‘What happened to Nusrat Ghani is an open secret’: Ex-minister Baroness Warsi claims Conservative Muslims ‘keep their heads down’ in fear of hindering their political careers
- Nusrat Ghani was sacked as transport minister in February 2020 in a reshuffle
- She alleged the Chief Whip told her that her ‘Muslimness was raised as an issue’
- Today, Baroness Warsi told Sky News issue was an ‘open secret’ at Westminster
Tory MP Nusrat Ghani’s alleged Islamophobic treatment was an ‘open secret’ at Westminster, a Conservative peer said today.
Former party chairman Baroness Sayeeda Warsi said her fellow Muslims were ‘used to keeping their heads down’ out of fear that speaking out would hinder their political careers.
Ms Ghani, the MP for Wealden, has claimed the party’s chief whip linked her ‘Muslimness’ to her sacking as a minister in 2020.
Former Tory party chairman Baroness Sayeeda Warsi (left) said her fellow Muslims were ‘used to keeping their heads down’, as she discussed fellow MP Nusrat Ghani’s Islamophobia claims
Commenting on the scandal, Baroness Warsi told Sky News: ‘What has happened to Nus Ghani is an open secret around Westminster. Me and many other colleagues have been aware of this for many months, and the way she’s struggled to be heard.
‘And secondly, the pattern in Nus’s case is the same as I’ve seen in hundreds of other complaints that have been made to the party about Islamophobia.
‘It’s seen as far less serious as other forms of bigotry, when the issue is raised colleagues feel threatened and ostracised and feel like it’s a career-ending issue, it’s always pushed into bureaucracy and the onus is put back on the victim rather than those told about this dealing with the matter proactively, and no action is usually taken unless the media shines a spotlight on it.
‘There are nearly four million British Muslims who are looking at government right now asking whether it’s possible for a minister to lose her job simply because of her Muslimness. And it sends a shiver down their spine to think this is the kind of thing that could be happening at the heart of government.’
In a separate interview with the i, she said Tory MPs knew to ‘keep their heads down’ and not speak on issues affecting the wider British Muslim community for fear of hindering their political careers, and that she had been warned not to ‘flex your Muslim muscles’ inside the party.
Yesterday it emerged Health Secretary Sajid Javid is set to face questions from the Whitehall investigation into Ms Ghani’s claims.
She is believed to have privately confided in the Health Secretary shortly after she claimed the Conservative party’s Chief Whip told her she was fired as a junior transport minister partially as a result of her faith.
Mr Javid acknowledged the seriousness of the claims and urged her to escalate the matter, while honouring her request to keep it confidential, according to The Telegraph.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson insisted he is taking Ms Ghani’s allegations seriously and ordered the Cabinet Office to investigate the allegations.
The move came after Cabinet ministers Nadhim Zahawi and Javid joined calls for a ‘proper’ inquiry – with others suggesting it should be fully independent.
Mr Johnson told reporters on a visit to Milton Keynes University Hospital yesterday morning: ‘We take these allegations extremely seriously. I took them very seriously when they were raised with me 18 months ago.
‘Very glad there’s an investigation taking place now, can’t say more really about it.’
Health Secretary Sajid Javid is set to face questions from the Whitehall investigation into whether Tory MP Nusrat Ghani was sacked due to her ‘Muslimness’
Downing Street announced the probe yesterday, with a Number 10 spokeswoman saying: ‘The Prime Minister has asked the Cabinet Office to conduct an inquiry into the allegations made by Nusrat Ghani MP.
‘At the time these allegations were first made, the Prime Minister recommended to her that she make a formal complain to CCHQ. She did not take up this offer.
‘The Prime Minister has now asked officials to establish the facts about what happened. As he said at the time, the Prime Minister takes these claims very seriously.’
Ms Ghani alleged that chief whip Mark Spencer said her faith was partly responsible for her getting the boot in 2020 – something he flatly denies.
Mr Johnson was asked this morning if Mr Spencer will remain in his role while the investigation is carried out and he replied: ‘Just to get back to the key point, this is something I take personally extremely seriously. I took it very seriously 18 months ago. We must wait and see what the investigation produces.’
Ms Ghani has contradicted No10’s version of events, saying the PM refused to get involved and tried to fob her off.
Ghani v Spencer: Tories pick sides in ‘Muslimness’ row
Nadhim Zahawi: ‘There is no place for islamophobia or any form of racism in our Conservative party. Nusrat Ghani is a friend, a colleague & a brilliant parliamentarian. This has to be investigated properly & racism routed out.’
Sajid Javid: ‘This is a very serious matter which needs a proper investigation. I would strongly support her in making a formal complaint – she must be heard.’
Caroline Nokes: ‘I was very proud when Nus was the first female Muslim minister to speak at the despatch box and I thought it was evidence of how far our parliament and my party had come and to hear of the challenges that she has subsequently faced, is horrific.’
Steve Baker: ‘That Nus could be treated like this is completely intolerable. I value (her) as a great colleague and I’m appalled. We must get to the bottom of it.’
Mark Spencer: ‘These accusations are completely false and I consider them to be defamatory. I have never used those words attributed to me.’
Dominic Raab: ‘If there are any claims like this they should result in a formal complaint which allows a formal investigation to take place. As the chief whip has pointed out, Nus hasn’t made a formal complaint. She was asked to do so. In the absence of doing so there will be no specific investigation into this.’
Downing Street: ‘After being made aware of these extremely serious claims, the Prime Minister 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.’
After the announcement, Ms Ghani insisted the terms of reference for the probe must include ‘all that was said in Downing Street and by the Whip’.
Ms Ghani said: ‘As I said to the Prime Minister last night all I want is for this to be taken seriously and for him to investigate.
‘I welcome his decision to do that now.
‘The terms of reference of the inquiry must include all that was said in Downing Street and by the Whip.
‘I look forward to seeing the terms of reference.’
In a round of interviews this morning, Mr Zahawi welcomed the news, but stressed he did not think the allegations had been taken lightly before.
He said he personally had never ‘experienced any form of racism’ in the Conservative Party.
The Education Secretary told Sky News: ‘She has made a very serious allegation, the Prime Minister spoke to her last night and said the Cabinet Office will investigate this and look at the detail of this.
‘She put out a statement last night saying actually, to be fair to her, this could be people who weren’t even members of the Conservative Party, which is why we need to get to the bottom of this very quickly.
‘And of course the Chief Whip (Mark Spencer) has come out and named himself as the individual and I work with both colleagues, and I think it is important that someone like a Cabinet Office senior civil servant should look at this properly, because the Chief Whip has also categorically denied this.’
A thinktank has called on the Government to bring in the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) to investigate the claims.
The Runnymede Trust, a race equality thinktank, says the issue is too important to be left to a civil servant-led inquiry.
Chief executive Dr Halima Begum told the Guardian: ‘This is an incredibly serious situation. At a bare minimum, the allegation that a minister of the crown was fired for her so-called ‘Muslimness’ would represent a flagrant challenge to our equalities and labour laws.
‘The facts and questions about the legality of what has happened here must be urgently investigated by the very highest authority. This cannot simply be left for another civil service inquiry. If the allegations are proven to be true, Nusrat would have been subjected to grossly discriminatory behaviour.
‘[Her] distress will be felt by every one of the 3 million Muslims in the country, as well as every member of our religious minority communities. All of the political parties need to do more to demonstrate zero tolerance for discrimination, and to prove that religious minorities in this country are respected regardless of their faith.’
Caroline Nokes, chair of the Commons women and equalities committee, described the treatment of Ms Ghani as ‘appalling’.
She also backed calls for the EHRC to launch an investigation and told the Telegraph: ‘Her faith has never made me (or any other colleague) ‘uncomfortable’.
‘At the very least EHRC should have a look at this.’
An EHRC spokesman stated the Commission is still examining the Conservative Party’s handling of the Singh inquiry into Islamophobia complaints last year and suggested a full investigation may take place.
The spokesman added: ‘If we are not satisfied with progress we will review our decision [not to begin an immediate review] and do not rule out the use of our legal powers.’
In a round of interviews this morning, Nadhim Zahawi welcomed news that a Cabinet Office investigation will be held
The PM (pictured left running this morning) has instructed the civil service to carry out a probe after the extraordinary claims from Ms Ghani. Mark Spencer (right) has outed himself as the whip concerned, and branded Ms Ghani’s comments ‘false’ and ‘defamatory’
After the announcement, Ms Ghani insisted the terms of reference for the probe must including ‘all that was said in Downing Street and by the Whip’
Who is Nusrat Ghani? Kashmir born trailblazer was a surprise sacking in PM’s 2020 reshuffle
Nusrat Ghani – known as Nus – was long seen as a rising star in Tory circles.
And it came as a surprise to many when she was axed as a minister in 2020.
The 49-year-old was born in Kashmir to Pakistani parents and grew up in Birmingham.
She worked in an investment bank, charities and the BBC World Service before entering politics.
Ms Ghani is married to Sky executive David Wheeldon, with whom she has one child.
She stood in the 2010 general election for the seat of Birmingham Ladywood and lost, but was elected as MP for Wealden in East Sussex in 2015. She was the first female to win the seat and the first Muslim woman elected as a Tory MP.
After her victory, Ms Ghani said: ‘As the nation wakes up the Conservatives look to be on the brink of returning to government.’
‘We have helped put our country back on track. Our party has taken bold steps and you have put your trust in us to finish the job.’
In 2015, Ms Ghani was appointed a member of the Home Affairs Select Committee. A Brexiteer, Ms Ghani in 2016 told the BBC: ‘Britain has a chance to vote for a bold, positive future as an independent country in control of its own destiny.
‘We have the chance to liberate our economy from a declining corner of the world and spread our wings to the whole globe.’
Ms Ghani was appointed assistant whip and transport minister in 2018 under Theresa May. She was the first female Muslim to speak from the Commons dispatch box. At the time, then-Transport Secretary Chris Grayling told the BBC her promotion showed the Conservatives ‘were a party of opportunity’.
‘We’re the party to provide… the first Muslim woman minister to speak from the government dispatch box – the member for Wealden,’ he said.’
Ms Ghani wrote on her website: ‘A century after women got the vote for the first time, I hope that today young people can see that regardless of their background, faith, race, gender or sexuality, there will be a warm welcome on the green benches, and no matter where you are from you can achieve your dreams and ambitions.’
In 2020, when Ms Ghani was removed from the role, she was replaced by Kelly Tolhurst. Ms Ghani has said that she was surprised at the demotion, and the shuffle was reported in that light given she had been tipped to oversee HS2 progress.
Ms Ghani is a steering committee member of the backbench Covid Recovery Group which opposed the December 2020 lockdown and has voted against other Covid restrictions.
Elsewhere, a Tory MP sparked anger after he said Ms Ghani was ‘hardly someone who is obviously a Muslim’.
Michael Fabricant said the timing of the former transport minister’s claim was ‘very suspicious’, and suggested it was linked to moves to get rid of Boris Johnson over the Downing Street lockdown parties scandal.
Yesterday, Labour described Mr Fabricant’s comments as ‘shameful’ and called for the Conservative whip to be withdrawn.
Speaking on LBC, Mr Fabricant said: ‘The timing is interesting. I think all this is because it’s open season on Boris Johnson, putting pressure on him from the party trying to get him to resign.
‘I think the whole thing actually stinks, the accusation being made by Nus Ghani.
‘She’s hardly someone who is obviously a Muslim. I had no idea what religion she is. It does seem rather a lame excuse to me that she was sacked because of that.’
In response, shadow foreign secretary David Lammy tweeted: ‘What an appalling, disgraceful thing to say.
‘If the Tories wanted to show they were serious about tackling Islamophobia, they could start by removing the whip from Michael Fabricant.’
Labour Party chair Anneliese Dodds said the response of the the Tories to Ms Ghani’s claims had been shameful.
‘For a Conservative MP, Michael Fabricant, to go on the radio and make comments that reflect exactly the sort of unacceptable behaviour Nusrat has raised shows just how deep the problem in the Conservative Party goes,’ she said.
Ms Ghani has received the backing of Health Secretary Sajid Javid and Education Nadhim Zahawi, the two most senior Muslims in the Cabinet.
Both took to Twitter to support her and demand a full investigation into her claims against Mr Spencer.
He has outed himself as the whip concerned, and branded Ms Ghani’s comments ‘false’ and ‘defamatory’.
Justice secretary Dominic Raab also lined up to defend the party, claiming she had decided not to call for an investigation at the time.
But Mr Javid said Ms Ghani was ‘a credit to the Conservative Party’, adding: ‘This is a very serious matter which needs a proper investigation. I would strongly support her in making a formal complaint – she must be heard.’
His intervention claim after Mr Zahawi tweeted: ‘There is no place for islamophobia or any form of racism in our Conservative party. Nusrat Ghani is a friend, a colleague & a brilliant parliamentarian. This has to be investigated properly & racism routed out. #standwithNus’ .
Ms Ghani, who was the first Muslim woman to be elected as a Tory MP in 2015, told the Sunday Times she was told by a party whip she was being axed in February 2020 because her status as a Muslim woman and a minister was ‘making colleagues feel uncomfortable’.
She also claimed she was warned that if she continued to raise the issue then her ‘career and reputation would be destroyed’.
But yesterday morning Downing Street revealed that Ms Ghani had complained directly to the PM in 2020. A spokeswoman said: ‘After being made aware of these extremely serious claims, the Prime Minister 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.’
After that statement was released, Ms Ghani 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.’
And Justice Secretary Dominic Raab rowed in behind him yesterday, saying that Ms Ghani would have to make a formal complaint to trigger a ‘specific investigation’.
Ms Ghani alleged the chief whip Mark Spencer said her faith got her the boot in 2020
Downing Street is fighting multiple battles – but will Boris survive?
The Prime Minister is currently fighting wars on several fronts as he attempts to maintain his premiership.
Though Sue Gray’s inquiry into ‘partygate’ is believed to have dug up some extremely damning evidence, here are some of the other challenges facing Downing Street which could prove deadly to Boris’ leadership.
Allegations of Islamophobia
Nusrat Ghani, the first Muslim woman to be elected as a Tory MP in 2015, said she was told by a party whip she was being axed in Feb 2020 because her status as a Muslim woman was ‘making colleagues feel uncomfortable’.
She also claimed she was told by the whip that she had been fired for saying to Boris Johnson that they had a ‘women problem’, in attracting female voters.
Ms Ghani claimed she raised the issue through official party channels but said she was warned that if she continued to do so, she would be ‘ostracised’ by her colleagues and her ‘career and reputation would be destroyed’.
William Wragg’s allegations of MP blackmail
William Wragg, a backbencher who accused Downing Street of trying to blackmail rebel MPs, said yesterday he would meet police to discuss his allegations.
Downing Street said it had not seen any proof of the behaviour he alleges, but Chris Bryant, chairman of the Commons Committee on Standards, said about a dozen Tory MPs alleged whips threatened to withdraw funding for their constituencies should they not show support for Johnson.
Whips have also been accused of heavy-handed attempts to intimidate the rebels with the threat of revealing allegations about their sex lives.
William Wragg and Nusrat Ghani are joint vice-chairmen of the 1922 Committee of Conservative backbenchers.
The committee’s executive secretary Gary Sambrook has also expressed his desire for a new Tory leader, while treasurer Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown voiced frustration with the PM last year.
If Johnson were to win a party confidence vote, he would be immune to another leadership challenge for a year – but the committee is considering cutting this immunity period to six months.
Former Tory MP Christian Wakeford crossed the floor and joined the Labour party last week.
Though defections are rare in Parliament, there are rumours that more Tory MPs may soon follow suit.
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