Lee Anderson’s comments against Sadiq Khan ‘weren’t acceptable, they were wrong’, says Rishi Sunak | Politics News

Rishi Sunak has broken his silence to condemn Lee Anderson’s attack on Sadiq Khan as not acceptable and “wrong”.

Mr Anderson, the MP for Ashfield and former deputy party chair, was suspended at the weekend after he refused to apologise for claiming “Islamists” had got “control” over London and that Mr Khan had “given our capital city away to his mates”.

Speaking on BBC Radio York, the prime minister denied that the party has “Islamophobic tendencies” and said: “I think it’s incumbent on all of us, especially those elected to parliament, not to inflame our debates in a way that’s harmful to others.”

Asked about Mr Anderson specifically, Mr Sunak said: “Lee’s comments weren’t acceptable, they were wrong. That’s why he’s had the whip suspended.”

He added: “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.”

Politics latest: Tory MPs label Lee Anderson suspension the ‘final nail in the party’s coffin’

Mr Sunak’s statement to local radio was the first time he has directly addressed the comments made by Mr Anderson, who told GB News last week: “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.”

His comments 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” and that “anti-Muslim racism is being used as an electoral campaign tool”.

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‘Anti-muslim racism is being used as an electoral campaign tool.’

However, a cabinet minister this morning appeared to leave the door open to Mr Anderson regaining the Tory whip, which allows him to sit as a Conservative MP in the Commons.

Asked what Mr Anderson needed to say to be welcomed back, Transport Secretary Mark Harper told Kay Burley on Sky News that he should “reflect on what he said” and “retract those comments and apologise”.

“I’m not going to tell the chief whip how to do his job, that’s for him,” he said.

“He’s contributed a lot in the past. I’d like to see him be able to contribute to the Conservative Party in the future.”

“I’d like to see him be able to contribute to the Conservative Party in the future.”

While a number of senior Tories have criticised Mr Anderson for his comments, Mr Harper was the second cabinet minister to refuse to say whether the remarks were “racist”.

Yesterday Mr Dowden backed the decision to suspend the Ashfield MP but refused to say whether he was racist.

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‘It was wrong’

And this morning, Mr Harper also repeatedly declined to say whether Mr Anderson’s remarks were racist but said they were “untrue” and “wrong”.

“Well it was wrong, and I’m not going to get into arguing about the rights and wrongs of what he said.

“Wrong is a very strong word in my book.”

Mr Harper also rejected the assertion made by Baroness Warsi yesterday that there is a hierarchy of racism within the party and that anti-Muslim racism is being used as an electoral campaign tool.

“I don’t agree with that,” he said. “And the fact that we took such robust action so quickly against what Lee Anderson said, I think, rather shows exactly why she’s wrong.”

Mr Harper’s words come as WhatsApp messages leaked to Sky News reveal that some Tory MPs regard Mr Anderson’s suspension as a mistake.

The WhatsApp forum is called the “109 group” of Tory MPs elected in 2019.

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Julie Marson, the MP for Hertford and Stortford, shared a news story showing Nigel Farage calling on “cancelled” Mr Anderson to join the rivals Reform party and “destroy” the Tories.

Jill Mortimer, the Conservative MP for Hartlepool, shared messages from constituents saying they would not vote Tory again and that “Lee Anderson’s suspension is the final nail in the party’s coffin”.

On Sunday evening Mr Anderson tweeted a picture of a pint of beer from a London pub with the caption: “So I have just arrived in London and due to all the positive comments earlier I’ve decided to have another pint to get me ready for a long week.”