was told there were concerns she was not doing enough to defend the Tories against allegations of Islamophobia.

Her remarks brought immediate condemnation from Ms Ghani’s colleagues in the Conservative Party and have also led to calls for an investigation from cabinet minister Nadhim Zahawi.

It comes as the conduct of whips is under intense scrutiny over accusations of intimidation and blackmail against MPs resisting Boris Johnson’s leadership.

Earlier this week, a Tory MP claimed colleagues were receiving threats to “withdraw investments”, while an MP who defected to Labour claimed plans for a new school in his constituency had been threatened if he voted against the government.

Ms Ghani said she spoke to party whips after losing her ministerial role in February 2020 and “asked what the thinking was behind the decision to fire me and what the mood music was when my name was mentioned in No 10 concerning the reshuffle”.

She said: “I was told that at the reshuffle meeting in Downing Street that ‘Muslimness’ was raised as an ‘issue’, that my ‘Muslim woman 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’.”

She told the newspaper it was like “being punched in the stomach” and made her feel “humiliated and powerless”.

The situation escalated further on Saturday evening, when chief whip Mark Spencer said that he was 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.”

Anneliese Dodds, the chair of the Labour party, said the claims were “extremely serious” and called for an urgent investigation into what happened.

“This is just the latest allegation in a long list of appalling behaviour at the centre of government that the prime minister appears willing to overlook,” she said.

William Wragg, the Tory MP who accused ministers of threatening colleagues considering trying to oust Boris Johnson earlier this week, called Ms Ghani “very brave to speak out”.

Meanwhile, Tory minister Nadhim Zahawi said there was “no place for Islamaphobia or any form of racism” in the Conservative party after his colleague’s allegations. “This has to be investigated properly and racism routed out,” he said.

A spokesperson for the Tory whips’ office called Ms Ghani’s allegations “categorically untrue”.

“Ministerial roles are appointed on merit and rewards for hard work,” they said. “The Conservative party does not tolerate any form of racism or discrimination.”

Earlier this year, a report on Islamophobia in the Conservative party rejected claims of institutional racism.

However, it was critical of the Tories’ complaints process. It also found the party recorded more than 1,400 complaints over 727 incidents of alleged discrimination between 2015 and 2020, with two thirds of these concerning anti-Muslim discrimination.

The Conservative party and the Cabinet Office have been approached for comment by The Independent.

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