LONDON: British minister Nadhim Zahawi yesterday urged a probe into claims by a fellow Conservative MP that she lost her ministerial role because of her ‘Muslimness’, piling further pressure on the government. Nusrat Ghani, 49, was sacked as a transport minister in 2020, and told the Sunday Times that a whip said her “Muslimness was raised as an issue” at a meeting in Downing Street. She was also told her “Muslim woman minister status was making colleagues feel uncomfortable”, she claimed.

Chief whip Mark Spencer, whose role it is to keep MPs on board with the government’s agenda, took the unusual step of identifying himself as the person at the center of the claims, and denied the allegations. “These accusations are completely false and I consider them to be defamatory,” he wrote on Twitter. “I have never used those words attributed to me. It is disappointing that when this issue was raised before Ms Ghani declined to refer the matter to the Conservative Party for a formal investigation,” he added.

The government whips are in the spotlight at the moment after they were accused by Tory MP William Wragg of “blackmailing” critics of under-fire Prime Minister Boris Johnson in order to prevent them from trying to oust him. Johnson’s office said that the prime minister was aware of the claims at the time, and that he had invited her to make a formal complaint.

“After being made aware of these extremely serious claims, the Prime Minister met with Nusrat Ghani to discuss them,” said a Downing Street spokesperson. “He then wrote to her expressing his serious concern and inviting her to begin a formal complaint process. She did not subsequently do so. The Conservative Party does not tolerate prejudice or discrimination of any kind.”

Ghani, vice-chairwoman of the influential 1922 Committee of Tory backbenchers, told the paper that “it was like being punched in the stomach. I felt humiliated and powerless.” She said she remained quiet for fear of being “ostracized by colleagues”. Vaccine minister Zahawi demanded an investigation. “There is no place for Islamophobia or any form of racism in our @Conservatives party,” he tweeted, calling Ghani a “friend, a colleague & a brilliant parliamentarian”. “This has to be investigated properly & racism rooted out.”

Justice minister Dominic Raab called it a “very serious claim” but told BBC’s “Sunday Morning” that there would only likely be an investigation if Ghani made a formal complaint. Former equality and human rights commissioner Swaran Singh carried out an inquiry into claims of Islamophobia in the Conservative Party two years ago. He analyzed 727 separate incidents as recorded between 2015 and 2020 and found no evidence of “institutional Islamophobia”, but criticized senior Tory figures including now prime minister Johnson. – AFP