The Times - UK (2022-01-24)

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8 Monday January 24 2022 | the times


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those words attributed to me.” Prior to
Spencer, 52, identifying himself several
Tories backed Ghani and called for an
investigation, including Nadhim Za-
hawi, the education secretary. “There is
no place for islamophobia or any form of
racism in our party,” he wrote on Twitter.
Ghani, he added, was “a friend, a col-
league and a brilliant parliamentarian.
This has to be investigated properly and

racism rooted out. #standwithNus”.
He was joined by Sajid Javid, the
health secretary, who wrote: “Nus
Ghani is a friend and a credit to the
Conservative Party. 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.”
But Ghani was criticised by Michael

Fabricant, a fellow Tory and former
whip, who accused her of offering a
“lame excuse” for her sacking
and doing so with “very suspicious”
timing.
Fabricant, 71, told LBC: “I think the
whole thing actually stinks, the accusa-
tion being made by Nus Ghani. For her
to say that someone had said it’s
because she’s a Muslim — she’s hardly

A Muslim Conservative MP has
accused Boris Johnson of not taking her
complaints “seriously” after she told
him that a party whip said she had been
sacked because of her “Muslimness”.
Two cabinet ministers have called for
an inquiry after Nusrat Ghani, 49, said
she was told that her sacking as a trans-
port minister in early 2020 was because
of her faith.
The crisis for the government
deepened when Mark Spencer, the
chief whip, identified himself as the
whip in question. He denies the
allegation.
Ghani claimed she was told that her
“Muslimness was raised as an issue” at
a meeting in Downing Street and that
her “Muslim woman minister status
was making colleagues feel uncomfort-
able”. In a statement to The Sunday
Times, she said: “It was like being
punched in the stomach. I felt humili-
ated and powerless.”
Yesterday Downing Street rebuffed
demands for an inquiry, saying that
Ghani’s claims would only be investi-
gated if she made a formal complaint
using Conservative Party procedures.
The message was echoed by Dominic
Raab, the deputy prime minister, who
told Sky News: “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.”
A spokeswoman for Johnson said he
had met Ghani to discuss the “extreme-
ly serious claims” in June 2020, and that
he subsequently “wrote to her express-
ing his serious concern and inviting her
to begin a formal complaint process”,
but that she did not do so.
Ghani, a vice-chairwoman of the
1922 Committee of Conservative
backbenchers, hit back by saying that in
the meeting she had urged the prime
minister “to take it seriously as a
government matter and instigate an
inquiry”. She said that in his letter John-
son said “he could not get involved and
suggested I use the internal Conserva-
tive Party complaint process”.
She continued: “This, as I had already
pointed out, was very clearly not appro-
priate for something that had hap-
pened 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.”
Describing the impact
the episode had on her,
Ghani said: “All I have
ever wanted was for
[Johnson’s] govern-
ment to take this seri-
ously, investigate
properly and ensure
no other colleague
has to endure this.”
She added: “Not a
day has gone by with-
out thinking about
what I was told and
wondering why I was
in politics, while hop-
ing for the govern-
ment to take this
seriously.”
Though Ghani has
not named Spencer,
he identified himself
as the whip in a
series of tweets late
on Saturday. “These
accusations are
completely false
and I consider
them to be defa-
matory,” he said. “I
have never used


News Politics


Tory says Johnson failed to take


Henry Zeffman
Chief Political Correspondent


The threat to Boris Johnson’s
leadership posed by Downing Street
parties and Sue Gray’s investigation
into them is well-documented.
But after one of his most difficult
weeks as prime minister Johnson
also faces other serious challenges.
Here, The Times rates their
potential to be destructive for
Johnson.

nusrat ghani and
islamophobia
The prime minister’s decision to
sack Nusrat Ghani as a junior
minister in a 2020 reshuffle was
seen by many as somewhat strange
at the time. Ghani’s claim that she
had been told by Mark Spencer, the
chief whip, that the decision related
to her Muslim faith is incendiary to
say the least. Ghani, a popular
member of the 2015 intake, has
received strong backing from many
of her colleagues. Spencer,
meanwhile, vociferously denies the
allegations.
Ghani claims that
her “Muslimness”
was raised as an
“issue”. She told
The Sunday Times
that she had been
informed: “... my
Muslim women
minister status was
making colleagues
uncomfortable and
that there were
concerns that I wasn’t
loyal to the party as I
didn’t do enough to
defend the party
against
Islamophobia
allegations”.
Downing
Street’s main
tactic to defuse
the row is to say
that Ghani was
given the
opportunity,
including in a
meeting with
Johnson and a
letter from him in
2020, to make a
formal complaint.

Yet part of her allegation against
Spencer is that she was told that she
would be “ostracised” and
“destroyed” if she did not keep
quiet. In that light, it would hardly
be surprising for her to decide
against a complaint that, it must be
noted, would have been under
internal party processes rather than
an independent system.
The revelation that Johnson
discussed the issue with Ghani also
brings him into the row. Spencer no
doubt told Johnson that her claims
simply were not true but some
might question why the prime
minister did not move him into a
different role, especially in last
year’s wide-ranging government
reshuffle, which, instead, Spencer
oversaw.
Most immediately, Ghani’s
allegations could severely dent
Spencer’s authority over a fractious
parliamentary party at a time when
he needs it most.
THREAT RATING

1922 committee
William Wragg, the public
administration committee
chairman, who accused Tory whips
last week of blackmail, and Ghani
are joint vice-chairmen of the 1922
Committee of Conservative
backbenchers. Gary Sambrook, its
executive secretary, is a ringleader
of the so-called pork pie putsch, a
group of the 2019 intake who want a
different leader. Sir Geoffrey
Clifton-Brown, 1922 treasurer,
voiced frustration with Johnson
before Christmas. The 1922
executive is elected by Tory MPs. If
they feel this way it is likely that
many quieter colleagues do too.
The committee is also the keeper
of the leadership rules. Under the
rules Johnson would be immune
from further challenge for a year if
he won a confidence vote. The
executive is thought to be
considering halving that grace
period to six months. Doing so
would make it harder for Johnson
to reassert his authority over MPs,
with far-reaching consequences for
his premiership.
THREAT RATING

wragg and the police
Wragg, the MP for Hazel Grove,
used parliamentary privilege to
claim that some MPs were being
blackmailed into supporting the
prime minister. He said whips had
threatened to withdraw funding
from MPs’ constituencies if they did
not back Boris Johnson.

Downing Street said it had not
seen any proof of the behaviour
described by Wragg, one of seven
Conservatives who has called for
the prime minister’s resignation. In
private, however, Johnson’s allies
are contemptuous of the former
primary school teacher, accusing
him of “grandstanding”.
But Wragg is determined to press
the issue. He has requested a
meeting with the Metropolitan
Police about the subject and one of
its detectives is being sent to discuss
it with him at the House of
Commons later this week.
In its refusal to investigate claims
of parties at Downing Street, the
Met has already shown a reluctance
to immerse itself in political
controversy. If it took a different
approach on this issue that would
be very serious. Some MPs have
questioned whether the allegations
could amount to misconduct in
public office.
More generally, greater public
discussion and understanding of
how whipping has always worked —
the so-called dark arts — could
enrage voters who are frustrated
by their local MPs’ fealty to the
party line.
On the other hand, some more
senior Conservatives, even those
who take a dim view of Johnson,
believe that newer MPs
complaining about whipping
simply have not yet learnt the
ways of Westminster.
THREAT RATING

defections
Christian Wakeford, who crossed
the floor and became the Labour
MP for Bury South last week, could
just be the start. Certainly the
Labour Party hopes so. One senior
source told The Times: “Christian
started to become serious in
October. There’s about five more at
the moment.”
But it is important to be cautious.
Defections from red to blue and
vice versa are exceedingly rare for a
reason. Partisan allegiances run
deep in British politics. Wakeford
had one of the smallest margins of
victory of any Conservative MP and
he knew he could well be swept
away at the next election even if
Johnson wins another big majority.
Wakeford’s defection actually
bought Johnson a little more time
to quell unrest. Were there to be
more it might allow him, again, to
claim that those agitating against
his leadership simply are not loyal
to the Conservative cause. More
prosaically, any further defections,
like Wakeford, would no doubt be
from MPs who have submitted
letters of no confidence in his
leadership, thus diminishing the
number in Sir Graham Brady’s
drawer. Fifty-four letters are
required to trigger a confidence
vote. No one knows the true
number and estimates by MPs over
the past week have ranged from
below ten to more than forty.
THREAT RATING

Bombs are going off


everywhere — but


will any prove fatal?


Troubles are piling


up for the PM and


Downing Street on


many fronts, writes


Henry Zeffman


Dominic Raab
said Nusrat Ghani
had not made a
formal complaint
to the Tory party,
even though
she had been
asked to so do

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