Charity drops UK MP James Gray in racism row after Zahawi-Javid mix-up

St John Ambulance has distanced itself from Mr Gray over controversial remarks

A British Conservative MP has been dropped from his role at a first aid charity following comments he made about two government ministers he mixed up.

James Gray confused Nadhim Zahawi, the new education secretary, and Sajid Javid, the health secretary, at a reception in Parliament to honour people who volunteer with St John Ambulance.

It was reported he then allegedly made a racist comment while trying to explain his confusion. The charity said it had removed the 66-year-old lawmaker as “commander of charity”, a position he had held since September 2020.

Mr Zahawi, 54, was born in Baghdad to Iraqi Kurdish parents and arrived in the UK with his family when he was 9, having fled during the early years of Saddam Hussein’s regime.

Mr Javid, 51, was born in Lancashire to Pakistani parents who immigrated to Britain in the 1960s.

Mr Gray had mistakenly referred to Mr Zahawi as the health secretary – which is Mr Javid’s job – when introducing him to the audience on the terrace of the Palace of Westminster. At the time, Mr Zahawi was the vaccines minister.

According to the Daily Mail, when his mix-up was pointed out, Mr Gray responded: “They all look the same to me.”

Mr Gray denies making the comment, saying: “I said: 'I am sorry to confuse the two of you. You two look very alike'. I said 'I am sorry if I got you two mixed up'.”

He said he was close friends with both men.

Mr Zahawi is said to have held a conversation with him behind closed doors immediately after.

After reports of the incident surfaced, St John Ambulance announced on Monday evening that it had asked Mr Gray to stand down.

“St John does not tolerate racism in any way, shape or form,” the charity said in a statement.

“We spoke with James Gray following the event about our values as an open, inclusive and progressive charity.”

A spokesman told The National that Mr Gray would not be taking part in any St John Ambulance activities in the future.

Mr Gray was forced to apologise last month for a “foolish remark” suggesting a bomb should be planted in a Labour frontbencher’s office.

At the time Mr Gray said he meant “no offence” with the comment about Labour Party chairwoman Anneliese Dodds, which he posted in a WhatsApp group ahead of the opposition’s conference in Brighton.

The timing of the remark particularly raised concern among MPs, because it was at the Conservative Party conference in the same city in 1984 that Margaret Thatcher was targeted by a bombing.

Updated: October 12th 2021, 10:36 AM
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