Conservative party suspends Lee Anderson over Sadiq Khan comments

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Lee Anderson, former Conservative deputy chair, has been suspended from the party after refusing to apologise for claiming that Islamists had “got control” of London and its centre-left mayor Sadiq Khan. 

A spokesperson for Simon Hart, the chief whip, said on Saturday: “Following his refusal to apologise for comments made yesterday, the chief whip has suspended the Conservative whip from Lee Anderson MP.”

That means he is no longer a Tory MP and will sit in parliament as an independent unless the decision is reversed.

Anderson caused outrage on Friday when he said on GB News that Khan had “given our capital city away to his mates”.

“I don’t actually believe that the Islamists have got control of our country,” the rightwing MP for Ashworth said. “But what I do believe is they’ve got control of Khan, and they’ve got control of London.”

Anneliese Dodds MP, Labour party chair, said Anderson’s comments were unambiguously Islamophobic, divisive and damaging. “It is right that he has had the whip removed, but the suggestion that Lee Anderson would have retained the confidence of the Prime Minister simply if he apologised is deeply concerning. These views are wrong, full stop,” she said.

Anderson’s comments prompted fury not only from Labour but also a number of Tories concerned about rising community tension. 

Sir Sajid Javid, a former Tory chancellor, called Anderson’s comments “a ridiculous thing to say” and Lord Gavin Barwell, a Tory peer and former chief of staff to Theresa May, called them “a despicable slur on Sadiq Khan”. He urged Rishi Sunak not to allow the MP to “spread hate and division”.

Khan said Anderson’s remarks were “pouring fuel on the fire of anti-Muslim hatred”.

Speaking before news of Anderson’s suspension, Khan said that it was “unclear” why Sunak and members of his cabinet were not condemning Anderson’s comments. “Racism is racism,” he said. “The message it sends is, Muslims are fair game when it comes to racism.”

The row over Anderson’s remarks comes after a week of political tension in Westminster.

On Wednesday a House of Commons debate on Gaza descended into chaos. Sir Lindsay Hoyle, the Speaker, prompted anger from the SNP and Tories after breaking Commons procedure in an attempt to help Labour MPs who were concerned about threats and intimidation from pro-Palestinian protesters. 

Sunak appointed Anderson, MP for Ashfield and a former coalminer, as deputy chair of the Conservative party in February 2023 in a bid to shore up the party’s support in so-called “red wall” seats. Anderson quit the role last month because he felt the prime minister’s Rwanda migration policy was not robust enough.

Many moderate Tory MPs from the One Nation group fear that rightwing and anti-immigration rhetoric is damaging the party and could cost it support at the election, especially in liberal-leaning seats in prosperous parts of the south of England. 

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