Oliver Dowden declines to say whether Lee Anderson’s comments are Islamophobic

The deputy prime minister has declined to say whether Lee Anderson’s comments were Islamophobic and said the MP would have kept his role had he apologised. On Saturday Mr Anderson was suspended as a Conservative MP after refusing to apologise for saying London Mayor Sadiq Khan is controlled by “Islamists”.

Oliver Dowden told BBC One’s Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg that Mr Anderson was not “intending to be Islamophobic”.

Labour has renewed its criticism of the Tory party’s response. In a letter to the prime minister, Labour said it was right to suspend Mr Anderson “after his disgusting racist and Islamophobic remarks”.

Mr Khan, mayor of London, has already said the comments were “Islamophobic, anti-Muslim and racist” and that they “pour fuel on the fire of anti-Muslim hatred.”

On Friday Mr Anderson prompted fury after he 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”.

On Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg, Mr Dowden was asked repeatedly whether he would say those comments were Islamophobic. He declined to do so, but said: “I share concerns about how it could be taken that way.”

He went on to say: “The fact it could be taken that way is the reason why the [Conservative] chief whip asked for an apology”.

He added that he understood that Mr Anderson’s comments “have caused offence”.

But he defended how the party had handled the situation, adding that asking him to apologise for the remarks was “the appropriate step to take”. Mr Anderson said he had accepted the party had “no option” but to suspend him, given the “difficult position” it put the government in. However, he has not apologised for what he said.

On Sky News, Mr Dowden said while Mr Anderson’s comments were “wrong”, he declined to be drawn on whether they were racist.

Fellow Tory MP and former Conservative cabinet minister Sir Robert Buckland told the BBC Mr Anderson’s remarks were racist.

“It crosses a line. It was repugnant,” he told Radio 4’s Broadcasting House programme.

On Laura Kuenssberg’s programme, former cabinet minister Therese Coffey denied there was a “hierarchy of racism” within the Conservative Party, when asked by Andy Burnham, the Labour mayor of Greater Manchester.

Ms Coffey added that “swift action” had been taken against Mr Anderson, and the party had taken steps in this area following a review published in 2021.

Appearing on GB News, also on Sunday, Mr Dowden said he could not rule out that Mr Anderson could be restored as a Conservative MP if he does apologise, but said it was a matter for the party’s chief whip.

Labour’s Jonathan Ashworth, who wrote to the prime minister on Sunday, called this “extraordinary” and said it suggested the Conservatives were “not taking the threat of Islamophobia seriously”.

‘Deafening silence’
On Saturday, Mr Khan not only criticised Mr Anderson for his comments but also condemned Mr Sunak and his Cabinet for what he called a “deafening silence” on the matter.

Following the MP’s suspension, the mayor of London said he was still unclear why the prime minister had not yet condemned the remarks.

Mr Sunak released a statement on Saturday evening saying there had been an “explosion in prejudice and antisemitism” since the 7 October Hamas attack on Israel adding that protests in recent weeks had been “hijacked by extremists to promote and glorify terrorism”.

However, he did not specifically address the comments made by Mr Anderson nor his suspension.

Mr Anderson, who has been the MP for Ashfield since 2019, will now sit as an independent MP in the Commons.

The former deputy chairman of the Conservative Party resigned from that role last month to rebel against the government’s legislation to revive its Rwanda deportation scheme.

Mr Anderson made his original comments on GB News on Friday during a discussion about how the Metropolitan Police has handled pro-Palestinian protests in London.

During the interview, he was also asked about former home secretary Suella Braverman saying in the Telegraph that the demonstrations showed Islamists were “in charge” of the country.

In his BBC interview, Mr Dowden told Laura Kuenssberg Mrs Braverman’s comments were “in a different category” to Mr Anderson’s.

“I don’t believe that what Suella has said crosses the line in the way that Lee Anderson’s comments do,” he said.

The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) said it welcomed Mr Anderson’s suspension, but raised concerns the action was taken “for refusing to apologise, not for making the racist remarks in the first place”.

Writing to Conservative Party chairman Richard Holden, the MCB secretary general called for an internal investigation.

Zara Mohammed said: “Our view is that the Islamophobia in the party is institutional, tolerated by the leadership and seen as acceptable by great swathes of the party membership.”

On Sunday, Mr Khan posted again on social media criticising Mr Sunak’s statement, saying it had failed “to mention anti-Muslim hatred at all”.

“These are just the two most recent examples of enabling anti-Muslim hatred in the Conservative party,” he wrote. “In recent months we’ve seen a terrifying spike in hate towards Jewish and Muslim communities.

“Racism is racism. There should be no hierarchy. Now, more than ever, we should be seeking to bring our country together. There must be zero tolerance for the politics of division.

Source: BBC

In other news – Anti-monarchy group chief shares exciting news amid King Charles’s cancer treatment

Anti-monarchy group Republic CEO Graham Smith has shared an exciting news days after King Charles was diagnosed with cancer.

King Charles

Smith took to X, formerly Twitter handle, and revealed that his anti-monarchy book, ‘Abolish The Monarchy’ comes out in paperback on May 9. Read more

Back to top button