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Sadiq Khan calls Tories morally rotten and says PM’s silence on Lee Anderson makes Muslims fair game

London mayor says Islamophobia is tolerated from the top after former Tory deputy chair’s “anti-Muslim” GB News rant

Archie Mitchell
Saturday 24 February 2024 23:48 GMT
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Sadiq Khan responds to Lee Anderson's remarks

Sadiq Khan has lashed out at Rishi Sunak’s “tacit endorsement” of Lee Anderson’s “racist” GB News rant, which saw him suspended from 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”.

Mr Anderson, who quit as deputy Tory chairman last month, had the Conservative whip suspended for claiming “Islamists” have “got control” of Mr Khan.

Tory chief whip Simon Hart said he was suspended not for the comments themselves, but for his “refusal to apologise”.

After the outburst from Lee Anderson, Sadiq Khan said ‘blatant anti-Muslim hatred is being tolerated from top to bottom of the Tory party’ (PA)

And Mr Khan said it is “time for the Tories to stop the moral rot” of anti-Muslim hatred in the party.

Mr Khan said: “Blatant anti-Muslim hatred is being tolerated from top to bottom of the party, with everyone from ministers to mayoral candidates failing to condemn even the most clear-cut examples of bigotry and racism.

“In the last week alone, we’ve seen the last Tory prime minster promoting dangerous conspiracy theories, the last Tory home secretary peddling far-right tropes, and the last deputy chair of the party targeting me for no other reason than my faith and race – yet we had days of silence from the Tories.”

Mr Khan said Islamophobia has “gone through the roof” since the Hamas attacks in Israel on 7 October.

“Anderson’s comments have poured petrol on the fire of anti-Muslim hatred… the message it sends is some forms of hatred and racism are acceptable,” he added.

Mr Khan, standing for a third term as London mayor in May’s election, said “the last thing anyone should want” is “a repeat of the divisive, racist and Islamophobic mayoral campaign the Conservatives ran in London in 2016”.

In an emotive intervention, Mr Khan said: “Enough is enough – it’s time for the Tories to stop the moral rot that demeans not only their party, but our country’s and capital’s proud values of openness, decency and mutual respect.”

Mr Anderson was suspended, meaning he will no longer sit as a Tory MP, for a GB News rant in which he 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.”

Following Mr Anderson’s suspension, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer accused Rishi Sunak of harbouring “extremists” in the party and said his “weakness” allows MPs to “act with impunity”.

A spokesman for Mr Hart said: “Following his refusal to apologise for comments made yesterday, the chief whip has suspended the Conservative whip from Lee Anderson MP.”

A Conservative source was defending Mr Anderson as recently as Friday evening before he was stripped of party support on Saturday.

But Labour party chair Anneliese Dodds said Mr Anderson’s comments were “unambiguously Islamophobic, divisive and damaging”.

Responding to his suspension, she said: “It is right that he has had the whip removed, but the suggestion that Lee Anderson would have retained the confidence of the prime minister, simply if he apologised, is deeply concerning.

“These views are wrong, full stop, and there shouldn’t be conditions on removing them from your party.”

Speculation immediately mounted that Mr Anderson would seek to join Nigel Farage’s Reform UK, formerly the Brexit Party.

The insurgent party previously denied claims that it offered money to Mr Anderson to defect, but it is believed he could contest his Ashfield seat, where he has a majority of just under 6,000, at the general election.

It would be a major blow for Mr Sunak if Mr Anderson joined Reform. The party already threatens to scupper Tory hopes in tens of seats at the election, and the outspoken MP, a favourite on the Tory right, could convince even more former Conservative voters to switch parties.

But, asked about the speculation, Reform leader Richard Tice said he was “not interested in pathetic Tory squabbling”.

The PM is also under pressure to remove the whip from his predecessor Liz Truss, who was interviewed by Steve Bannon on a visit to the US and remained silent as he hailed far-right figure Tommy Robinson a “hero”.

Ms Truss was slammed by former chancellor Sajid Javid, who said “I’d hope every MP would confront such a statement head-on”. “Liz should really know better,” Sir Sajid added. And Labour’s Jonathan Ashworth accused Ms Truss of an “unforgivable lowering of the office of prime minister”.

On Saturday morning, cabinet minister Grant Shapps appeared to distance himself from the comments by Mr Anderson, but defended the controversial backbencher’s right to “speak (his) mind”.

In a letter to Tory chair Richard Holden, Ms Dodds said Mr Anderson’s comments are “the tip of iceberg” and follow a “deeply concerning pattern of Islamophobic comments tolerated and Islamophobia not dealt with” within the party.

She cited examples of Islamophobia within the Conservative Party including London mayoral candidate Susan Hall’s claim in October that Jewish people in London are “frightened” of Mr Khan’s “divisive attitude”.

She also cited an investigation into allegations made by Nus Ghani that she was told that her “Muslimness” was “making colleagues uncomfortable” when she was sacked from the government in 2020.

Ms Dodds had said: “Lee Anderson’s comments were unambiguously Islamophobic and Rishi Sunak’s failure to suspend the whip or take any other action speaks volumes.”

Mr Sunak made Mr Anderson Tory deputy chairman last February in a bid to connect with and hold onto so-called Red Wall voters who helped the party win under Boris Johnson in 2019.

But the Ashfield MP’s repeated controversial remarks have often proved awkward for the PM and other ministers forced to defend them.

He resigned as deputy chairman in January as part of a major rebellion against Mr Sunak’s Rwanda deportation bill, believing the legislation did not go far enough to allow Britain to deport asylum seekers to the east African nation.

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