A Muslim MP has claimed she was told by a Conservative party whip that she was fired as a minister because of her faith, as chief whip Mark Spencer said he was at the centre of the claims and branded them ‘false and defamatory’.
Nusrat Ghani, the Tory MP for Wealden in East Sussex, was sacked as transport minister in February 2020 as part of a mini-cabinet reshuffle.
Ms Ghani, 49, alleged she was told by a whip her ‘Muslimness was raised as an issue’ at a post-reshuffle meeting and that her status as a Muslim woman and a minister was ‘making colleagues feel uncomfortable’.
She told The Times she felt ‘humiliated and powerless’ after the alleged conversation, saying: ‘It was like being punched in the stomach.’
A government source close to the whips’ office strenuously denied the allegation.
Following the allegations, chief whip Mark Spencer took to Twitter to identify himself as the person Ms Ghani’s claims were about.
The MP for Sherwood, 52, branded the accusations as ‘false’ and ‘defamatory’ and claimed he had ‘never used those words’.
He wrote: ‘To ensure other Whips are not drawn into this matter, I am identifying myself as the person Nusrat Ghani MP has made claims about this evening.
‘These accusations are completely false and I consider them to be defamatory. I have never used those words attributed to me.’
He also claimed Ms Ghani ‘declined’ to refer the matter to the Conservative Party for a formal investigation, claiming he gave evidence about it to an Islamophobia inquiry.
He added: ‘It is disappointing that when this issue was raised before Ms Ghani declined to refer the matter to the Conservative Party for a formal investigation.
‘I provided evidence to the Singh Investigation into Islamophobia which concluded that there was no credible basis for the claims to be included in the report.
‘These claims relate to a meeting in March 2020.
‘When Ms Ghani raised them she was invited to use the formal CCHQ complaints procedure. She declined to do so.’
Ms Ghani, who was the first Muslim woman to be elected as a Tory MP in 2015, claimed she was warned that if she continued to raise the issue then her ‘career and reputation would be destroyed’.
Ms Ghani, vice-chairwoman of the 1922 Committee of Tory backbenchers, is understood to have said that she considered whether she wanted to continue being an MP after the alleged incident.
Speaking about the reshuffle, she claimed that she had asked the whips in a post-reshuffle meeting why she was being fired, which is when she alleges she was told her ‘Muslimness’ was raised as an ‘issue’.
Ms Ghani, who previously served as Lord Commissioner of HM Treasury, claimed she was told there were concerns that she wasn’t ‘loyal’ to the party because she didn’t do enough to defend it against Islamophobia allegations.
She said: ‘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.’
In March 2020, the politician claimed she had a second meeting with a whip where she alleged she was told there was ‘no Islamophobia’ within the party.
Meanwhile Deputy Prime Minister and Justice Secretary on Sunday says former Transport Minister Nusrat Ghani’s allegations are “incredibly serious” and Ghani should make a formal complaint so that it “allows a formal investigation to take place”.
In the same meeting, she 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’.
After the ‘threats’, she said she followed procedure but was eventually left with ‘no choice’ but to continue with her career from the back benches.
An inquiry into Islamophobia in the Conservative Party, which was carried out two years ago, found no evidence that the Tory party is ‘institutionally racist’ but was critical of comments made by Boris Johnson.
The Prime Minister was cleared by a majority on an independent panel over a complaint he broke the party’s code of conduct following a Daily Telegraph column in 2018 which described Muslim women who wear the burkha as looking like ‘letterboxes’ and ‘bank robbers’. He later apologised for his comments.
The inquiry carried out by Prof Singh, a former commissioner at the Equality and Human Rights Commission, was established by the party following a series of allegations about Islamophobic behaviour in the party and was widened to consider all forms of discrimination.
From 2015-2020, the party’s central database recorded 1,418 complaints relating to 727 incidents of alleged discrimination – an average of 237 complaints about 122 incidents a year in a party of 200,000 members.
More than two-thirds of the incidents – 496 cases – related to Islam and 74 per cent of all the cases involved social media activity.
The report concluded that an allegation of ‘institutional racism’ against the party was ‘not borne out by evidence available to the investigation as regards the way the party handled the complaints process’.
But it acknowledged that ‘anti-Muslim sentiment remains a problem’ within the Conservative Party.
Ms Ghani’s allegations come after rebel Tory William Wragg accused government whips of ‘blackmailing’ backbenchers seeking to oust the Prime Minister amid fears of a no-confidence vote.
Mr Wragg, 34, said he will be meeting a detective from the Metropolitan Police in the House of Commons early next week to discuss his allegations, raising the prospect police could open an investigation.
Mr Wragg said on Friday that next week, he plans to tell the detective ‘several’ examples of bullying and intimidation, claiming some cases involved public money.
He told The Telegraph: ‘I stand by what I have said. No amount of gas-lighting will change that.’
Downing Street said it would not be mounting its own inquiry into the claims, despite calls to do so by both Conservative and opposition MPs.
A No 10 spokesman said it would only open an inquiry if it was presented with evidence to back up Mr Wragg’s assertions.
But Mr Wragg, the Chair of Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, said he believed an investigation should be left for the ‘experts’ in the police.
A Metropolitan Police spokesman said: ‘As with any such allegations, should a criminal offence be reported to the Met, it would be considered.’
However, Adam Holloway, the Tory MP for Gravesham, dismissed the ‘blackmail’ allegations, saying he has ‘never known’ such behaviour to happen during his time in the Conservatives or Government, adding it ‘doesn’t ring true to me’.
Responding to the allegations while visiting the ‘Jabs with Kebabs’ project at V’s Punjabi Grill in Gravesend, Mr Holloway, 56, said: ‘I can only speak for myself and I’ve never known anything like that.
‘I’ve never known any sort of link with my behaviour in Parliament and resources coming into my constituency, so I suspect it’s complete bulls***.