Humza Yousaf demands independent review of anti-Muslim sentiment in UK government

Scottish First Minister's call comes amid febrile political atmosphere in Britain following contentious debate on Gaza

Scottish First Minister Humza Yousaf has accused British PM Rishi Sunak of showing a lack of leadership. PA
Powered by automated translation

The Scottish First Minister has called on UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to set up an independent review of anti-Muslim sentiment in the ruling Conservative Party.

Humza Yousaf, who is the UK’s most prominent Muslim politician, on Monday claimed the Conservatives were “riddled” by the problem after inflammatory comments, including those by MP Lee Anderson, who said London mayor Sadiq Khan was being "controlled by Islamists".

Mr Anderson was suspended from the party amid a febrile political atmosphere, in which it emerged three women MPs are now being protected by bodyguards following concerns for their safety.

Mr Khan told Sky News on Monday he condemned Mr Anderson’s comments, saying: “We have a senior Conservative saying things that are clearly racist, anti-Muslim and Islamophobic.

"It's leading to an environment where anti-Muslim crime is spiralling and what they're doing is pouring petrol on the flames of Islamophobia."

This follows a highly contentious House of Commons debate in which Lindsay Hoyle, the Speaker, was accused of bowing to intimidation for allowing an opposition Labour Party motion in a debate on Gaza, after party leaders said their MPs could face violence if he did not.

Mr Anderson claimed “Islamists” had “got hold” of Mr Khan, which followed claims by former home secretary Suella Braverman that Islamists “are in charge now”.

Mr Yousaf said on Monday: "The Prime Minister's response to not just Lee Anderson's comments but Suella Braverman's despicable comments has been that he hasn't shown leadership on this issue.

"The Prime Minister has to lead from the front – he's the Prime Minister, it is his party that is under scrutiny."

Mr Sunak said in an interview with the BBC that "it's incumbent on all of us, especially those elected to Parliament, not to inflame our debates in a way that's harmful to others".

He said Mr Anderson's comments "weren't acceptable, they were wrong. And that's why he had the whip suspended."

But asked whether his party had an anti-Muslim problem, the Prime Minister said: "No, of course it doesn't."

Meanwhile, former prime minister Liz Truss has been censured by Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden for not challenging descriptions of far-right anti-Islam activist Tommy Robinson, who has a string of criminal convictions, as a “hero”.

Steve Bannon, a one-time Donald Trump strategist, made the comments while speaking to Ms Truss during a live broadcast at the Conservative Political Action Conference.

Labour leader Keir Starmer called on the Prime Minister “to get a grip and take on the extremists in his party”.

Mr Starmer said it was right Mr Anderson had lost the whip after what he called an "appalling racist and Islamophobic outburst".

"Whether it is Liz Truss staying silent on Tommy Robinson or Suella Braverman's extreme rhetoric, Rishi Sunak's weakness means Tory MPs can act with impunity. This isn't just embarrassing for the Conservative party, it emboldens the worst forces in our politics."

Mr Sunak's official spokesman said Mr Anderson's "choice of those words were wrong, particularly in the current climate, where tensions are high as at the present”.

"The Prime Minister’s focus is on taking the heat out of this debate, not inflaming it."

The spokesman said additional funding of £5 million ($6.3 million) had been made available for the protective security at mosques and Muslim faith schools as "we continue to work with communities and policing to ensure the safety of our Muslim communities".

It comes as it emerged three female politicians, including representatives of both Conservative and Labour, have been given taxpayer-funded bodyguards and cars.

The Sunday Times reported that the MPs, who have not been named, had their security upgraded after a risk assessment was carried out with support from the Ravec committee, which is responsible for the security of the royal family and senior politicians.

Graham Wettone, a former Met officer and expert in public order policing, told The National that having to protect MPs from protests will put a strain on police.

“If it’s a permanent presence at an MPs home then that is a significant impact because that’s 24/7 coverage,” he said.

“And even if there’s periodic visits then that’s still an impact because you’ve got to make sure they’re safe and secure so that’s a strain on the resources you have at your disposal at any one time.

“For me the move from protests in the street to protests outside MPs home addresses is a step too far. That’s not responsible protesting.”

Shadow international development minister Lisa Nandy said MPs were receiving threats "on multiple issues in multiple directions".

"I think there'll be many, many MPs who will have been in contact with the Speaker over the course of the last few months, and particularly in the last couple of weeks, as tensions were heightened, expressing concerns about their safety," she told Sky News.

"We've had incidents over the last few months where people, including me, have been accosted on the streets, and surrounded and filmed. Over the 14 years that I've been in Parliament, I've watched this get worse and worse."

Updated: February 26, 2024, 6:10 PM