Ashfield MP Anderson suspended from Conservatives following 'anti-Islamic rant'

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Ashfield Lee Anderson has been stripped of the Conservative whip after refusing to apologise for remarks he made about Sadiq Khan on GB News that the London mayor described as “Islamophobic, anti-Muslim and racist”.

The MP for Ashfield’s comments on Friday night caused widespread outrage, and Khan accused the former Tory deputy chair on Saturday of “pouring fuel on the fire of anti-Muslim hatred”.

Former Conservative cabinet ministers and the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) joined the opposition in lambasting the remarks.

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An hour after Khan’s response on Saturday, the Conservative chief whip, Simon Hart, suspended the whip. Anderson will now sit as an independent.

Ashfield MP Lee Anderson.Ashfield MP Lee Anderson.
Ashfield MP Lee Anderson.

A spokesperson for Hart said: “Following his refusal to apologise for comments made, the chief whip has suspended the Conservative whip from Lee Anderson MP.”

Anderson, who resigned as Tory deputy chair last month in order to rebel against Rishi Sunak’s Rwanda bill, had told GB News Khan had “given our capital city away to his mates”.

“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 said.

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He later posted on his Facebook page: "Following a call with the Chief Whip, I understand the difficult position that I have put both he and the Prime Minister in with regard 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 anti-semitism or islamophobia."

Khan condemned Anderson’s comments in a Sky News interview on Saturday and said: “I am afraid the deafening silence from Rishi Sunak and from the cabinet is them condoning this racism. I am afraid it confirms to many people across the country that there’s a hierarchy when it comes to racism.

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“I am unclear why Rishi Sunak, why members of his cabinet aren’t calling this out and aren’t condemning this.

"It’s like they are complicit in this sort of racism. The message it sends is Muslims are fair game when it comes to racism and anti-Muslim hatred. It’s not good enough in 2024 in the United Kingdom.”

In a statement on Saturday, Mr Anderson said: "I made some comments that some people thought were divisive.

He said they were borne out of ‘sheer frustration’ with the mayor, whom he accuses of overseeing ‘double standards for political benefit’ in the way that pro-Palestinian marches are policed in London.

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He said: "Hundreds of people had been arrested for racist abuse on these marches and we barely hear a peep from the mayor.

“My words may have been clumsy but my words were borne out of sheer frustration.”

He added it was not his intention to upset anyone and the vast majority of Muslims ‘should not be blamed for the actions of a tiny minority of extremists’.

Other media reports claim that Anderson, a former Labour councillor on Ashfield Council, has subsequently been wooed by Nigel Farage to join the far-right Reform Party – a move that he had previously kicked into the long grass after resigning as deputy Tory Party chairman to allow him to vote against Sunak’s Rwanda Bill.

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Following the news, reports in national newspapers over the weekend rumoured a ‘Red Wall’ backlash, with some Conservative MPs privately telling colleagues that their inboxes have been flooded with supportive messages about Mr Anderson, with Tory top brass offering an open door for the Ashfield MP to return if he were to apologise for his comments.

The comments suggest some Tory MPs may privately be less comfortable with the decision to suspend Mr Anderson than the party leadership has put across.

One Tory MP said of Mr Anderson: “He’s an idiot for saying what he did and should have apologised but he’s not a racist and speaks for the silent majority in this country who feel Westminster has abandoned them.”

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said over the weekend that the comments by the ex-Conservative Party deputy chair were wrong and not acceptable and urged other Tory politicians ‘not to inflame the debate’.

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Mr Sunak said the choice of words "wasn't acceptable, it was wrong, that's why the whip was suspended".

He added "Racism or prejudice of any kind is completely unacceptable, it's not British and we must stamp it out where we see it."