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Sunak hardens position on comments by suspended MP

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Rishi Sunak has urged MPs to stop using words that “inflame” community tensions, as he denounced comments last week by former Tory deputy chair Lee Anderson as “wrong”.

Anderson was suspended from the Tory whip last week after claiming that Islamists had “got control” of London and its Labour mayor, Sadiq Khan.

The prime minister insisted the Conservatives did not have a problem with Islamophobia, but said: “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.”

At the weekend Oliver Dowden, deputy prime minister, said disciplinary action was taken against Anderson because he refused to apologise but Sunak suggested he was suspended for the words he used.

In a round of local radio interviews ahead of a regional cabinet meeting in the Yorkshire and Humber region on Monday, Sunak said Anderson’s words “weren’t acceptable”.

Asked on BBC Radio York whether the Conservatives had a problem with Islamophobia — former home secretary Suella Braverman claimed last week that Islamists had take control of Britain — Sunak said: “Of course it doesn’t.”

He said: “Lee’s comments weren’t acceptable. They were wrong, that’s why he’s had the whip suspended.

“Words matter, especially in the current environment, when tensions are running high. It’s incumbent on all of us to choose them carefully.” He added: “My priority is to try to take the heat out of this situation.”

Sunak said “racism and prejudice is completely unacceptable and we must stamp it out”. He claimed Britain was “the most successful multi-ethnic democracy in the world”.

He added that Anderson’s claim that Islamists had “got control” of London and its Labour mayor “could be taken” as Islamophobic, but he did not believe the MP for Ashfield “said those remarks intending to be Islamophobic”.

Anderson was suspended from the party on Saturday after causing outrage for telling television channel GB News on Friday that Khan had “given our capital city away to his mates”.

In a statement, the MP said he accepted “that they [chief whip Simon Hart and Sunak] had no option but to suspend the whip in these circumstances”.

Asked if Anderson would have been able to remain in the party had he apologised for his comments, Dowden told the BBC: “Yes.”

Many Conservative MPs have been uneasy about the rhetoric used by Anderson and Braverman, along with conspiracy theories espoused by former premier Liz Truss last week that Britain was being run by “the Deep State”.

Sunak is under pressure, particularly from moderate One Nation Tory MPs, to rein in those on the right of the party, amid fears that their language could alienate liberal Conservative voters.

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