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PM’s silence is ‘tacit endorsement of vile remarks’ by Anderson, says mayor

Sadiq Khan has accused Lee Anderson of making Islamophobic comments (PA)
Sadiq Khan has accused Lee Anderson of making Islamophobic comments (PA)

Sadiq Khan has said Rishi Sunak’s “silence” amounts to “tacit endorsement” of Lee Anderson’s widely criticised claim that  “Islamists” control the London mayor, despite the MP’s suspension from the Conservative Party.

The former deputy party chairman lost the Tory whip after refusing to apologise for the remarks and has said he accepts the Prime Minister was left with “no option” but to take action.

But Mr Sunak is being pressed by Mr Khan to stop what he described as “moral rot” in the Conservative Party after the comments prompted an outcry.

The Labour mayor said: “Although the whip has been belatedly withdrawn from Lee Anderson, the silence from Rishi Sunak and the Cabinet and tacit endorsement of these vile remarks via Conservative briefings can’t help but lead to the conclusion that Muslims are fair game as far as the Conservative Party is concerned.”

The row erupted after Mr Anderson said in an appearance on GB News that “Islamists” were controlling London and its mayor and that Mr Khan had “given our capital city away to his mates”.

The claim was denounced as “foolish and dangerous” by business minister Nus Ghani and “ridiculous” by senior Tory backbencher Sir Sajid Javid.

Conservative peer Baroness Warsi, who has criticised her party’s handling of Islamophobia allegations in the past, said his comments were just “the tip of the iceberg” and the party must rid itself of “extremists”.

“There is now a real rot at the heart of our party,” she told Channel 4 News.

A Conservative source was defending Mr Anderson as recently as Friday evening before he was stripped of party support on Saturday afternoon.

Labour had called on Mr Sunak to “show some leadership” and discipline the MP, with shadow Cabinet Office minister Jonathan Ashworth writing a letter to the PM demanding the whip be withdrawn.

Following his suspension, Sir Keir Starmer accused the PM of harbouring “extremists” in the party and said his “weakness” allows MPs to “act with impunity”.

Ms Ghani revealed on Saturday that she had spoken to Mr Anderson about his remarks, saying: “I don’t for one moment believe that Sadiq Khan is controlled by Islamists.

“To say so is both foolish and dangerous. Frankly this is all so tiring.”

Mr Anderson said in a statement later: “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 antisemitism or Islamophobia.”

Mr Anderson, a standard bearer for the Tory right, will now sit as an Independent unless he defects to another party that chooses to offer him backing.

Air pollution measures apology
The London mayor warned that anti-Muslim hate is on the rise (Victoria Jones/PA)

Reform UK leader Richard Tice did not rule out opening the door to Mr Anderson after his suspension, telling the PA news agency on Saturday: “I haven’t been in touch with Lee, he hasn’t been in touch with me.

“And we’re just focusing on doing what we’re doing and we seem to be doing something right because we’re going up in the polls and the Tories are sinking, (Rishi) Sunak is sinking and, frankly, that’s what I care about.”

Mr Anderson was deputy chairman of the Tory Party until resigning in January to rebel against Mr Sunak’s legislation to revive the stalled plan to send some asylum seekers to Rwanda.

He was one of 58 Conservatives to vote in favour of an amendment that sought to ensure UK and international law cannot be used to prevent or delay a person being sent to Kigali under the scheme.

Mr Anderson has served since 2019 as MP for Ashfield, one of the previously Labour seats in the so-called red wall where voters switched to the Tories post-Brexit to give Boris Johnson his landslide victory.

In the backlash since Friday, comparisons have been drawn with Labour’s recent handling of a leaked recording in which a parliamentary candidate suggested Israel had allowed Hamas’s October attack as a pretext to invade Gaza.

The party stood by Azhar Ali after he apologised but pulled its support after fresh reports emerged that he had blamed “people in the media from certain Jewish quarters” for the suspension of a pro-Palestinian MP.

The Prime Minister was among critics who hit out at Labour at the time for initially defending the aspiring MP, saying Sir Keir had only acted “under enormous media pressure”.

The Muslim Council of Britain welcomed Mr Anderson’s suspension but said the Conservative Party has “an Islamophobia problem” and his remarks are “only the tip of an iceberg”.

A Conservative spokesperson said: “An investigation and subsequent independent review, both conducted over several years by Professor Swaran Singh, found no evidence of institutional racism in the Conservative Party.”