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.’
A Tory MP has sparked anger after he said former minister Nusrat Ghani who claimed she was sacked because of her ‘Muslimness’ 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.
He said Ms Ghani was not ‘obviously’ a Muslim, and it was ‘lame’ to claim that was the reason she was fired as a transport minster in a reshuffle in 2020.
His comments come after Ms Ghani alleged the chief whip Mark Spencer said her faith got her the boot.
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.
Today, 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 outed himself as the whip concerned last night, 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’ .
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’
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 this 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.
‘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 today, 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.
Justice Secretary Dominic Raab rowed in behind the chief whip today, saying that Ms Ghani would have to make a formal complaint to trigger a ‘specific investigation’.
Former education secretary Gavin Williamson accused of threatening MP with school funding axe
Former education secretary Gavin Williamson has been accused of threatening an MP with withdrawing funding for a school in his constituency.
Tory defector Christian Wakeford claimed he was told funding for a new school in his Bury South constituency would be withheld if he did not back the Government in axing free meals for pupils.
The Bury South MP, 37, did not say who was behind the alleged comments, which he made after defecting from the Conservatives to Labour on Wednesday.
But speaking to the Sunday Times, Mr Wakeford has now claimed that Gavin Williamson, a former chief whip, was responsible.
Mr Wakeford had alleged that Mr Williamson pulled him out of the House of Commons dining room and told him to ‘consider’ what he was doing.
He said he was told: ‘It’s not very helpful to back an opposition (motion) against the department where you’re wanting an extremely large favour from said department, so do consider what you’re doing.’
Mr Wakeford added: ‘I know the maxim is ‘once a whip, always a whip’, but yeah, that one was Gavin.’
But Mr Williamson insisted that he does not have ‘any recollection’ of any such conversation taking place with Mr Wakeford.
‘What I do remember is working tirelessly with Christian and others in order to be able to deliver this school, which I did,’ he said.
‘Such major investment decisions are made after close analysis of the benefits that the investment will bring and certainly not something that can be decided in a brief conversation like the one described.’
The row opens a new front in the increasingly bitter conflict between Boris Johnson’s embattled administration and Conservative MPs.
The row, fuelled by Partygate revelations, descended into open warfare last week when backbenchers led by committee chairman William Wragg went public with claims of heavy-handed behaviour from the whips they say went as far as blackmail.
Bury South MP Christian Wakeford, who defected to Labour last week, today used a newspaper article to accuse the PM of having ‘poisoned the Tory Party from top to bottom’.
Ms Ghani, the Tory MP for Wealden in East Sussex, was sacked in February 2020 as part of a mini-cabinet reshuffle.
She told The Times she felt ‘humiliated and powerless’ after the alleged conversation, saying: ‘It was like being punched in the stomach.’
A government source close to the whips’ office strenuously denied the allegation.
Following the allegations, chief whip Mark Spencer took to Twitter to identify himself as the person Ms Ghani’s claims were about.
The MP for Sherwood, 52, claimed he had ‘never used those words’.
He wrote: ‘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.
‘These accusations are completely false and I consider them to be defamatory. I have never used those words attributed to me.’
He also claimed Ms Ghani ‘declined’ to refer the matter to the Conservative Party for a formal investigation, claiming he gave evidence about it to an Islamophobia inquiry.
He added: ‘It is disappointing that when this issue was raised before Ms Ghani declined to refer the matter to the Conservative Party for a formal investigation.
‘I provided evidence to the Singh Investigation into Islamophobia which concluded that there was no credible basis for the claims to be included in the report.
‘These claims relate to a meeting in March 2020.
‘When Ms Ghani raised them she was invited to use the formal CCHQ complaints procedure. She declined to do so.’
But Mr Zahawi’s call for a probe was echoed by influential backbencher and former minister Steve Baker this morning. He said: ‘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.’
Tory defector: Boris has ‘poisoned’ the Conservative Party
The former Conservative MP who defected to Labour has accused Boris Johnson of having ‘poisoned the Tory Party from top to bottom’ as he said the Prime Minister was ‘living on borrowed time’.
Christian Wakeford crossed the floor in protest at the PM’s leadership and the row over Downing Street parties.
He has also said he was threatened about the loss of a school in his constituency if he did not toe the line.
Writing in the Sunday Mirror, Mr Wakeford said: ‘Boris Johnson is living on borrowed time. He has poisoned the Tory Party from top to bottom.’
The Bury South MP said the investigation into No 10 by civil servant Sue Gray would show Downing Street was ‘hosting parties while the rest of us were obeying the rules’.
‘The PM attended and then lied about it. He showed no respect for the Queen while she was in mourning for her husband,’ Mr Wakeford wrote.
‘His behaviour has been an insult not just to Her Majesty but to the whole nation.
‘His lack of honesty and integrity has poisoned the once great party he leads.’
Mr Wakeford added he had ‘too much respect for the people who voted me into Parliament to stay silent in the face of such intimidation’.
Ms Ghani, vice-chairwoman of the 1922 Committee of Tory backbenchers, is understood to have said that she considered whether she wanted to continue being an MP after the alleged incident.
Speaking about the reshuffle, she claimed that she had asked the whips in a post-reshuffle meeting why she was being fired, which is when she alleges she was told her ‘Muslimness’ was raised as an ‘issue’.
Ms Ghani, who previously served as Lord Commissioner of HM Treasury, claimed she was told there were concerns that she wasn’t ‘loyal’ to the party because she didn’t do enough to defend it against Islamophobia allegations.
She said: ‘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 March 2020, the politician claimed she had a second meeting with a whip where she alleged she was told there was ‘no Islamophobia’ within the party.
In the same meeting, she 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’.
After the ‘threats’, she said she followed procedure but was eventually left with ‘no choice’ but to continue with her career from the back benches.
Lord Sheikh, president of the Conservative Muslim Forum, has said he was ‘horrified’ by the claims.
Speaking on Times Radio, he said: ‘If these allegations are true then it’s totally inappropriate, in fact I was horrified to hear that she was sacked in 2020 because of her faith.
‘I’m really, really disturbed by these comments, and what we need to do is to undertake an investigation into what really happened.
‘Mark Spencer has denied that this has happened, so somebody is not telling the truth.
‘An investigation must be carried out by an independent person. This is very, very important.
‘I’ve been a member of the Conservative Party for over 15 years and I’m president of the Conservative Muslim Forum, and any Islamophobia, any discrimination in the party is totally unacceptable, and I think we need to get to the bottom of what happened.’
Bury South MP Christian Wakeford, who defected to Labour last week, today used a newspaper article to accuse the PM of having ‘poisoned the Tory Party from top to bottom’.
An inquiry into Islamophobia in the Conservative Party, which was carried out two years ago, found no evidence that the Tory party is ‘institutionally racist’ but was critical of comments made by Boris Johnson.
The Prime Minister was cleared by a majority on an independent panel over a complaint he broke the party’s code of conduct following a Daily Telegraph column in 2018 which described Muslim women who wear the burkha as looking like ‘letterboxes’ and ‘bank robbers’. He later apologised for his comments.
The inquiry carried out by Prof Singh, a former commissioner at the Equality and Human Rights Commission, was established by the party following a series of allegations about Islamophobic behaviour in the party and was widened to consider all forms of discrimination.
From 2015-2020, the party’s central database recorded 1,418 complaints relating to 727 incidents of alleged discrimination – an average of 237 complaints about 122 incidents a year in a party of 200,000 members.
More than two-thirds of the incidents – 496 cases – related to Islam and 74 per cent of all the cases involved social media activity.
The report concluded that an allegation of ‘institutional racism’ against the party was ‘not borne out by evidence available to the investigation as regards the way the party handled the complaints process’.
But it acknowledged that ‘anti-Muslim sentiment remains a problem’ within the Conservative Party.
Ms Ghani’s allegations come after rebel Tory William Wragg accused government whips of ‘blackmailing’ backbenchers seeking to oust the Prime Minister amid fears of a no-confidence vote.
Ms Ghani (pictured), 49, alleged she was told by a whip her ‘Muslimness was raised as an issue’ at a post-reshuffle meeting and that her faith was ‘making colleagues feel uncomfortable’
It comes as rebel Tory William Wragg (pictured) accused government whips of ‘blackmailing’ backbenchers seeking to oust Boris Johnson amid fears of a no-confidence vote
Mr Wragg, 34, said he will be meeting a detective from the Metropolitan Police in the House of Commons early next week to discuss his allegations, raising the prospect police could open an investigation.
Mr Wragg said on Friday that next week, he plans to tell the detective ‘several’ examples of bullying and intimidation, claiming some cases involved public money.
He told The Telegraph: ‘I stand by what I have said. No amount of gas-lighting will change that.’
Downing Street said it would not be mounting its own inquiry into the claims, despite calls to do so by both Conservative and opposition MPs.
A No 10 spokesman said it would only open an inquiry if it was presented with evidence to back up Mr Wragg’s assertions.
But Mr Wragg, the Chair of Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, said he believed an investigation should be left for the ‘experts’ in the police.
A Metropolitan Police spokesman said: ‘As with any such allegations, should a criminal offence be reported to the Met, it would be considered.’
However, Adam Holloway, the Tory MP for Gravesham, dismissed the ‘blackmail’ allegations, saying he has ‘never known’ such behaviour to happen during his time in the Conservatives or Government, adding it ‘doesn’t ring true to me’.
Responding to the allegations while visiting the ‘Jabs with Kebabs’ project at V’s Punjabi Grill in Gravesend, Mr Holloway, 56, said: ‘I can only speak for myself and I’ve never known anything like that.
‘I’ve never known any sort of link with my behaviour in Parliament and resources coming into my constituency, so I suspect it’s complete bulls***.
‘That’s what happens in American politics, I’ve got no sense of that here, ever in 16 years. It just doesn’t seem to work that way.’
Tory MP Tom Tugendhat has also insisted that he has never experienced or witnessed his party’s whips use blackmail following the allegations.
Tory MP Tom Tugendhat (pictured) has insisted that he has never experienced or witnessed his party’s whips use blackmail following the allegations from Mr Wragg
The MP for Tonbridge and Malling, 48, was asked on BBC Breakfast if he had ever been blackmailed by his party’s whips.
He responded: ‘No, I haven’t, and as you may well know, I’ve not always been the Government’s biggest supporter. I have voted against the Government on occasions when I thought it right.
‘I have to say I’ve always had a very close relationship with the chief whip and indeed a very productive relationship with whips, so I’m waiting to hear more about this because it’s not something I’ve seen or been told about.’
Mr Johnson insisted on Thursday he had ‘seen no evidence’ to support the claim made by Mr Wragg that his critics were facing ‘intimidation’.
Meanwhile, Christian Wakeford, the Bury South MP who defected to Labour, claimed the Tory whips had warned him over funding for a new school in his constituency if he rebelled in a vote over free school meals.
Ministers have sought to dismiss the allegations, insisting the whips had no role in the allocation of public funding.