Stay up to date with notifications from The Independent

Notifications can be managed in browser preferences.

Baroness Warsi calls on Rishi Sunak to break silence on Islamophobia row

Conservatives call anti-Muslim rant by party’s former deputy chair Lee Anderson ‘dangerous’

Tara Cobham
Sunday 25 February 2024 23:13 GMT
Comments
Oliver Dowden refuses to answer if Tory party regards Lee Anderson as ‘racist’

Tory peer Baroness Warsi is calling on Rishi Sunak to break his silence over an escalating Islamophobia row and to explicitly condemn anti-Muslim rhetoric within the party.

In comments described as “dangerous” by senior Tories, the party’s former deputy chair Lee Anderson claimed on Friday that “Islamists” have “got control” of London Mayor Sadiq Khan. He had the whip suspended the following day after he refused to apologise.

Baroness Warsi, who was a cabinet minister in David Cameron’s government, urged the prime minister to “find the language” to “call Islamophobia Islamophobia”.

Senior Conservatives are calling on Rishi Sunak to break his silence over an escalating Islamophobia row and to explicitly condemn anti-Muslim rhetoric (PA Wire)

She told the Guardian: “What is it about the prime minister that he can’t even call out anti-Muslim racism and anti-Muslim bigotry? Why can’t he just use those words?”

Asked if Mr Sunak should make a point of denouncing Mr Anderson’s comments as Islamophobia, Baroness Warsi said: “Of course he should. If you can’t call racism racism, if you can’t call antisemitism antisemitism, and if you can’t call Islamophobia Islamophobia, then how are we going to fix it?”

The prime minister has so far failed to address Mr Anderson’s comments or surging Islamophobia across Britain, despite speaking publicly about a rise in “prejudice and antisemitism”.

In a statement issued following Mr Anderson’s suspension, Mr Sunak highlighted events of recent weeks that “should not be tolerated”, including pro-Palestinian protests held across the country since the 7 October attacks, which have been “hijacked by extremists”.

Tory peer Sayeeda Warsi, who was a cabinet minister in David Cameron’s government, urged the prime minister to ‘find the language’ to ‘call Islamophobia Islamophobia’ (PA Archive)

Mr Khan described Mr Anderson’s anti-Muslim rant on GB News as “Islamophobic, racist” and pouring “fuel on the fire of anti-Muslim hatred”.

Mr Anderson, who was deputy Tory chairman until last month, said on Saturday: “Following a call with the Chief Whip, I understand the difficult position that I have put both he and the Prime Minister in with regard to my comments. I fully accept that they had no option but to suspend the whip in these circumstances.”

However, speaking to the BBC on Sunday, Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden refused to rule out the possibility of Mr Anderson returning from his suspension.

Conservative former deputy chair Lee Anderson claimed on Friday that ‘Islamists’ have ‘got control’ of London Mayor Sadiq Khan (PA Wire)

Remarks made by the former home secretary Suella Braverman as well as the former prime minister Liz Truss also drew criticism this week. Ms Braverman asserted that “Islamists are in charge” of Britain in a Daily Telegraph article on Thursday, while Ms Truss remained silent in an interview as Steve Bannon described the far-right’s Tommy Robinson as a “hero”.

Baroness Warsi said: “There will always be people who hide behind the word Zionist, people with a long history of antisemitism who use the term Zionist when they actually mean Jews. It’s a very disingenuous form of antisemitism. And there are always people with a long history of anti-Muslim racism who will hide behind the word Islamist when they actually mean Muslims.”

After what it called “a week of inflammatory statements and Islamophobia from senior figures in the party”, the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) wrote to the Conservative Party on Sunday demanding an investigation into claims of “structural Islamophobia” within its ranks.

Sir Keir Starmer said it was right that Mr Anderson was suspended from the party over the ‘appalling racist and Islamophobic outburst’ (PA)

It comes as new figures show the number of Islamophobic incidents has skyrocketed since the 7 October attack on Israel by Hamas and the retaliatory Israeli bombardment of Palestine. London charity Islamophobia Response Unit (IRU) said there was a 365 per cent increase in reports of Islamophobia in October.

A report earlier this week from Tell Mama – another body that records anti-Muslim hate incidents – found there were 2,010 incidents between 7 October and 7 February, more than triple the 600 reported during the same period the year before.

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

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

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.”

Join our commenting forum

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

Comments

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