Ex-UK minister claims she was fired for her ‘Muslimness’

Members of the UK government called for an investigation after former junior Transport Minister Nusrat Ghani told the UK Sunday Times she had been fired because of her “Muslimness.”

Conservative Health Minister Sajid Javid described Ghani as “a friend and a credit to the Conservative party” on Sunday.

“This is a very serious matter which needs a proper investigation,” he said in a Twitter post. “I would strongly support her in making a formal complaint — she must be heard.”

Education Minister Nadhim Zahawi also called for an investigation and for racism to be “routed out.”

“There is no place for Islamophobia or any form of racism in our @Conservatives party,” Zahawi wrote on Twitter.

The allegations come as the Conservative party is divided over the future of Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is facing a public scandal over parties held at his Downing Street residence during lockdown.

Watch video 01:43 British PM Johnson fights for political survival

What claims did Nusrat Ghani make?

Ghani told the Sunday Times she was dismissed as a junior transport minister in 2020 and that a whip — an enforcer of parliamentary discipline — from the Conservative party had said her “Muslimness was raised as an issue” at a meeting in Downing Street.

She was also told her “Muslim woman minister status was making colleagues feel uncomfortable,” she claimed.

Ghani added she was also 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,” she said.

Ghani, the vice-chairwoman of the influential 1922 Committee of Tory backbenchers, told the paper that “it was like being punched in the stomach. I felt humiliated and powerless.”

She said she remained quiet for fear of being “ostracized by colleagues.”

What was the official response?

Addressing the claims, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s office said Johnson had previously met Ghani to discuss the claims, and that he had invited her to make a formal complaint.

Meanwhile, Chief Whip Mark Spencer said he was the person Ghani was talking about, but strongly denied her allegations.

“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.”

Justice Minister Dominic Raab insisted on Sky News that the Conservatives have “absolutely zero tolerance for any discrimination and any Islamophobia.”

He said a probe would only likely take place if Ghani made a formal complaint.

What do we know about previous Islamophobia complaints?

Former equality and human rights commissioner Swaran Singh carried out an inquiry into claims of Islamophobia in the Conservative party two years ago.

He analyzed 727 separate incidents as recorded between 2015 and 2020 and found no evidence of “institutional Islamophobia,” but criticized senior Tory figures including Johnson.

In 2018, Johnson compared women who wear face-covering veils to “letterboxes.”

Why are the Conservatives divided?

Ghani’s allegation comes after another Conservative MP, William Wragg, accused party whips of intimidating and blackmailing members of parliament to ensure they supported the government.

Wragg claims the whips used pressure tactics to prevent MPs from trying to oust the prime minister over the so-called Partygate scandal.

Johnson remains under intense pressure over allegations that he and his staff held lockdown-flouting parties while Britain was under COVID curbs.

Watch video 00:26 Boris Johnson: ‘I apologize sincerely for any misjudgments’

A handful of Conservative lawmakers have called for the prime minister to resign.

Others are awaiting a report by a senior civil servant appointed to probe the claims. The findings are expected to be published next week.

If Johnson is singled out for censure, more Conservative lawmakers may call for a no-confidence vote that could result in his ouster.

mm/dj (AFP, AP, Reuters)