UK

Lee Anderson: PM made mistake removing Tory whip after Sadiq Khan remarks

The former deputy Tory chairman said he stands by the ‘sentiment of his comments’ after accusing the Mayor of London of being controlled by Islamists.

Lee Anderson MP has refused to rule out joining Reform UK, with reports he met the party’s leader after having the Tory whip removed
Israel-Hamas conflict Lee Anderson MP has refused to rule out joining Reform UK, with reports he met the party’s leader after having the Tory whip removed (Victoria Jones/PA)

Lee Anderson said Prime Minister Rishi Sunak made a “mistake” in stripping him of the Conservative whip after he accused the Mayor of London of being controlled by Islamists.

The former deputy Tory Party chairman continued to refuse to apologise over the remarks in interviews on Tuesday, with the row now raging for five days.

Speaking to Channel 5 News, Mr Anderson said he thought Mr Sunak had “made a mistake” in sanctioning for the Tory whip to be removed.

The Ashfield MP, who is currently sitting in the House of Commons as an independent, has not ruled out standing for Reform UK, formerly known as the Brexit Party, at the next election.

GB News — the right-wing broadcaster that pays Mr Anderson a £100,000 salary, on top of his £86,584 MP pay, to present a show on its network — reported that he met with Reform leader Richard Tice on Sunday, only 24 hours after being stripped of his Tory affiliation in the Commons.

In comments made on Friday, Mr Anderson claimed “Islamists” had “got control” of Sadiq Khan and that the London Mayor had “given away our capital” to such extremists.

Mr Anderson told ITV News on Tuesday that he stuck by the “sentiment of his comments” about Mr Khan, but repeated his concession that they were “a little bit clumsy”.

The 57-year-old said the Labour Mayor of London “panders” to a “certain section of people” who had been seen “screaming, ranting and chanting” at pro-Palestine protests in the capital.

He argued that such actions during demonstrations demanding a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war were looking to “intimidate people and affect our democracy”.

“I think I’m on the right side of the argument,” he told ITV.

Mr Anderson said he did not agree with the Prime Minister’s decision
Rishi Sunak Mr Anderson said he did not agree with the Prime Minister’s decision (Paul Ellis/PA)

Mr Anderson, who was formerly a Labour councillor before being suspended and then defecting to the Tories in 2018, said he had received “lots of support privately in WhatsApp groups and messages” from Conservative MPs since the decision to remove the whip.

Asked what he made of the decision by Tory leader Mr Sunak to remove the whip over his comments about Mr Khan, Mr Anderson said: “That is up to him.

“He has got a tight ship to run. He thinks he has made the right decision. I don’t think he has made the right decision.

“I don’t hold any malice towards him. He is the boss, he is the manager. He has to do what he has to do. And I have got no complaints at all.”

Senior Conservatives have described the remarks as “wrong” but have so far stopped short of describing them as “Islamophobic”.

Mr Khan, a practising Muslim, has urged the Prime Minister to call out the remarks as racist and Islamophobic.

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has urged the Prime Minister to label Lee Anderson’s remarks as Islamophobic
Sadiq Khan Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has urged the Prime Minister to label Lee Anderson’s remarks as Islamophobic (Jonathan Brady/PA)

On Tuesday, Downing Street said the Prime Minister regarded Mr Anderson’s comments as wrong because they had conflated all Muslims with Islamist extremism.

Critics said Mr Sunak’s reluctance to describe the comments as Islamophobic was “weak”.

Bridget Phillipson, Labour’s shadow education secretary, said: “He (Mr Anderson) should know better than that, he has been a senior figure within the Conservative Party.

“But I think it speaks to Rishi Sunak’s weakness on this that his response has been wholly inadequate.”

James Cleverly, the Home Secretary, has joined calls for Mr Anderson to apologise.

He told the PA news agency during his trip to the US that Mr Anderson’s failure to express regret over his criticisms of Mr Khan had led to the party whip being withdrawn.

The comments could be seen as an attempt to hold the door open for the return of the outspoken Red Wall MP ahead of a general election that is expected in the autumn.