Inquiry ordered into sacking of former British minister Nusrat Ghani 'over her Muslimness'

Prime minister initiates probe after other cabinet members say a ‘proper’ investigation is needed

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has ordered a Cabinet Office inquiry into allegations by Conservative Member of Parliament Nusrat Ghani that she was sacked from her ministerial role because she is a Muslim.

Ms Ghani says that shortly after being fired from her post as a transport minister in February 2020 during a mini reshuffle, the party’s Chief Whip Mark Spencer said her “Muslimness” had been raised as a cause for concern in the party and was “making colleagues uncomfortable”.

Mr Spencer — the enforcer of parliamentary discipline — denies he made the remarks, which he called “completely false” and “defamatory".

“I have never used those words attributed to me,” he said.

The Conservative Party Chief Whips’ office said Ms Ghani’s claims were “categorically untrue”.

“The Conservative Party does not tolerate any form of racism or discrimination,” it said.

The prime minister spoke to Ms Ghani on Sunday evening about her claims and told her an inquiry would be launched.

“The prime minister has asked the Cabinet Office to conduct an inquiry into the allegations made by Nusrat Ghani,” a Downing Street representative said. “As he said at the time, the prime minister takes these claims very seriously.”

Mr Johnson met Ms Ghani to discuss the “extremely serious” claims in July 2020, the prime minister's office said on Sunday. It revealed that when the allegations were first made, Mr Johnson recommended she make a formal complaint to the Conservative Campaign Headquarters.

“She did not take up this offer,” the prime minister's office said.

The Cabinet Office’s propriety and ethics team will carry out the investigation into claims of Islamophobia made by MP Nusrat Ghani, No 10 said.

In a statement released on social media on Sunday, Ms Ghani said it was “clearly not appropriate” of the prime minister to suggest she file a complaint via the Conservative Party because she had been sacked as a government minister.

She said in 2020 that she urged Mr Johnson to treat her claims “as a government matter” because it was “something that happened on government business”.

The MP for Wealden said the remarks made about her faith left her questioning her role in politics.

She said she chose to speak out after having “pursued every avenue and process I thought available to me” and she feels “deeply disappointed that it has come to this".

“Those who have not had their identity and faith questioned cannot fully appreciate what it does to you,” she said. “All I have ever wanted was for his [Mr Johnson’s] government to take this seriously, investigate properly and ensure no other colleague has to endure this.”

After breaking her silence late on Saturday about her experience, Health Secretary Sajid Javid and Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi both called for the claims to be investigated.

Speaking to Sky News on Monday, the education secretary reiterated his backing for an inquiry.

“I think it is important that Nus is allowed the ability to put her case forward, put the evidence forward to the Cabinet Office,” Mr Zahawi said.

“She has made a very serious allegation; the prime minister spoke to her last night and said the Cabinet Office will investigate this and look at the detail of this.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson jogs in central London with his dog Dilyn early on Monday morning. PA

Mr Zahawi was pressed on why it had taken two years and Ms Ghani speaking out for an official No 10 inquiry to be ordered. He was also reminded of Mr Johnson’s previous remarks comparing Muslim women in burkas to “letterboxes” and “bank robbers”.

Mr Zahawi jumped to the prime minister’s defence.

“The important thing to remember is that this is a prime minister that — in my view — does not look at your background, your religion, your anything else,” he said. “He looks at your ability and whether you are capable of doing a job and then absolutely makes that decision.”

He said he had been a member of the Conservative Party since the 1980s and had risen through the ranks, from campaigner to government minister, and “I have not actually experienced any form of racism, institutional or otherwise”.

Ms Ghani was born in Kashmir to Pakistani parents who later immigrated to the UK. She was raised in a working-class household in Birmingham.

After working for charities and the BBC, she ventured into politics and went on to become one of the first female Conservative MPs to be given a cabinet role.

The politician welcomed the prime minister's decision to order an inquiry into her claims, which she said must be taken seriously.

She said the probe “must include all that was said in Downing Street and by the Whip".

“I look forward to seeing the terms of reference,” Ms Ghani said.

The allegations of discrimination in the Conservative Party will add to Mr Johnson's woes.

The publication of civil servant Sue Gray’s report into allegations of alleged parties in Downing Street during Covid-19 lockdowns is expected to be released later this week.

Speaking to reporters on a visit to Milton Keynes University Hospital, Mr Johnson insisted he was taking Ms Ghani’s claims “extremely seriously”. The prime minister said he had also taken the allegations seriously when they were first raised 18 months ago.

“Very glad there’s an investigation taking place now,” Mr Johnson said.

“I can’t say more, really, about it.”

Asked whether Chief Whip Mr Spencer could stay in post while the investigation was conducted, Mr Johnson dodged the question, saying: “This is something I take personally extremely seriously, I took it very seriously 18 months ago, we must wait and see what the investigation produces.”

William Wragg, a senior Tory MP, defended Ms Ghani.

“Nus is very brave to speak out. I was truly appalled to learn of her experience. She shows such strength and integrity supporting others,” he tweeted.

Ms Ghani, along with Mr Wragg, are both vice-chairs of the 1922 Committee of back bench Conservative MPs. The group provides a space for less senior lawmakers in the party to discuss issues.

Last week Mr Wragg accused Number 10 of trying to “blackmail” MPs seeking to oust Mr Johnson.

Ms Ghani’s claims have also prompted calls for a wider inquiry into alleged discrimination against Muslims within the ruling party.

Updated: January 24, 2022, 3:04 PM