Ghani v Spencer: Tories pick sides in ‘Muslimness’ row
Nadhim Zahawi: ‘There is no place for islamophobia or any form of racism in our Conservative party. Nusrat Ghani is a friend, a colleague & a brilliant parliamentarian. This has to be investigated properly & racism routed out.’
Sajid Javid: ‘This is a very serious matter which needs a proper investigation. I would strongly support her in making a formal complaint – she must be heard.’
Caroline Nokes: ‘I was very proud when Nus was the first female Muslim minister to speak at the despatch box and I thought it was evidence of how far our parliament and my party had come and to hear of the challenges that she has subsequently faced, is horrific.’
Steve Baker: ‘That Nus could be treated like this is completely intolerable. I value (her) as a great colleague and I’m appalled. We must get to the bottom of it.’
Mark Spencer: ‘These accusations are completely false and I consider them to be defamatory. I have never used those words attributed to me.’
Dominic Raab: ‘If there are any claims like this they should result in a formal complaint which allows a formal investigation to take place. As the chief whip has pointed out, Nus hasn’t made a formal complaint. She was asked to do so. In the absence of doing so there will be no specific investigation into this.’
Downing Street: ‘After being made aware of these extremely serious claims, the Prime Minister met with Nusrat Ghani to discuss them. He then wrote to her expressing his serious concern and inviting her to begin a formal complaint process. She did not subsequently do so.’
Boris Johnson today ordered the Cabinet Office to investigate allegations an ex-minister was sacked over ‘Muslimness’.
The PM has instructed the civil service to carry out a probe after the extraordinary claims from Tory MP Nusrat Ghani.
The move came after Nadhim Zahawi and Sajid Javid joined calls for a ‘proper’ inquiry – with others suggesting it should be fully independent.
A No10 spokeswoman said this morning that Mr Johnson took the allegations ‘very seriously’.
‘The Prime Minister has asked the Cabinet Office to conduct an inquiry into the allegations made by Nusrat Ghani MP,’ the spokeswoman said.
‘At the time these allegations were first made, the Prime Minister recommended to her that she make a formal complain to CCHQ. She did not take up this offer.
‘The Prime Minister has now asked officials to establish the facts about what happened.
‘As he said at the time, the Prime Minister takes these claims very seriously.’
A thinktank has called on the Government to bring in the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) to investigate the claims.
The Runnymede Trust, a race equality thinktank, says the issue is too important to be left to a civil servant-led inquiry.
Ms Ghani alleged that chief whip Mark Spencer said her faith was partly responsible for her getting the boot in 2020.
No10 claimed she had made the PM aware of the allegation at the time but declined an invitation to ask for a full investigation. But Ms Ghani contradicted their version of events, saying the PM refused to get involved and tried to fob her off.
Dr Halima Begum, chief executive of the Runnymede Trust, told the Guardian: ‘This is an incredibly serious situation. At a bare minimum, the allegation that a minister of the crown was fired for her so-called ‘Muslimness’ would represent a flagrant challenge to our equalities and labour laws.
‘The facts and questions about the legality of what has happened here must be urgently investigated by the very highest authority. This cannot simply be left for another civil service inquiry. If the allegations are proven to be true, Nusrat would have been subjected to grossly discriminatory behaviour.
‘[Her] distress will be felt by every one of the 3 million Muslims in the country, as well as every member of our religious minority communities. All of the political parties need to do more to demonstrate zero tolerance for discrimination, and to prove that religious minorities in this country are respected regardless of their faith.’
Caroline Nokes, chair of the Commons women and equalities committee, described the treatment of Ms Ghani as ‘appalling’.
She also backed calls for the EHRC to launch an investigation and told the Telegraph: ‘Her faith has never made me (or any other colleague) ‘uncomfortable’.
‘At the very least EHRC should have a look at this.’
An EHRC spokesman stated the Commission is still examining the Conservative Party’s handling of the Singh inquiry into Islamophobia complaints last year and suggested a full investigation may take place.
The spokesman added: ‘If we are not satisfied with progress we will review our decision [not to begin an immediate review] and do not rule out the use of our legal powers.’
Dr Halima Begum, director of the Runnymede Trust, said the incident ‘must be urgently investigated by the very highest authority’. She added: ‘This cannot simply be left for another civil service inquiry’
Downing Street is fighting multiple battles – but will Boris survive?
The Prime Minister is currently fighting wars on several fronts as he attempts to maintain his premiership.
Though Sue Gray’s inquiry into ‘partygate’ is believed to have dug up some extremely damning evidence, here are some of the other challenges facing Downing Street which could prove deadly to Boris’ leadership.
Allegations of Islamophobia
Nusrat Ghani, the first Muslim woman to be elected as a Tory MP in 2015, said she was told by a party whip she was being axed in Feb 2020 because her status as a Muslim woman was ‘making colleagues feel uncomfortable’.
She also claimed she was told by the whip that she had been fired for saying to Boris Johnson that they had a ‘women problem’, in attracting female voters.
Ms Ghani claimed she raised the issue through official party channels but said she was warned that if she continued to do so, she would be ‘ostracised’ by her colleagues and her ‘career and reputation would be destroyed’.
William Wragg’s allegations of MP blackmail
William Wragg, a backbencher who accused Downing Street of trying to blackmail rebel MPs, said yesterday he would meet police to discuss his allegations.
Downing Street said it had not seen any proof of the behaviour he alleges, but Chris Bryant, chairman of the Commons Committee on Standards, said about a dozen Tory MPs alleged whips threatened to withdraw funding for their constituencies should they not show support for Johnson.
Whips have also been accused of heavy-handed attempts to intimidate the rebels with the threat of revealing allegations about their sex lives.
William Wragg and Nusrat Ghani are joint vice-chairmen of the 1922 Committee of Conservative backbenchers.
The committee’s executive secretary Gary Sambrook has also expressed his desire for a new Tory leader, while treasurer Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown voiced frustration with the PM last year.
If Johnson were to win a party confidence vote, he would be immune to another leadership challenge for a year – but the committee is considering cutting this immunity period to six months.
Former Tory MP Christian Wakeford crossed the floor and joined the Labour party last week.
Though defections are rare in Parliament, there are rumours that more Tory MPs may soon follow suit.
Elsewhere, a Tory MP sparked anger after he said Ms Ghani was ‘hardly someone who is obviously a Muslim’.
Michael Fabricant said the timing of the former transport minister‘s claim was ‘very suspicious’, and suggested it was linked to moves to get rid of Boris Johnson over the Downing Street lockdown parties scandal.
Yesterday, Labour described Mr Fabricant’s comments as ‘shameful’ and called for the Conservative whip to be withdrawn.
Speaking on LBC, Mr Fabricant said: ‘The timing is interesting. I think all this is because it’s open season on Boris Johnson, putting pressure on him from the party trying to get him to resign.
‘I think the whole thing actually stinks, the accusation being made by Nus Ghani.
‘She’s hardly someone who is obviously a Muslim. I had no idea what religion she is. It does seem rather a lame excuse to me that she was sacked because of that.’
In response, shadow foreign secretary David Lammy tweeted: ‘What an appalling, disgraceful thing to say.
‘If the Tories wanted to show they were serious about tackling Islamophobia, they could start by removing the whip from Michael Fabricant.’
Labour Party chair Anneliese Dodds said the response of the the Tories to Ms Ghani’s claims had been shameful.
‘For a Conservative MP, Michael Fabricant, to go on the radio and make comments that reflect exactly the sort of unacceptable behaviour Nusrat has raised shows just how deep the problem in the Conservative Party goes,’ she said.
Ms Ghani has received the backing of Health Secretary Sajid Javid and Education Nadhim Zahawi, the two most senior Muslims in the Cabinet.
Both took to Twitter to support her and demand a full investigation into her claims against Mr Spencer.
He has outed himself as the whip concerned, and branded Ms Ghani’s comments ‘false’ and ‘defamatory’.
Justice secretary Dominic Raab also lined up to defend the party, claiming she had decided not to call for an investigation at the time.
But Mr Javid said Ms Ghani was ‘a credit to the Conservative Party’, adding: ‘This is a very serious matter which needs a proper investigation. I would strongly support her in making a formal complaint – she must be heard.’
His intervention claim after Mr Zahawi tweeted: ‘There is no place for islamophobia or any form of racism in our Conservative party. Nusrat Ghani is a friend, a colleague & a brilliant parliamentarian. This has to be investigated properly & racism routed out. #standwithNus’ .
Ms Ghani, who was the first Muslim woman to be elected as a Tory MP in 2015, told the Sunday Times she was told by a party whip she was being axed in February 2020 because her status as a Muslim woman and a minister was ‘making colleagues feel uncomfortable’.
She also claimed she was warned that if she continued to raise the issue then her ‘career and reputation would be destroyed’.
But yesterday morning Downing Street revealed that Ms Ghani had complained directly to the PM in 2020. A spokeswoman said: ‘After being made aware of these extremely serious claims, the Prime Minister met with Nusrat Ghani to discuss them.
Michael Fabricant has sparked anger after he said the timing of the former transport minister’s claim was ‘very suspicious’
Nusrat Ghani (pictured), the Tory MP for Wealden in East Sussex, was sacked as transport minister in February 2020 as part of a mini-cabinet reshuffle
Mark Spencer outed himself as the whip concerned last night, and branded Ms Ghani’s comments ‘false’ and ‘defamatory’
‘He then wrote to her expressing his serious concern and inviting her to begin a formal complaint process. She did not subsequently do so.’
After that statement was released, Ms Ghani said: ‘When I told the Prime Minister in June 2020 what had been said to me in the Government Whips’ Office I urged him to take it seriously as a Government matter and instigate an inquiry.
‘He wrote to me that he could not get involved and suggested I use the internal Conservative Party complaint process.
‘This, as I had already pointed out, was very clearly not appropriate for something that happened on Government business – I do not even know if the words that were conveyed to me about what was said in reshuffle meetings at Downing Street were by members of the Conservative Party.’
And Justice Secretary Dominic Raab rowed in behind him yesterday, saying that Ms Ghani would have to make a formal complaint to trigger a ‘specific investigation’.
Ms Ghani alleged the chief whip Mark Spencer said her faith got her the boot in 2020
The allegation in the Sunday Times prompted demands for an investigation from Education secretary Nadhim Zahawi, the most senior Muslim in the Government.
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