Rishi Sunak says he's 'living proof' the UK isn't racist after Lee Anderson refused to apologise for Islamist claim

27 February 2024, 08:39 | Updated: 27 February 2024, 09:02

"Any form of prejudice or racism" is unacceptable and does not show "who we are as a country", Mr Sunak said.
"Any form of prejudice or racism" is unacceptable and does not show "who we are as a country", Mr Sunak said. Picture: Alamy
Jasmine Moody

By Jasmine Moody

The Prime Minister has declared that he is "living proof" Britain isn't racist, after Lee Anderson's criticism of Sadiq Khan sparked an Islamophobia row.

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Rishi Sunak said it is the duty of politicians to not “unnecessarily inflame” tensions after former deputy Tory chairman, Mr Anderson, was accused of stoking anti-Muslim hate.

“My priority is to try and take the heat out of this situation and that’s what everyone wants to see,” Mr Sunak said.

“I’ve been really clear that it’s important that people are careful with the words they use, particularly elected politicians, and particularly at a time when tensions are already running high and we don’t want to unnecessarily inflame things further.”

“I am standing here as living proof" that the UK is not racist, said Rishi Sunak.
“I am standing here as living proof" that the UK is not racist, said Rishi Sunak. Picture: Alamy

He added that “any form of prejudice or racism” was completely and utterly unacceptable as that was not who “we are as a country”.

“We’re a proud multi-ethnic democracy, one of the most successful anywhere in the world,” he said.

“I am standing here as living proof of that and it’s important that we work hard to protect that, because that’s one of the things that makes our country incredibly special.”

Read more: Starmer says Sunak is harbouring 'extremists' among Tories as Lee Anderson suspended following Islamist claim
Read more:
Lee Anderson refuses to apologise for 'Islamist' comments as he doubles down on criticism of Sadiq Khan

Mr Anderson has conceded that his words were "clumsy" but that he refused to apologise directly to the London Mayor "while I've got a breath in my body."

"They keep bandying this word 'Islamophobia' about, nobody can explain what it really means," he claimed.

However, Mr Sunak refused to say whether his fellow Tory MP was guilty of Islamophobia, instead claiming: "In a situation like this it’s important that we maintain high standards and, unfortunately, the words that Lee chose weren’t acceptable," he told Channel Five news.

LBC's Nick Ferrari asked minister Michael Tomlinson the same question repeatedly this morning, but he refused to directly address the question.

Asked several times by Nick why it was necessary to withdraw the whip, the illegal migration minister would only say: "It was wrong."

Nick asked three times why Mr Anderson's comments were wrong, and three times whether they were Islamophobic before stopping the interview, saying: "Michael Tomlinson is a minister of state for illegal migration, unable to answer a question."

The prime minister has also denied that his party have an issue with Islamophobia - even though two of the country's most senior politicians accused the prime minister of not taking the issue seriously.

Sadiq Khan said that the prime minister’s refusal to describe Mr Anderson’s comments as racist was "a tacit endorsement of anti-Muslim hatred and can only lead to the conclusion that anti-Muslim bigotry and racism are not taken seriously."

"They keep bandying this word &squot;Islamophobia&squot; about, nobody can explain what it really means," Mr Anderson claimed.
"They keep bandying this word 'Islamophobia' about, nobody can explain what it really means," Mr Anderson claimed. Picture: Alamy

Scotland's first minister also waded into the controversy by accusing Rishi Sunak of prioritising tackling antisemitism over Islamophobia, accusing the party of being "riddled with Islamophobia"

Humza Yousaf said: "It certainly looks like" there is a difference in how the government is treating the two issues.

Sir Keir Starmer said that it was right that Ashfield MP Mr Anderson had been suspended for an "appalling racist and Islamophobic outburst", but called for Mr Sunak "to get a grip and take on the extremists in his party".

He added: "But what does it say about the prime minister's judgement that he made Lee Anderson deputy chairman of his party?"

The prime minister has also denied that his party have an issue with Islamophobia - even though two of the country's most senior politicians accused the prime minister of not taking the issue seriously..
The prime minister has also denied that his party have an issue with Islamophobia - even though two of the country's most senior politicians accused the prime minister of not taking the issue seriously. Picture: Alamy

Meanwhile, another Tory MP has been accused of Islamophobia after describing areas with large Muslim populations in Birmingham and London as "no-go" locations.

Paul Scully said: "The point I am trying to make is if you look at parts of Tower Hamlets, for example, where there are no-go areas, parts of Birmingham Sparkhill, where there are no-go areas, mainly because of doctrine, mainly because of people using, abusing in many ways, their religion to … because it is not the doctrine of Islam, to espouse what some of these people are saying.

"That, I think, is the concern that needs to be addressed", the MP for Sutton and Cheam in Surrey said.

The statement has been called "nonsense” by Andy Street, the Conservative West Midlands mayor on X, writing: "The idea that Birmingham has a 'no-go' zone is news to me, and I suspect the good people of Sparkhill … I for one am proud to lead the most diverse place in Britain."

Labour has also attacked Mr Scully, with Jess Philips calling the comments "utter drivel".

Mr Scully has since aplogised.

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