Deputy PM refuses to say whether Lee Anderson is 'racist' following attack on Sadiq Khan

By John Mercury February 25, 2024

The deputy prime minister has refused to say on Sky News whether Lee Anderson is “racist” as he backed the decision to suspend him from the Conservative Party following his attack on Sadiq Khan.

Mr Anderson claimed “Islamists” had “got control” of the London mayor whom he claimed had “given our capital city away to his mates”.

His comments on GB News sparked condemnation from across the political divide, including from Tory peer Baroness Warsi who said she was “really disturbed by where the Conservative Party has gone”.

On Sunday afternoon, Mr Anderson tweeted a picture of a pint of beer with the caption: “In the Dog House”.

“A random lady called Sue called in yesterday and left a fiver behind the bar to get me a pint,” he wrote.

“I don’t know you Sue but cheers.”

Earlier on Sky News deputy prime minister Oliver Dowden said the MP for Ashfield had used the “wrong words” against Mr Khan, and that “words matter”.

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Deputy PM condemns Anderson’s comments but refuses to answer if the Conservative party regards him as racist.

Appearing on Sunday Morning with Trevor Phillips, Mr Dowden explained that Mr Anderson “was given the opportunity to apologise and he didn’t do so, so therefore we removed the whip”.

Politics latest: Deputy PM refuses to say whether Anderson is racist

Asked by Sir Trevor whether the suspension of Mr Anderson meant the party regarded him as “racist” – or suspected him of being so – Mr Dowden twice refused to address the question and repeated that the Ashfield MP had used “the wrong words”.

Lee Anderson during the launch of the Popular Conservatism movement.
Pic: PA
Image:
Lee Anderson. Pic: PA

Speaking to Sky News, Conservative peer Baroness Sayeeda Warsi – who was the first Muslim woman to serve in cabinet when appointed minister without portfolio in 2010 – claimed a new generation of Conservatives were “dragging this great party… into the gutter”.

Baroness Warsi said that “not only is there a hierarchy of racism” in the Tory Party today, “anti-Muslim racism is being used as an electoral campaign tool” and that Muslims “don’t matter” and were considered “fair game”.

She added: “I’m really disappointed in Oliver, I expect better of him that there’s the insane squad and the sane squad in our party – and I expected him to be part of the sane squad.

“And what he said today was that Lee Anderson had not lost his whip because of his racist remarks, but because he had refused to apologise for his racist remarks.”

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Baroness Warsi says the Conservative Party was being ‘dragged into the gutter’.

The Tory peer drew comparisons with how Labour handled accusations of antisemitism following its decision to withdraw support for its candidate in Rochdale, who claimed Israel allowed the 7 October Hamas attack to take place in order to justify its invasion of Gaza.

“If Labour had turned around and said, ‘Well, that’s it, now he’s apologised, so we’re going to allow him to carry on as the Labour candidate’ – the Conservative Party, my colleagues would have been up in arms,” she said.

“And so what we’re now suggesting is that it’s okay to be racist, but as long as you apologise, there are no consequences. And that’s a really, deeply dangerous place for us to get into.”

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Conservative MP Robert Buckland told Sky News he ‘can’t see how [it] can be the case’ that Mr Anderson stands as a candidate for the party in the next election.

Mr Anderson, who resigned as deputy party chairman over Rishi Sunak’s controversial Rwanda bill, was suspended on Saturday afternoon after comments he made on GB News prompted widespread criticism.

The MP, who was a Labour councillor before defecting to the Tories, told the channel: “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… He’s actually given our capital city away to his mates.”

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said it was “right” that Mr Anderson lost the whip for what he called an “appalling racist and Islamophobic outburst”, while former Conservative chancellor Sir Sajid Javid branded the remarks “ridiculous”.

Following pressure to act, Conservative chief whip Simon Hart said Mr Anderson had been suspended “following his refusal to apologise for comments made yesterday”.

Despite condemning Mr Anderson for his comments, Mr Dowden did not criticise former home secretary Suella Braverman for using a recent op-ed article in the Daily Telegraph to claim the UK was “sleepwalking into a ghettoised society where Sharia law, the Islamist mob and antisemites take over communities”.

Asked why Ms Braverman still has the Conservative whip, Mr Dowden said: “I don’t shy away for a moment from facing up to what is happening right now, and I think all of us need to look ourselves in the mirror and say, what have we allowed our society to become?

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“I see from my own constituents where Jewish people are fearful of walking the streets, showing symbols of their own religion, where we have hate on marches, and now we have the situation where the actual conduct of parliament is apparently being influenced by threats of violence and intimidation.”

He added: “I don’t believe the language used by Suella Braverman has crossed the line whereby she should apologise for it.”

Mr Sunak’s decision to remove the whip means Mr Anderson will sit as an independent MP in the Commons.

The former deputy party chair said he accepted that the Conservatives had “no option” but to suspend him but that he will “continue to support the government’s efforts to call out extremism in all its forms – be that antisemitism or Islamophobia”.

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