Allegations of discrimination made by the British Conservative Muslim member of parliament Nusrat Ghani are the subject of a new government inquiry.
Ms Ghani said she was discriminated against because of her faith, when she was sacked as a government minister in February 2020.
The 49-year-old has accused the ruling Conservative Party’s chief whip – the enforcer of parliamentary discipline – of citing her “Muslimness” as a cause for concern among colleagues.
The claims have piled yet more pressure on Prime Minister Boris Johnson as he begins one of the toughest weeks of his time in office so far.
Ms Ghani was born to Pakistani parents in Kashmir, in 1972.
Her family migrated to the UK and settled in a working-class district in Birmingham, where she spent much of her childhood.
After graduating high school, she gained a BA degree in government and politics from Birmingham City University.
She went on to study international relations at Leeds University where she was awarded a master’s degree.
Ms Ghani worked for various charities including Age UK and Breakthrough Breast Cancer before heading into the world of media.
Shortly after the terrorist attacks in the US on September 11, 2001 she landed a job at the BBC World Service that took her to Afghanistan.
From media to politics
Ms Ghani first stood as a parliamentary candidate for Birmingham Ladywood in the 2010 general election, but was unsuccessful in securing the seat.
In the 2015 general election she became the first female to win the constituency of Wealden, East Sussex, securing a majority of 22,967.
That same year she was appointed as a member of the Home Affairs Select Committee.
She campaigned for Brexit in the 2016 EU referendum.
In 2017 she was promoted to Parliamentary Private Secretary at the Home Office. Her work at the Home Office involved producing reports on hate crimes, policing, immigration, security and home affairs.
In 2017 she chaired the Conservative government’s Apprenticeship Diversity Champions Network, a scheme which aims to encourage women, people from ethnic minorities and disabled people to consider apprenticeships as a means to launch a career.
In 2018 Ms Ghani was appointed as an assistant whip and a minister in the Department for Transport.
In February 2020, she was dismissed from government.
Outspoken campaigner for the disadvantaged
Ms Ghani is an outspoken campaigner for Afghan refugees. After the Taliban swept back into power last August, she used her platform to defend people living under the feared regime, particularly women and girls. From the backbenches, she spoke up in Parliament to urge the prime minister to provide safe passage to people in danger of Taliban attacks. She publicly supported 69 Afghan female MPs who chose to stand their ground and fight for women’s rights in Afghanistan.
In December she wrote an op-ed for The National accusing the British government of failing Afghan women and girls. She said she had spent “chaotic days and nights” speaking to Afghan women and girls trying to flee the hardline Islamist group after they recaptured the country last summer. She urged the government to “urgently” assist women facing danger to help them get out of Afghanistan and make their way to Britain. She said the Home Office’s handling of the crisis in Kabul amounted to a “monumental failure”. Then-foreign secretary Dominic Raab was later sacked after he delayed his return from holiday while the Afghan capital was falling to the Taliban.
Inquiry of allegations of discrimination
The prime minister has ordered a Cabinet Office inquiry into allegations by Ms 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 Conservative party’s Chief Whip Mark Spencer said her “Muslimness” had been raised as an issue of concern in the party and was “making colleagues uncomfortable”.
Mr Spencer – the enforcer of parliamentary discipline – has denied making the remarks and described the allegations as "completely false" and "defamatory".
Mr Johnson spoke to Ms Ghani on Sunday evening about her claims.
"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."
Ms Ghani welcomed the inquiry.
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 and Mr Wragg are vice chairpersons of the 1922 Committee of backbench 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 is married with two children.