UK PM Rishi Sunak forced to defend his party on Islamophobia claims

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.

London: British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was on Monday 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.

The British Indian leader 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.

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“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.

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