Former British deputy transport minister Nusrat Ghani claimed on Sunday that she was removed from office during a government reshuffle in 2020 because her “Muslim” faith posed “a problem”, reigniting accusations of Islamophobia within the Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party already under pressure.
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Nusrat Ghani, 49, told The Sunday Times that a Conservative Party executive explained to him in February 2020 that “his origins and his faith” had been instrumental in his ousting from government.
“I was told that at the Downing Street reshuffle meeting my ‘Muslim faith’ was raised as ‘an issue’, that a Muslim woman in government was making my colleagues uncomfortable and there was fear that + I was not loyal to the party, because I was not doing enough to defend it against allegations of Islamophobia +”, she declared.
“It was like a punch in the stomach. I felt humiliated and helpless,” the MP told the newspaper, saying she did not speak about it publicly at the time, as she had been warned that she would be “ostracized by her colleagues” and that her “career and her reputation would be destroyed”.
In an unusual step, Mark Spencer, party executive, identified himself as the person targeted by these remarks, while denying them. “These accusations are totally false and I consider them defamatory,” he said on Twitter.
They come at an already difficult time for Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party, which is currently in an ejection seat, as it is implicated for a series of parties in Downing Street in full confinement.
They also come to revive the old demons of the conservatives, long accused of allowing Islamophobia to flourish in their ranks. In May 2021, a report had concluded that “anti-Muslim sentiment remains a problem within the party”, faced with a problem of Islamophobia at the local or individual levels, but not “institutional”.
“Aware of these extremely serious allegations”, the prime minister met with Nusrat Ghani and “subsequently wrote to her expressing her deep concern and inviting her to initiate a formal complaints procedure”, which she “ did not subsequently,” a Downing Street spokesman said, adding that “the Conservative Party does not tolerate prejudice or discrimination of any kind.”
Education Minister Nadhim Zahawi had called for “a proper investigation” on Twitter, but Justice Minister Dominic Raab, despite accusations he described as “very serious”, warned Sunday morning on BBC that there would be no investigation if Ms Ghani did not formally lodge an internal complaint.