Anderson refuses to rule out joining Reform UKon February 27, 2024 at 7:14 am

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The Ashfield MP said he would stand at the next general election even if not selected as a Tory

Lee Anderson and Rishi SunakImage source, PA Media

Ex-Tory party deputy chair Lee Anderson has said his words were clumsy but has refused to apologise for suggesting Sadiq Khan is controlled by Islamists.

Mr Anderson was suspended as a Tory MP following his remarks, which he says were borne out of frustration at the London mayor’s record.

Rishi Sunak called the Ashfield MP’s comments wrong but avoided saying if he thought they were Islamophobic.

Sir Keir Starmer said the PM lacked the “backbone” to call out Islamophobia.

The Labour leader told reporters: “This is really basic. Islamophobia is something which should be called out by every political leader, and the prime minister isn’t calling it out because he’s too weak.”

The row was sparked by comments Mr Anderson made during a GB News discussion on Friday afternoon.

Mr Anderson 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, and they’ve got control of Starmer as well.”

He later added: “People are just turning up in their thousands, and doing anything they want, and they are laughing at our police. This stems with Khan, he’s actually given our capital city away to his mates.”

Mr Anderson had been responding to a Daily Telegraph article by ex-Home Secretary Suella Braverman, in which she said: “The truth is that the Islamists, the extremists and the antisemites are in charge now.”

Ms Braverman said Islamists “bullied the Labour Party” over its position on the war in Gaza and that some people on pro-Palestinian marches had links to Islamists.

In a statement released via GB News – who employ the MP as a broadcaster – Mr Anderson said: “When you think you are right you should never apologise because to do so would be a sign of weakness.

“My words may have been clumsy but my words were borne out of sheer frustration at what is happening to our beautiful capital city.”

In an interview with the channel, Mr Anderson later said he felt the Conservative Party “could have given me a little bit more backing”, after he showed “a little bit of contrition”.

He argued pro-Palestinian protests outside Parliament and threats to MPs showed Mr Khan had “lost control of the city”.

He insisted his comments “weren’t racist at all” and said he would not apologise to Mr Khan “while I have a breath in my body”.

Pressed over whether he would join the right-wing Reform UK party, the former Labour councillor declined to comment but said he had “been on a political journey”.

And asked if he would be a Tory candidate at the next election, Mr Anderson said: “That’s not up to me… but I will be standing at the next election.”

Speaking to reporters on Monday, Mr Sunak said Mr Anderson’s choice of words “wasn’t acceptable, it was wrong, that’s why the whip was suspended”.

He said it was “incumbent” on parliamentarians not to inflame debate “in a way that is harmful to others”.

The prime minister also denied there were Islamophobic tendencies in his party.

In an Evening Standard article Mr Khan said Mr Anderson had “poured petrol on the fires of hatred”.

“It shouldn’t be hard to call out comments that are so unambiguously ignorant, prejudiced and racist. Yet those at the top of the Conservative government are stubbornly refusing to do so.”

Sadiq Khan

Image source, PA Media

Conservative MP Rehman Chishti, who is Muslim, called for the prime minister to appoint an independent adviser on Islamophobia, a position which has been vacant since June 2022.

He told the BBC Mr Sunak had “failed to engage” with him on tackling Islamophobia and he had “real concern with regards to the prime minister’s judgement on these matters”.

In 2019, the Conservative Party launched an inquiry into how the party handles discrimination claims, following allegations of Islamophobic behaviour.

The report found evidence of anti-Muslim views at local association and individual level but said claims of “institutional racism” were not borne out by the evidence.

‘No-go areas’

Asked about Mr Anderson’s comments on BBC Radio London, Paul Scully, a Conservative MP – and former minister for London – said concerns that certain places such as parts of Tower Hamlets in London and Sparkhill in Birmingham had become “no-go areas” needed “to be addressed”.

He said: “Lee tends to shoot from the hip. He sometimes goes too far. This is an occasion when he has gone way, way too far.”

Birmingham Labour MP Jess Phillips urged Mr Scully to apologise for his comments about Sparkhill, which she labelled “utter drivel”.

Conservative West Midlands Mayor Andy Street said: “The idea that Birmingham has a ‘no-go’ zone is news to me, and I suspect the good people of Sparkhill. It really is time for those in Westminster to stop the nonsense slurs and experience the real world.”

The prime minister’s official spokesman said Mr Sunak disagreed with Mr Scully’s comments, adding: “The PM has talked before about the value of the very diverse communities and societies that we have in the UK.”

Defending his comments in a later interview with BBC London, Mr Scully said he was referring to a “perception” but also something that was “a reality for a handful of people”.

“There are areas where there are a tiny minority of people who make people uncomfortable about not being of their religion, of their culture, who are misinterpreting their own doctrine,” he said.

Mr Scully added: “If I’ve spoken mistakenly or created upset then I apologise.”

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