PM met with Tory MP to discuss ‘extremely serious’ Muslim sacking claims

·6 min read
PM met with Tory MP to discuss ‘extremely serious’ Muslim sacking claims

The Prime Minister met with a Tory MP who to discuss her “extremely serious claims” that she was sacked as a minister because of concerns about her “Muslimness”, Downing Street has said.

In an interview with the Sunday Times, Nusrat Ghani said that when she lost her job as transport minister a government whip said her faith had been raised as an issue at a Downing Street meeting.

Chief whip Mark Spencer said he was the one who spoke to Ms Ghani and strongly denied her claims, calling them “defamatory”.

A No 10 spokesman said in a statement that the Prime Minister invited her to make a formal complaint at the time, but she did not do so.

Tory MP Nusrat Ghani (Christopher McAndrew/UK Parliament/PA) (PA Media)
Tory MP Nusrat Ghani (Christopher McAndrew/UK Parliament/PA) (PA Media)

“After being made aware of these extremely serious claims, the Prime Minister met with Nusrat Ghani to discuss them,” the spokesman said.

“He then wrote to her expressing his serious concern and inviting her to begin a formal complaint process. She did not subsequently do so.

“The Conservative Party does not tolerate prejudice or discrimination of any kind.”

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said there was no place for Islamophobia or any form of racism in the party, and that her allegations must be “investigated properly and racism routed out”.

On Sunday, Ms Ghani said she was told by Boris Johnson that he could not get involved after she spoke to him about the incident.

In a statement, the Conservative MP for Wealden and former Department for Transport minister said she only wanted the Government “to take this seriously, investigate properly and ensure no other colleague has to endure this”.

She 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.”

Mr Spencer took to Twitter on Saturday night to deny Ms Ghani’s claims.

“To ensure other Whips are not drawn into this matter, I am identifying myself as the person Nusrat Ghani MP has made claims about this evening,” he said in a statement posted on Twitter.

“These accusations are completely false and I consider them to be defamatory. I have never used those words attributed to me.”

The row erupted at the start of a crucial week for Mr Johnson, with Sue Gray, the senior civil servant investigating lockdown parties in Downing Street, expected to deliver her report.

The conduct of the whips’ office has come under intense scrutiny following claims that tactics amounting to blackmail were used to pressurise Tory MPs seeking to oust the Prime Minister.

In her interview, Ms Ghani, the MP for Wealden, said she was shocked when the issue of her background and faith was raised during a meeting in the whips’ office after the mini-reshuffle in February 2020.

 (PA Wire)
(PA Wire)

“It was like being punched in the stomach. I felt humiliated and powerless,” she told the paper.

“I was told that at the reshuffle meeting in Downing Street that ‘Muslimness’ was raised as an ‘issue’, that my ‘Muslim women minister’ status was making colleagues uncomfortable and that there were concerns ‘that I wasn’t loyal to the party as I didn’t do enough to defend the party against Islamophobia allegations’.

“It was very clear to me that the whips and No 10 were holding me to a higher threshold of loyalty than others because of my background and faith.

“In the following weeks, I was informed that if I persisted in raising this that I would be ostracised by colleagues and my career and reputation would be destroyed.”

Mr Zahawi said said it was essential that Ms Ghani’s claims were now properly addressed by the party.

“There is no place for Islamophobia or any form of racism in our Conservative Party,” he tweeted.

“Nus Ghani is a friend, a colleague and a brilliant parliamentarian. This has to be investigated properly and racism routed out. #standwithNus.”

The senior Tory who first raised the issue of the conduct of the whips office, William Wragg – the chairman of the Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee – also voiced his support for Ms Ghani.

“Nus is very brave to speak out. I was truly appalled to learn of her experience. She shows such strength and integrity supporting others,” he tweeted.

 (PA Media)
(PA Media)

Mr Wragg is due to discuss his concerns – including claims whips threatened to withhold public funding from the constituencies of MPs calling from Mr Johnson to resign – with a Scotland Yard detective this week.

In a further blow to the Prime Minister, The Sunday Times reported Ms Gray has now widened her inquiry to include allegations that parties were held in his Downing Street flat.

The paper said that two aides, Henry Newman and Josh Grimstone – both said to be friends of Mr Johnson’s wife, Carrie – visited the flat over No 11 on numerous occasions during lockdown.

Initially Ms Gray was said to have accepted the visits were for work purposes, however investigators were reported to have questioned why they were spending so much time in Downing Street when they were working for the Cabinet Office.

This rotten culture starts at the top - the lack of respect in No 10 is embarrassing our country and letting people down

Labour's Anneliese Dodds

Labour Party chair Anneliese Dodds said there was a “rotten culture” at the hear of government and that Mr Johnson and Tory chairman Oliver Dowden must launch an urgent investigation into Ms Ghani’s allegations.

“This is just the latest allegation in a long list of appalling behaviour at the centre of government that the Prime Minister appears willing to overlook,” she said.

“This rotten culture starts at the top – the lack of respect in No 10 is embarrassing our country and letting people down.”

A spokesman on behalf of the whips office said: “These claims are categorically untrue. Ministerial roles are appointed on merit and rewards for hard work.

“The Conservative Party does not tolerate any form of racism or discrimination.”

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