Tory minister says Lee Anderson just ‘used the wrong words’ as Sunak fails to condemn anti-Muslim rant

Sadiq Khan says it is ‘time for the Tories to stop the moral rot’ of anti-Muslim hatred in the party

Archie Mitchell
Sunday 25 February 2024 10:11 GMT
Sadiq Khan responds to Lee Anderson's remarks

The deputy prime minister has said Lee Anderson was suspended for using “the wrong words” in an anti-Muslim rant about Sadiq Khan on GB News - as Rishi Sunak continued failing to address the comments.

Oliver Dowden said Mr Anderson was given the chance to apologise for claiming the London mayor is controlled by “Islamists”, and would have kept the Tory whip if he had, but was eventually suspended for refusing to say sorry.

He also repeatedly refused to say that the comments were racist, insisting only that the MP had used “the wrong words”.

It came as the prime minister Mr Sunak warned of an “explosion in prejudice and antisemitism” but failed to address Islamophobia specifically or the Islamophobic rant by the ex-Tory deputy chairman - despite figures last week showing the number of incidents of anti-Muslim abuse in the UK more than tripled in the four months since the Hamas attacks in Israel.

Lee Anderson was suspended after claiming Sadiq Khan was controlled by ‘Islamists’
Lee Anderson was suspended after claiming Sadiq Khan was controlled by ‘Islamists’ (PA)

Mr Anderson was eventually suspended over his comments and will now sit as an independent MP.

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 Khan and they’ve got control of London… He’s actually given our capital city away to his mates.”

Asked whether the comments were racist, Mr Dowden told Sky News: “The words that he chose to use were not the right words to use, they were the wrong words and words do matter.

“And he was given that opportunity to apologise and he didn’t.”

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

In a statement on Saturday night, Mr Sunak highlighted events “of recent weeks”, including pro-Palestinian protests 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.

Rishi Sunak said there has been ‘an explosion in prejudice’ since war erupted in the Middle East
Rishi Sunak said there has been ‘an explosion in prejudice’ since war erupted in the Middle East (PA Wire)

In a statement after Mr Anderson’s suspension, the PM said legitimate protests have been “hijacked by extremists” and politicians have been “verbally threatened and physically, violently targeted”.

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.

"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."

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”.

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

In a letter to Richard Holden, the council said it welcomes the removal of the whip from Mr Anderson but alleged 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 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.”

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