(The Guardian) Boris Johnson has ordered a formal inquiry into allegations by the Conservative MP Nusrat Ghani that she was sacked as a minister after being told her “Muslimness” was “making colleagues uncomfortable”.
In a brief statement early on Monday, a Downing Street spokesperson said: “The prime minister has asked the Cabinet Office to conduct an inquiry into the allegations made by Nusrat Ghani MP.
“At the time these allegations were first made, the prime minister recommended to her that she make a formal complaint to CCHQ [Conservative campaign headquarters]. She did not take up this offer.
“The prime minister has now asked officials to establish the facts about what happened. As he said at the time, the prime minister takes these claims very seriously.”
In a tweeted response, Ghani said that the terms of reference for any inquiry “must include all that was said in Downing Street and by the whip”.
She wrote: “As I said to the prime minister last night, all I want is for this to be taken seriously and for him to investigate. I welcome his decision to do that now.”
Ghani, an MP since 2015 who lost her job as a junior transport minister during a reshuffle in early 2020, said Tory whips told her that her “Muslim woman minister status was making colleagues feel uncomfortable”.
She told the Sunday Times: “It was like being punched in the stomach. I felt humiliated and powerless.” She received public support from the ministers Nadhim Zahawi and Sajid Javid.
Downing Street accepted on Sunday that Ghani had raised her concerns personally with Johnson at a meeting in 2020, and said he had responded by encouraging her to make a formal complaint with the Conservative party.
In a subsequent statement on Sunday, Ghani said she had made clear at the time that she did not think the party complaints process was the right way to tackle her allegations.
“He [Johnson] wrote to me that he could not get involved, and suggested I use the internal Conservative party complaint process. This, as I had already pointed out, was very clearly not appropriate for something that happened on government business,” she said. “All I have ever wanted was for his government to take this seriously, investigate properly and ensure no other colleague has to endure this.”
Zahawi, the education secretary, defended Johnson’s initial approach, saying Ghani had not initially told No 10 that it was possible those who raised concerns about her faith might not even have been Tory members.
“This is a new piece of information that we learned from Nus’s statement,” Zahawi told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. “When parliamentarians deal with the whips office, this is very much a political party matter.”
Zahawi called for the investigation to happen swiftly: “This is very serious. It takes a lot of bravery for someone to stand up and say, my religion was taken into consideration when I was being assessed for what I do as a job. That should never happen.”
Anneliese Dodds, the Labour chair and shadow minister for equalities, said: “This inquiry is welcome, but doesn’t replace the need for an immediate investigation into whether the chief whip broke the ministerial code.”
Dodds said one immediate step that could be taken would be to remove the Tory whip from MP Michael Fabricant, who said in an interview on Sunday that he doubted Ghani would have faced prejudice as it was “not apparent” she was Muslim.
The Conservative chief whip, Mark Spencer, has identified himself as the person accused of making the remarks. “These accusations are completely false and I consider them to be defamatory. I have never used those words attributed to me,” he tweeted.
An independent inquiry into the Conservative party’s handling of complaints of discrimination said in May last year that there was “clear evidence of a party complaints system in need of overhaul”.
The Muslim Council of Britain said on Sunday that the Equality and Human Rights Commission should carry out a full inquiry into the party to determine if any breaches of the law had taken place.