Minister cut off during interview after refusing to say why Lee Anderson’s Sadiq Khan slur was wrong – UK politics live | Politics

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Minister cut off during interview after refusing to say why Lee Anderson’s Sadiq Khan slur was wrong

Good morning. Yesterday Rishi Sunak spent all day in interviews describing Lee Anderson’s claim about the Labour mayor of London (“I don’t actually believe that the Islamists have got control of our country, but what I do believe is they’ve got control of [Sadiq] Khan, and they’ve got control of London”) as wrong, while dodging questions about whether the comment was Islamophobic. The obvious follow-up was why was it wrong. Sunak managed to get through interviews yesterday without being up-ended by this challenge, but this morning on LBC Michael Tomlinson, the illegal immigration minister, was cut off after repeatedly refusing to answer this question.

Tomlinson was being interviewed by Nick Ferrari who started by asking why Anderson had to have the whip suspended. Because what he said was wrong, Tomlinson replied. Ferrari repeatedly asked why Anderson’s comment was wrong, and Tomlinson just kept replying: “What he said was wrong.”

Ferrari then tried a different tack, and asked if the comment was Islamphobic. But he did not have any more joy with that either, because Tomlinson just replied: “What he said was wrong.”

After two more times, and getting the same answer again, an exasperated Ferrari, who said he was “normally a very polite man”, told listeners:

I have to curtail the interview. I’m grateful for your time but enough already. Michael Tomlinson is a minister of state for illegal migration unable to answer a question.

It was a slice of radio that perfectly captured how moronic government ministers sound when they slavishly parrot the line to take from No 10, when they lack the wit or nous to dodge a question without making it too obvious. Listeners must have been cheering when Ferrari pushed the ejector seat button, and it would be nice if other presenters did this a bit more often too.

But the episode also illustrates why the Lee Anderson row is so difficult for Sunak and the Conservative party. No 10 does not want ministers describing what Anderson said as racist or Islamophobic (even though Anderson himself has subtly distanced himself from the core part of his allegation against Khan last week – see below) because it wants to draw a line under this affair. And that is for three reasons: 1) Anderson has significant support amongst Tories (again, see below); 2) conceding Anderson’s comment was racist would open Suella Braverman up to the same charge; and 3) this would also accelerate a wider debate about Islamophobia in the Conservative party, which Sunak would rather avoid.

In other developments on this story:

  • Suella Braverman, the former home secretary, has suggested that the No 10 response to Anderson’s comments amounts to “hysteria”. She posted this on X last night.

We need to urgently focus now on the big problem: how to tackle Islamist extremism in the UK.

The hysteria in response to those calling out the crisis is one of the reasons why we’re not making progress.

Language does matter but it’s time for resolute government action: 1/2

— Suella Braverman MP (@SuellaBraverman) February 26, 2024

We need to urgently focus now on the big problem: how to tackle Islamist extremism in the UK.

The hysteria in response to those calling out the crisis is one of the reasons why we’re not making progress.

Language does matter but it’s time for resolute government action:

Braverman, of course, wrote an article for the Telegraph last week saying that Keir Starmer was “in hock to the Islamists” and that “the truth is that the Islamists, the extremists and the anti-Semites are in charge now.”

  • Grassroots Conservative supporters have called Rishi Sunak a “snake” over Lee Anderson’s suspension, the Guardian has reported. Here is our story by Eleni Courea, Ben Quinn and Pippa Crerar.

The Daily Express has splashed on a version of the same tale.

  • Sajjad Karim, a former Conservative MEP who chaired the European parliament’s working group on Islamophobia, has told the Guardian that Boris Johnson’s handling of an inquiry into Islamophobia in the Tory party “ended up sending a signal to the party membership that was basically, Muslims are fair game”. Karim was speaking to Archie Bland, who has written this up in his First Edition newsletter.

  • Anderson has claimed that he is receiving “phenomenal support” over the comments about Sadiq Khan that led to him being suspended from the Conservative party. In an interview with GB News, where he works as a presenter, he said:

I know I’m not everybody’s cup of tea and I do speak in a different language to a lot of people in Parliament. When I went into pubs in Ashfield at the weekend, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, which I did, I got a round of applause and I went in. These are normal working class people.

Some people over in that place (Westminster) might not like that sort of response, but this is what normal people are thinking in places like Ashfield.

My inbox has exploded with support. I cannot keep up with my WhatsApp messages, my text messages, my Facebook messages, Instagram, whatever social media platform I’m on. The amount of support coming through is absolutely phenomenal.

  • But, in his interview, Anderson did not restate his claim that Khan was under the control of Islamists. Instead he focused on a different allegation – that Khan had lost control of policing in London. He said:

I stick by my words in that we have lost control or losing control of the city. When people again and again can come out and demonstrate and shout murderous chants and put these graphics onto Big Ben, ‘from the river to the sea’ and nothing happens.

We’ve got yobos running around with masks on, which is now illegal, and the police stand idly by and do nothing. Who has got control of Parliament Square? Is it the extremists or is it Mayor Khan and the Metropolitan police?

  • Anderson said that he had been on “a political journey”, declared that he wanted to stand again at the next election, and did not rule out joining Reform UK.

Here is the agenda for the day.

10am: The Commons business committee starts a marathon evidence session about the Post Office Horizon scandal. Among the key witnesses are Alan Bates, who led the campaign for justice for former post office operators at 11am, Nick Read, the Post Office chief executive, at 12pm, and Henry Staunton, the former Post Office chair, at 1pm.

11.30am: Downing Street holds a lobby briefing.

2.15pm: David Neal, who was sacked last week as the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration, gives evidence to the Commons home affairs committee.

If you want to contact me, do try the “send us a message” feature. You’ll see it just below the byline – on the left of the screen, if you are reading on a laptop or a desktop. This is for people who want to message me directly. I find it very useful when people message to point out errors (even typos – no mistake is too small to correct). Often I find your questions very interesting, too. I can’t promise to reply to them all, but I will try to reply to as many as I can, either in the comments below the line; privately (if you leave an email address and that seems more appropriate); or in the main blog, if I think it is a topic of wide interest.

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Key events

Liam Byrne, the committee chair, showed the hearing a chart illustrating the process for getting compensation under the Group Litigation Order.

Graph shown during business committee hearing Photograph: HoC

Byrne said the committee has been told by post office operators that getting a disclosure report from the Post Office, stage one of the process, was proving difficult.

Creswell told him reports have been issued now in 55% of cases.

But he said they were now coming more quickly, and that the disclosure reports were being submitted more quickly than new claims were coming in.

Byrne suggested he found it hard to believe that all claims would be settled by August at this rate. Creswell pushed back, saying he was broadly satisfied with the rate at which the scheme was proceeding.

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There are 478 post office operators in the system for the Group Litigation Order scheme. (See 10.30am.)

Creswell told the committee that 106 of them have submitted full claims. He said 104 offers had been made, 80 of them had been accepted, and 76 had been paid.

There were another 41 partial claims, he said.

Creswell said he wanted everyone in the scheme to submit a claim, and that his goal was to get them all paid by August.

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Government official in charge of compensation for post office operators insists there was no order to slow payments

At the Commons business committee Carl Creswell, an official from the Department for Business and Trade who oversees compensation payments for post office operators, is giving evidence now.

There are three separate compensation schemes: the Group Litigation Order scheme, which is for the 55 post office operators who were unfairly prosecuted (they sued the Post Office, but most of the £58m settlement was swallowed up in legal fees); the Overturned Convictions scheme; and the Horizon Shortfall scheme, which is for post office operators who were not convicted but who were made to pay money to the Post Office for supposed shortfalls now blamed on Horizon errors.

Henry Staunton, the former Post Office chair, told the Sunday Times recently that he had been told to stall compensation payments until the election.

Asked if that was the case, Creswell said that, if there had been an order to delay compensation payments, “someone would have mentioned it to me”. But did that happen? “Not at all,” he said.

UPDATE: Creswell said:

You would have thought someone would have mentioned it to me if that were the intent. Not at all.

I worked very closely with Sarah Munby [the permanent secretary at the business department alleged by Henry Staunton to have told him to delay compensation payments], she and I worked with Treasury to secure the funding needed for the schemes.

Every conversation I had with her, with ministers, with other senior civil servants in other parts of government, have all been about how we can pay out this money more quickly, so, no, that is completely incorrect that assertion.

Carl Creswell giving evidence to business committee Photograph: HoC
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Yesterday the Commons business committee published a series of documents it had received from the Post Office and the government in response to questions it had asked ahead of today’s hearing.

You can find them all here.

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Commons business committee takes evidence on Post Office Horizon scandal

The Commons business committee will be starting a marathon evidence session at 10am on the Post Office Horizon scandal. Here is the list of witnesses appearing.

10am: Carl Creswell, director of business resilience at the Department for Business and Trade; Mark Chesher, a partner at Addleshaw Goddard; Rob Francis, a partner at Dentons Solicitors; and Ross Cranston, the independent reviewer, of the Post Office GLO scheme (one of the compensation schemes).

11am: Alan Bates, founder of the Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance; Tony Downey, another former post officer operator; and Tim Brentnall, another post officer operator

11.30am: Dr Neil Hudgell, executive chairman at Hudgell Solicitors and James Hartley, a partner and head of dispute resolution at Freeths.

12pm: Nick Read, chief executive of the Post Office; Ben Tidswell, chair of its remediation committee; Simon Recaldin, its remediation matters director; and Simon Oldnall, its Horizon and GLO IT director.

1pm: Henry Staunton, Post Office chair until he was sacked by Kemi Badenoch last month

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Lee Anderson ‘has many, many merits’ and is not racist, says legal migration minister Tom Pursglove

Tom Pursglove, the legal migration minister, was also giving interviews this morning. Like Michael Tomlinson (see 9.21am), he also refused to say that Lee Anderson’s comment about Sadiq Khan last week was Islamphobic. But he told Times Radio:

I don’t think Lee personally is racist, but what he said was unacceptable.

He also said that he had worked with Anderson on a number of constituency issues such as helping disabled people into work and providing sanctuary for Ukrainian refugees. He went on:

I think, actually, Lee has many, many merits and for me those issues, those experiences, that engagement that I’ve had, is actually a very different side to the Lee that is portrayed in the media.

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Minister cut off during interview after refusing to say why Lee Anderson’s Sadiq Khan slur was wrong

Good morning. Yesterday Rishi Sunak spent all day in interviews describing Lee Anderson’s claim about the Labour mayor of London (“I don’t actually believe that the Islamists have got control of our country, but what I do believe is they’ve got control of [Sadiq] Khan, and they’ve got control of London”) as wrong, while dodging questions about whether the comment was Islamophobic. The obvious follow-up was why was it wrong. Sunak managed to get through interviews yesterday without being up-ended by this challenge, but this morning on LBC Michael Tomlinson, the illegal immigration minister, was cut off after repeatedly refusing to answer this question.

Tomlinson was being interviewed by Nick Ferrari who started by asking why Anderson had to have the whip suspended. Because what he said was wrong, Tomlinson replied. Ferrari repeatedly asked why Anderson’s comment was wrong, and Tomlinson just kept replying: “What he said was wrong.”

Ferrari then tried a different tack, and asked if the comment was Islamphobic. But he did not have any more joy with that either, because Tomlinson just replied: “What he said was wrong.”

After two more times, and getting the same answer again, an exasperated Ferrari, who said he was “normally a very polite man”, told listeners:

I have to curtail the interview. I’m grateful for your time but enough already. Michael Tomlinson is a minister of state for illegal migration unable to answer a question.

It was a slice of radio that perfectly captured how moronic government ministers sound when they slavishly parrot the line to take from No 10, when they lack the wit or nous to dodge a question without making it too obvious. Listeners must have been cheering when Ferrari pushed the ejector seat button, and it would be nice if other presenters did this a bit more often too.

But the episode also illustrates why the Lee Anderson row is so difficult for Sunak and the Conservative party. No 10 does not want ministers describing what Anderson said as racist or Islamophobic (even though Anderson himself has subtly distanced himself from the core part of his allegation against Khan last week – see below) because it wants to draw a line under this affair. And that is for three reasons: 1) Anderson has significant support amongst Tories (again, see below); 2) conceding Anderson’s comment was racist would open Suella Braverman up to the same charge; and 3) this would also accelerate a wider debate about Islamophobia in the Conservative party, which Sunak would rather avoid.

In other developments on this story:

  • Suella Braverman, the former home secretary, has suggested that the No 10 response to Anderson’s comments amounts to “hysteria”. She posted this on X last night.

We need to urgently focus now on the big problem: how to tackle Islamist extremism in the UK.

The hysteria in response to those calling out the crisis is one of the reasons why we’re not making progress.

Language does matter but it’s time for resolute government action: 1/2

— Suella Braverman MP (@SuellaBraverman) February 26, 2024

We need to urgently focus now on the big problem: how to tackle Islamist extremism in the UK.

The hysteria in response to those calling out the crisis is one of the reasons why we’re not making progress.

Language does matter but it’s time for resolute government action:

Braverman, of course, wrote an article for the Telegraph last week saying that Keir Starmer was “in hock to the Islamists” and that “the truth is that the Islamists, the extremists and the anti-Semites are in charge now.”

  • Grassroots Conservative supporters have called Rishi Sunak a “snake” over Lee Anderson’s suspension, the Guardian has reported. Here is our story by Eleni Courea, Ben Quinn and Pippa Crerar.

The Daily Express has splashed on a version of the same tale.

  • Sajjad Karim, a former Conservative MEP who chaired the European parliament’s working group on Islamophobia, has told the Guardian that Boris Johnson’s handling of an inquiry into Islamophobia in the Tory party “ended up sending a signal to the party membership that was basically, Muslims are fair game”. Karim was speaking to Archie Bland, who has written this up in his First Edition newsletter.

  • Anderson has claimed that he is receiving “phenomenal support” over the comments about Sadiq Khan that led to him being suspended from the Conservative party. In an interview with GB News, where he works as a presenter, he said:

I know I’m not everybody’s cup of tea and I do speak in a different language to a lot of people in Parliament. When I went into pubs in Ashfield at the weekend, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, which I did, I got a round of applause and I went in. These are normal working class people.

Some people over in that place (Westminster) might not like that sort of response, but this is what normal people are thinking in places like Ashfield.

My inbox has exploded with support. I cannot keep up with my WhatsApp messages, my text messages, my Facebook messages, Instagram, whatever social media platform I’m on. The amount of support coming through is absolutely phenomenal.

  • But, in his interview, Anderson did not restate his claim that Khan was under the control of Islamists. Instead he focused on a different allegation – that Khan had lost control of policing in London. He said:

I stick by my words in that we have lost control or losing control of the city. When people again and again can come out and demonstrate and shout murderous chants and put these graphics onto Big Ben, ‘from the river to the sea’ and nothing happens.

We’ve got yobos running around with masks on, which is now illegal, and the police stand idly by and do nothing. Who has got control of Parliament Square? Is it the extremists or is it Mayor Khan and the Metropolitan police?

  • Anderson said that he had been on “a political journey”, declared that he wanted to stand again at the next election, and did not rule out joining Reform UK.

Here is the agenda for the day.

10am: The Commons business committee starts a marathon evidence session about the Post Office Horizon scandal. Among the key witnesses are Alan Bates, who led the campaign for justice for former post office operators at 11am, Nick Read, the Post Office chief executive, at 12pm, and Henry Staunton, the former Post Office chair, at 1pm.

11.30am: Downing Street holds a lobby briefing.

2.15pm: David Neal, who was sacked last week as the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration, gives evidence to the Commons home affairs committee.

If you want to contact me, do try the “send us a message” feature. You’ll see it just below the byline – on the left of the screen, if you are reading on a laptop or a desktop. This is for people who want to message me directly. I find it very useful when people message to point out errors (even typos – no mistake is too small to correct). Often I find your questions very interesting, too. I can’t promise to reply to them all, but I will try to reply to as many as I can, either in the comments below the line; privately (if you leave an email address and that seems more appropriate); or in the main blog, if I think it is a topic of wide interest.

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