Tory MP Mark Spencer spared punishment after inconclusive inquiry over Nusrat Ghani sacking claims

6 April 2023, 19:58

Tory MP Mark Spencer has been spared punishment after an official probe failed to determine whether he told colleague that her Muslim faith played a role in her dismissal.
Tory MP Mark Spencer has been spared punishment after an official probe failed to determine whether he told colleague that her Muslim faith played a role in her dismissal. Picture: Alamy

By Chris Samuel

Tory MP Mark Spencer has been spared punishment after an official probe failed to determine whether he told colleague that her Muslim faith had been a factor in her dismissal.

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Nusrat Ghani claimed that she was told her "Muslimness" was "raised as an issue" when she was sacked from a ministerial role.

In a long-delayed report published today, Rishi Sunak's ethics adviser Sir Laurie Magnus criticised Mr Spencer's handling of the episode but cleared him of him of breaking ministerial rules.

The Prime Minister said in a written response: "In the absence of clear evidence, it would not be right to take further action."

Mr Sunak said he had spoken to Mr Spencer and Ms Ghani and encouraged both of them to "pull together in the finest tradition of public service".

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Ms Ghani said in statement that Mr Spencer would have to explain the criticism in the report of his "shortcomings".

“There is no criticism or doubt expressed regarding my version of events,” she said.

“Others will have to explain the report noting the ‘omissions’, ‘shortcomings’, ‘incomplete information’, ‘inaccurate briefings’ and claims ‘implied without evidence’ in their actions and story.

Nusrat Ghani, MP for Wealden, addresses Conservative party members at the Conservative leadership hustings in Eastbourne, August 2022.
Nusrat Ghani, MP for Wealden, addresses Conservative party members at the Conservative leadership hustings in Eastbourne, August 2022. Picture: Alamy

“We all serve at the Prime Minister’s choosing and there is no shame in a political career ending. But to be told your faith and identity is the reason for it cannot be acceptable in any way.

“The impact of being told this was devastating and my motivation in pursuing the complaint was to ensure it wasn’t buried, but that it ended with me so that no other colleague would have to endure anything similar."

Ms Ghani was sacked from her job as a junior transport minister during Boris Johnson's time as PM in 2020.

She later said that after asking why she lost her job, she was told by a person she did not name that her "'Muslimness' was raised as an 'issue', that my 'Muslim women minister' status was making colleagues uncomfortable".

Mr Spencer then identified himself as the person Ms Ghani was referring to in a tweet, but dismissed her claims as "completely false".

He also falsely claimed on Twitter that a separate Islamophobia probe of the Conservative party found that there was “no credible basis for the claims”.

Mark Spencer
Mark Spencer. Picture: Alamy

Sir Laurie said in the report that Mr Spencer should have "taken more care" before making the claim.

The inquiry was launched into Ms Ghani's allegations in January 2022 led by Mr Johnson's ethics adviser Lord Geidt, and it was then taken on by Sir Laurie.

Sir Laurie said Ms Ghani and Mr Spencer had "firm but very different recollections" of what had been said to her in meetings.

But he said the "differing evidence" presented meant that he was not able to conclude with "sufficient confidence what was or was not said".

He added that advisers who had been present at the time of Ms Ghani's dismissal, and interviewed as part of the probe, said they hadn't heard conversations in which her faith was referred to.

Sir Laurie therefore came to the conclusion that there was insufficient evidence to demonstrate Mr Spencer had breached rules that require ministers to be "professional in all their dealings and treat all those with whom they come into contact with consideration and respect".

He also noted "shortcomings" in Mr Spencer's conduct after the allegations came to light.

These included that he “omitted to mention” a meeting he had with Ms Ghani in March 2020 ahead of a meeting with then PM Boris Johnson that same year to discuss the claims.

It meant Mr Johnson entered the meeting without knowledge of the crucial event, Sir Laurie said, adding: “This was not helpful.”

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