No10 faces calls for fresh probe after Tory MP Nus Ghani sacked in 'Muslimness' row

23 January 2022, 21:21 | Updated: 24 January 2022, 01:45

By Asher McShane

Boris Johnson is under mounting pressure to launch a fresh probe amid claims Tory MP Nusrat Ghani was sacked as a minister due to concerns about her "Muslimness".

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Nusrat Ghani told the Sunday Times chief whip Mark Spencer had told her she'd been sacked as a minister due to concerns about her 'Muslimness'. Mr Spencer strongly denies the allegation.

No10 responded to her comments on Sunday, and Ms Ghani subsequently hit back, saying she felt her complaint was not properly dealt with.

In a statement on Sunday afternoon, she said she had thought about the matter every day since 2020, adding it made her wonder why she was in politics.

“Not a day has gone by without thinking about what I was told and wondering why I was in politics, while hoping for the government to take it seriously," her statement said.

“Those that have not had their identity and faith questioned cannot fully appreciate what it does to you.

“Now is not the time I would have chosen for this to come our and I have pursued every avenue and process I thought available to me, but many people have known what happened.”

Ms Ghani, Conservative MP for Wealden, said she only wanted the Government "to take this seriously, investigate properly and ensure no other colleague has to endure this".

She said: "When I told the Prime Minister in June 2020 what had been said to me in the Government Whips' Office I urged him to take it seriously as a Government matter and instigate an inquiry.

"He wrote to me that he could not get involved and suggested I use the internal Conservative Party complaint process.

"This, as I had already pointed out, was very clearly not appropriate for something that happened on Government business - I do not even know if the words that were conveyed to me about what was said in reshuffle meetings at Downing Street were by members of the Conservative Party."

Ms Ghani's calls for an investigation into the claims have since been echoed by top Tories including Sajid Javid and Nadhim Zawahi.

Mr Javid tweeted: "This is a very serious matter which needs a proper investigation. "I would strongly support [Ms Ghani] in making a formal complaint - she must be heard."

Meanwhile, Mr Zahawi added: "This has to be investigated properly and racism routed out."

Boris Johnson met with Ms Ghani to discuss her "extremely serious claims" that she was sacked as a minister because of concerns about her "Muslimness", Downing Street said in a statement on Sunday.

No10 said that the Prime Minister invited her to make a formal complaint but she chose not to.

"After being made aware of these extremely serious claims, the Prime Minister met with Nusrat Ghani to discuss them," the spokesman said.

"He then wrote to her expressing his serious concern and inviting her to begin a formal complaint process. She did not subsequently do so.

"The Conservative Party does not tolerate prejudice or discrimination of any kind," the statement said.

The development came after another senior Tory backed calls for a full investigation into her claim that she was warned her faith was "making colleagues uncomfortable".

Rachael Johnson spoke to MP Nusrat in her Global original podcast Difficult Women - listen in full here

Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, treasurer of the 1922 Committee of backbench Conservatives, told LBC on Sunday morning he supported Ms Ghani's version of events, but called for a full investigation because "there's always more than one story to these things."

He said: "I’m sure if she’s said that’s happened, it’s happened." Sir Geoffrey also refuted "absolutely" that Islamophobia was an issue within the Tory party.

He told Andrew Castle: "She needs to have the whole thing properly investigated by the party.

"I’m sure if she’s said that’s happened, it’s happened. There’s always more than one story to these things and it needs to be properly investigated."

Nusrat Ghani told the Sunday Times her so-called "Muslimness" was raised as an issue at a Downing Street meeting
Nusrat Ghani told the Sunday Times her so-called "Muslimness" was raised as an issue at a Downing Street meeting. Picture: Alamy

He “absolutely” refuted that the Tory party has a problem with Islamophobia. “I would say the opposite,” said Sir Geoffrey.

“I don’t know what happened here, it was a one-to-one meeting I think, and she now needs to have it properly investigated.

“We certainly don’t want the issue of Islamophobia to be an issue at all. It never has been, I’ve never seen it myself, and I don’t think we want this sort of thing to happen in the party, ever.”

The deputy prime minister Dominic Raab also told LBC that Ms Ghani's claims are being taken ‘very seriously’ and that she should lodge a formal complaint if she wanted the matter to proceed.

No10 said in a statement: “After being made aware of these extremely serious claims, the PM met with Nusrat Ghani to discuss them.

"He then wrote to her expressing his serious concern and inviting her to begin a formal complaint process. She did not subsequently do so.

"The Conservative Party does not tolerate prejudice or discrimination of any kind."

Ms Ghani lost her job as a transport minister in a mini-reshuffle in February 2020 following the resignation of Sajid Javid as chancellor.

In an interview with The Sunday Times, she that in a briefing afterwards with the whips, she was told that her Muslim faith had been raised as an issue at a meeting in Downing Street.

"It was like being punched in the stomach. I felt humiliated and powerless," the MP for Wealden told the paper.

Read more: A dozen Tory MPs plotting to oust PM 'blackmailed by whips', says anti-sleaze chief

"I was told that at the reshuffle meeting in Downing Street that 'Muslimness' was raised as an 'issue', that my 'Muslim women minister' status was making colleagues uncomfortable and that there were concerns 'that I wasn't loyal to the party as I didn't do enough to defend the party against Islamophobia allegations'.

"When I challenged whether this was in any way acceptable and made clear there was little I could do about my identity, I had to listen to a monologue on how hard it was to define when people are being racist and that the party doesn't have a problem and I needed to do more to defend it.

"It was very clear to me that the whips and No 10 were holding me to a higher threshold of loyalty than others because of my background and faith."

Her comments come as the conduct of the whips' office is under intense scrutiny amid accusations they used intimidation and blackmail to pressurise MPs seeking to oust Boris Johnson as Prime Minister.

The senior Tory who first raised the issue, William Wragg - the chairman of the Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, praised Ms Ghani's courage in speaking out.

"Nus is very brave to speak out. I was truly appalled to learn of her experience. She shows such strength and integrity supporting others," he tweeted.

"I am proud to have her as my friend and colleague. We must change things for the better."

Mr Wragg is due to discuss his claims with a Scotland Yard detective next week, adding to the pressure on Mr Johnson who is facing calls to resign over lockdown drinks parties in Downing Street.

Fellow Tory MP and former minister Steve Baker said Ms Ghani's treatment was "completely intolerable".

"I value Nus Ghani as a great colleague and I'm appalled. We must get to the bottom of it," he tweeted.

Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner said she was "absolutely disgusted" by the claims.

"Shocking and truly appalling allegations. It is unacceptable for anyone to ever be discriminated against for their faith," she said.

The Sunday Times said that a Government source close to the whips' office had strenuously denied Ms Ghani's allegations.

The chief whip has said her claims that she was sacked as a minister because of her Muslim faith are "completely false".