Sunak defends Tories against Islamophobia claims

PM under mounting pressure to directly address the issue and condemn the remarks made by his former colleague…reports Asian Lite News

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was forced to defend the Conservatives against allegations of Islamophobia as the row over a Tory MP’s remarks against London Mayor Sadiq Khan continued to dominate the headlines.

Sunak was asked during a BBC radio interview round in northern England if the Conservative Party had Islamophobic tendencies after MP Lee Anderson was suspended from the Tory party last week for stating that Islamists had got control of Pakistani-origin Khan, a member of the Opposition Labour Party, who branded the remarks “Islamophobic, racist and anti-Islam”.

Sunak had been under mounting pressure to directly address the issue and condemn the remarks made by his former party colleague. “No, of course it doesn’t. I think it is incumbent on all of us, especially those elected to Parliament, not to inflame our debates in a way that is harmful to others,” he said in response to the question about whether the Conservative Party has a problem of Islamophobia.

Asked to address the controversial remarks made by Lee Anderson, he added: Lee’s comments weren’t acceptable, they were wrong and that is why he has had the whip suspended. “Words matter, especially in the current environment where tensions are running high. I think it’s incumbent on all of us to choose them carefully.”

The row followed scenes of chaos in Parliament last week over an Israel-Gaza conflict vote and came in response to an article in The Daily Telegraph’ by former home secretary Suella Braverman, who wrote that “the Islamists, the extremists and the anti-Semites are in charge” of the country. “I don’t actually believe that these Islamists have got control of our country, but what I do believe is that they’ve got control of Khan, they’ve got control of London. He’s actually given our capital city away to his mates,” Anderson told GB News’ in response to a question.

Following his suspension from the Conservative Party, Anderson refused to apologise for his comments, saying instead: “Following a call with the chief whip, I understand the difficult position that I have put both he and the prime minister in with regards to my comments. “I fully accept that they had no option but to suspend the whip in these circumstances. However, I will continue to support the government’s efforts to call out extremism in all its forms be that antisemitism or islamophobia.”

While the Labour Party has insisted that Anderson’s comments were racist, most senior Tories have refrained from using the term even as they insist the words were wrong. There are also some reports of support for the suspended Tory MP from within certain quarters of the Conservative Party.

Meanwhile, it has proved a major distraction for Sunak who is touring the north of England to draw attention to unprecedented investment for better transport connectivity for the region. He announced on Monday that the north will receive GBP 2.5 billion and the Midlands region of England will receive GBP 2.2 billion from April 2025 to improve local transport connections that so many people rely on every day, particularly across smaller cities, towns, and rural areas.

We have a clear plan to level up our country with greater transport links that people need and deliver the right long-term change for a brighter future, said Sunak. The Local Transport Fund will deliver a new era of transport connectivity. This unprecedented investment will benefit more people, in more places, more quickly than HS2 (High-Speed rail) ever would have done, and comes alongside the billions of pounds worth of funding we’ve already invested into our roads, buses and local transport services across the country, he said.

It comes as the British prime minister also decided to host his first Cabinet meeting in the Yorkshire and Humber region of northern England. As part of the initiative, ministers across government will be meeting with communities, businesses, and organisations across the north and Midlands to discuss their priorities for the Local Transport Fund and how their area can best benefit from the funding.

Conservative Muslim Forum seeks talks

The Conservative Muslim Forum has said it is seeking to meet with senior government figures as UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and his party continue to battle ongoing allegations of Islamophobia.

It comes after the party’s former deputy party chair, Lee Anderson, was suspended by the Conservatives for remarks about Mayor of London Sadiq Khan last week, and an article by former Home Secretary Suella Braverman for the Daily Telegraph claimed that “the Islamists, the extremists and the antisemites are in charge” of the UK.

Anderson refused to apologize for his claim that Islamists had “got control” of Khan and London.

Naveed Asghar, deputy chair of the CMF, told The Guardian: “Is the party racist or Islamophobic? I would say no, from my heart. Individuals? Yes. Are these people pandering to the vote base in their seats? I can’t see what’s going on.

“If he (Anderson) is doubling down on the comments, then the party should absolutely be having a word with him. I was hoping that the suspension would be enough. Any inflammatory remarks are just not acceptable, whether it’s people on the left making antisemitic comments or people on the right making anti-Muslim comments.”

On a visit to East Yorkshire on Monday, Sunak refused condemn Braverman’s article, saying: “I think that those comments were not about an individual in particular.”

He also stopped short of calling Anderson’s comments Islamophobic, saying: “I’ve been very clear that what he said was wrong, it was unacceptable, and that’s why we suspended (him).

“It’s important that everybody, but particularly elected politicians, are careful with their words and do not inflame tensions.”

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