LONDON (AP) — A former minister in Britain’s Conservative government says she was told her Muslim faith was a reason she was fired, a claim that has deepened the rifts roiling Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative governing party.
Former Transport Minister Nusrat Ghani told the Sunday Times that when she was demoted in 2020, a government whip said her “Muslimness” was “making colleagues uncomfortable.”
She said she was told “there were concerns ‘that I wasn’t loyal to the party as I didn’t do enough to defend the party against Islamophobia allegations.’
“It was very clear to me that the whips and No. 10 (Downing St.) were holding me to a higher threshold of loyalty than others because of my background and faith,” Ghani said.
Chief Whip Mark Spencer said he was the person that Ghani was talking about, but strongly denied her allegation.
“These accusations are completely false and I consider them to be defamatory,” he wrote on Twitter. “I have never used those words attributed to me.”
The Conservative Party whips’ office said Ghani’s claims “are categorically untrue.”
“The Conservative Party does not tolerate any form of racism or discrimination,” it said in a statement.
The prime minister’s office said Johnson met with Ghani to discuss her concerns in 2020, and invited her to file a formal complaint, but that she didn’t do so.
Ghani said in a statement that Johnson had told her “that he could not get involved and suggested I use the internal Conservative Party complaint process” — something she considered “not appropriate for something that happened on government business.”
“All I have ever wanted was for his government to take this seriously, investigate properly and ensure no other colleague has to endure this,” she said.
Several Conservative lawmakers, including senior ministers, spoke up to support Ghani. Caroline Nokes, who heads Parliament’s Women and Equalities Committee, said Ghani’s treatment had been “appalling” and she was brave to speak out.
Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi tweeted that Ghani’s allegations must be “investigated properly & racism routed out.” His tweet ended with the hashtag “standwithNus.” Health Secretary Sajid Javid said Ghani was “a friend and a credit to the Conservative Party.”
Ghani was elected to Parliament in 2015, and was made a junior minister in 2018. At the time her boss, then-Transport Secretary Chris Grayling, said it was proof the Conservatives “were a party of opportunity.” But some have accused the party of failing to stamp out anti-Muslim prejudice under Johnson, who in 2018 compared women who wear face-covering veils to “letter boxes.”
Ghani’s allegation comes after another Conservative legislator, William Wragg, accused party whips of intimidating and blackmailing members of Parliament to ensure they supported the government. Wragg says he is meeting with police this week to discuss his claims.
Internal rifts in the Conservative Party have been blown open by allegations that Johnson and his staff held lockdown-flouting parties while Britain was under coronavirus restrictions.
A handful of Conservative lawmakers have called for Johnson to resign. Others are awaiting a report by Sue Gray, a senior civil servant appointed to investigate claims that government staff held late-night soirees, “bring your own booze” parties and “wine time Fridays” while Britain was under coronavirus restrictions in 2020 and 2021.
Gray’s findings are expected to be published next week. If Gray criticizes Johnson, more Conservative lawmakers may be emboldened to call for a no-confidence vote in Johnson that could result in his ouster.