Conservative party not Islamophobic, says Sunak

Lee Anderson’s comments weren’t acceptable. They were wrong, and that’s why he’s had the whip suspended, the prime minister said

Britain’s Prime Minister Rishi Sunak arrives to visit a location on the site of the future Haxby railway station near York Britain, Feb. 26, 2024. Jon Super/Pool via REUTERS

By:
Shajil Kumar

British prime minister Rishi Sunak denied on Monday that his governing party has Islamophobic tendencies, saying comments by Conservative lawmaker Lee Anderson were unacceptable and that was why he had been suspended.

Anderson said on Friday the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, was under the control of Islamists in widely condemned remarks that prompted the Conservatives to suspend him on Saturday.

Asked whether the party had Islamophobic tendencies, Sunak told BBC radio: “No, of course it doesn’t.”

“Lee’s comments weren’t acceptable. They were wrong, and that’s why he’s had the whip suspended,” he added.

Meanwhile, Tory chairman Richard Holden has accused Labour of “desperately attempting to deflect” from its recent problems “by playing politics” over Anderson.

He sought to contrast the Tories’ handling of the Anderson row with Sir Keir Starmer’s handling of the Rochdale anti-Semitism row. He suggested that “perhaps Labour should deal with the issues it faces before desperately attempting to deflect by playing politics on such a serious matter”, The Telegraph reports.

Transport secretary Mark Harper left the door open for a possible return to the Tory Party for Lee Anderson. He told Sky News: “I hope he will reflect on what he said and he will retract those comments and apologise.”

Harper noted that Anderson has contributed a lot in the past. “I’d like to see him be able to contribute to the Conservative Party in the future.”

Khan, who regularly speaks of the importance of fighting antisemitism, misogyny and homophobia, has said he regarded Anderson’s comments as racist and Islamophobic, and that they would “pour fuel on the fire of anti-Muslim hatred”.

Labour Party chair Anneliese Dodds, said Anderson’s comments were “unambiguously racist, Islamophobic, divisive, and damaging”, reports Sky News.

She observed that the Tory MPs “rallying round” Anderson “shows the extent of the problem within the Conservative Party” and that the PM is “too weak to deal with that problem”, Sky News reports.

Dodds said every political party has to act against prejudice in all of its forms. “Labour has done that against antisemitism, against Islamophobia, other forms of racism – we’ve worked hard to make sure we’re rooting out that prejudice.”

Liberal Democrats deputy leader Daisy Cooper said Sunak should have condemned Anderson’s comments as racist and Islamophobic in his interview.

“The refusal of Rishi Sunak and his ministers to properly call out Lee Anderson’s extreme comments shows just how low the Conservative party has fallen,” The Guardian reports.

A survey conducted from Feb. 16-18 by Savanta showed that 29% of Britons believed the Conservatives had a problem with Islamophobia, the most of any major British political party. (Agencies)