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British PM Rishi Sunak and MP Lee Anderson Alamy

Rishi Sunak says MP Lee Anderson’s remarks were ‘wrong’, denies Tories have 'Islamophobia' problem

The Prime Minister said the MP had the whip suspended because his comments about Sadiq Khan ‘weren’t acceptable’.

RISHI SUNAK HAS said MP Lee Anderson’s remarks that sparked an Islamophobia row “weren’t acceptable, they were wrong”, as he denied the Conservative Party has Islamophobic tendencies.

The British Prime Minister addressed the row today after facing growing calls to speak out about the former Tory deputy chairman’s comments.

Anderson lost the Conservative whip over the weekend after failing to apologise for claiming “Islamists” had “got control” of Sadiq Khan and London.

But critics including the London mayor and Tory peer Baroness Warsi hit out at Sunak for failing to explicitly condemn the comments.

Speaking to local BBC radio stations during a visit to North Yorkshire, the Prime Minister said: “I think it’s incumbent on all of us, especially those elected to Parliament, not to inflame our debates in a way that’s harmful to others.

“Lee’s comments weren’t acceptable, they were wrong. And that’s why he had the whip suspended.”

Clearly his choice of words wasn’t acceptable, it was wrong.

“Words matter, especially in the current environment where tensions are running high and I think it’s incumbent on all of us to choose them carefully.”

Asked whether his party has an Islamophobia problem, the Prime Minister said: “No, of course it doesn’t”.

Sunak said it was “not a fair characterisation at all” to say he has condemned antisemitism while overlooking Islamophobia in his own party.

“Racism or prejudice of any kind” is “completely unacceptable” and “not British”, he said.

He said he is proud of the fact that “it wasn’t a big deal” when he became the first British-Asian prime minister, adding: “And that’s because we’re the most successful multi-ethnic democracy in the world.”

Chaos in Westminster

A Conservative party source had defended Anderson’s comments on Friday night, before he was stripped of party support on Saturday amid mounting condemnation from across the political divide.

Ministers previously said he was deprived of the whip because he did not apologise, while Sunak appeared to go further by saying he was suspended because of his “unacceptable” comments.

It came after one of the most fractious weeks in Westminster in recent years, which saw Parliament descend into chaos over a row about the handling of a Commons vote on Gaza and concerns for MPs’ safety.

Anderson, the Ashfield MP who is standard bearer for the Tory right, will now sit as an independent unless he defects to another party that chooses to offer him its backing.

Cabinet minister Mark Harper has left the door open for Anderson’s possible return to the Tory party.

Asked what he needs to say to be welcomed back, the Transport Secretary told Sky News: “I hope he will reflect on what he said and he will retract those comments and apologise…

“He’s contributed a lot in the past. I’d like to see him be able to contribute to the Conservative Party in the future.”

Asked what message the consideration of a return to the party sends to British Muslims, Harper said his suspension “sends a very strong message that we don’t tolerate people saying such things in the Conservative Party”.

He declined to say whether Anderson’s remarks were racist despite being pressed repeatedly, reiterating only that they were “wrong” and “not true”.

Tory former minister Baroness Warsi, who previously urged Sunak to “call out anti-Muslim racism”, today accused the Government of “dragg(ing) its heels on any work to tackle this form of racism”.

“No new initiatives, no engagement with communities, no definition. Instead culture wars, othering and blatant anti-Muslim racism,” she tweeted.


Labour chairwoman Anneliese Dodds said condemned Anderson’s remarks as “appalling” and said they were “clearly not to do with who Sadiq Khan is, it was a slur that was directed at him because of Islamophobia”.

She said she has written to the Conservative Party chairs seven times over the past three years calling for them to take action against Islamophobia in the party.

“This isn’t something that popped up five minutes ago, it is a continuing concern,” Ms Dodds told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

Liberal Democrat deputy leader Daisy Cooper said: “Rishi Sunak needs to condemn Anderson’s comments for what they are, Islamophobic and racist, and make clear he won’t be let back into the Conservative Party.”

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