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Sunak facing calls to address Lee Anderson’s remarks amid ‘Islamophobia’ row

Lee Anderson faced criticism for comments made on Friday (PA)
Lee Anderson faced criticism for comments made on Friday (PA)

Rishi Sunak is facing calls to publicly address the fallout from remarks made by MP Lee Anderson after an Islamophobia row deepened on Sunday.

The former deputy chairman lost the Conservative whip after failing to apologise for claiming “Islamists” had “got control” of Sadiq Khan.

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

Oliver Dowden earlier declined to say whether Mr Anderson’s words were racist and left the door open for a possible return to the party, prompting accusations that the remarks were not being taken seriously enough.

Speaking to broadcasters, the Deputy Prime Minister said he disagreed with the language used, but did not believe the Ashfield MP had been “intending” to be Islamophobic.

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

Business minister Nus Ghani and senior Tory backbencher Sir Sajid Javid had been among those calling out the remarks, while Sir Robert Buckland denounced them as “repugnant” and “racist” on Sunday.

The Prime Minister has not commented publicly on the fallout since the suspension, with Mr Khan saying his “silence” amounts to “tacit endorsement” of Islamophobia.

Baroness Warsi, who was a minister in now-Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron’s government, said Mr Sunak needed to “find the language” to explicitly “call racism racism”.

Speaking to the Guardian, she said: “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?”

After one of the most fractious weeks in Westminster in recent years, Mr Sunak issued a statement warning of the threat that polarisation and extremism poses to UK politics.

The Prime Minister did not mention Islamophobia or the fallout from Mr Anderson’s comments, saying instead that democracy must not be allowed to “bend to the threat of violence and intimidation”.

He was speaking after a week that saw Parliament descend into chaos over a row about the handling of a Commons vote on Gaza and concerns for MPs’ safety.

Air pollution measures apology
Sadiq Khan said the Prime Minister’s silence amounts to ‘tacit endorsement’ of Islamophobia (Victoria Jones/PA)

“Legitimate protests hijacked by extremists to promote and glorify terrorism, elected representatives verbally threatened and physically, violently targeted, and antisemitic tropes beamed onto our own Parliament building,” Mr Sunak said.

“And in Parliament this week a very dangerous signal was sent that this sort of intimidation works. It is toxic for our society and our politics and is an affront to the liberties and values we hold dear here in Britain.”

Mr Anderson, a 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.

Following his suspension he said he accepted that the Prime Minister and Chief Whip Simon Hart had been put in a “difficult position”, with “no option” but to take disciplinary action.

“However, I will continue to support the Government’s efforts to call out extremism in all its forms – be that antisemitism or Islamophobia,” Mr Anderson said in a statement.

Labour has called on the Prime Minister to confirm that no “deals or undertakings” were offered to the former deputy party chairman that would see him have the whip restored.

Prime Minister’s Questions
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is facing calls to publicly address the remarks (Jordan Pettitt/PA)

The suspension comes amid a wider row about language used by several senior Tories including Suella Braverman and Liz Truss, who claimed during the latest leg of her comeback to the political limelight that her efforts to cut taxes were “sabotaged” by “the deep state”.

The former prime minister, whose disastrous mini-budget caused economic chaos, also remained silent during an interview with Steve Bannon in which he hailed far-right figure Tommy Robinson a “hero”.

Sir Robert, a former justice secretary, hit out at the comments in a strongly worded intervention on Sunday.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4, he suggested Mr Anderson’s remarks were “repugnant” and “racist” and Ms Braverman’s recent claim that “Islamists” are in charge of the UK was “inaccurate” and “unnecessary”.

“Proper Conservatives” want to bring people together and anyone opposed to that agenda should “get out and join another party”, he said.

Mr Anderson has served since 2019 as MP for Ashfield, one of the previously Labour seats in the so-called red wall where voters switched to the Tories post-Brexit to give Boris Johnson his landslide victory.

Meanwhile, the Muslim Council of Britain said the Conservative Party must launch an investigation into alleged “structural Islamophobia” within its ranks.

A Conservative spokesperson said: “An investigation and subsequent independent review, both conducted over several years by Professor Swaran Singh, found no evidence of institutional racism in the Conservative Party.”