PM says Lee Anderson’s comments ‘not acceptable’ but denies Tory party has Islamophobic tendencies – UK politics live | Politics

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Sunak says Lee Anderson’s comments were ‘not acceptable’, but denies claim Tory party has Islamophobic tendencies

Georgey Spanswick is interviewing Rishi Sunak on Radio York.

She says Sunak is on the programme to talk about transport. But she is going to start with the Lee Anderson row, she says.

Q: Has the Conservative party got Islamophobic tendencies?

“No, of course it hasn’t”, Sunak says.

He says people should not be inflaming tensions in this situation.

Words matter. Anderson did not apologise. His words were not acceptable, and he was suspended.

He says it is important to maintain high standards.

Anderson’s words were “not acceptable”, and wrong, he says.

He says he is sure the interviewer will now want to ask transport, and the “compelling offer” that the Conservative party has.

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Key events

While the Lee Anderson row has been dominating the national news this morning, arguably the most interesting exchange in Rishi Sunak’s morning interview round came this morning when he was asked about the state of the NHS by Georgey Spanswick on Radio York. I have beefed up the earlier post at 8.16am with the full quote from the PM (although you might need to refresh the page to get the update to appear.) But the most memorable comment did not come from Sunak, but from the presenter. She said she had a friend who keeled over at the doctors’ surgery last week, but was told by the GP they would not send her to A&E because they would have to wait for nine hours.

This does not count as news, because news is normally thought of was what we don’t know, or what comes as a surprise, and almost everyone now can tell a story about themselves or someone they know having to wait hours and hours at A&E.

But the fact that something is no longer news does not stop it mattering, and at the election health will be a more important issue than Lee Anderson. In a campaign that will involve constant contact with the public and the media, Sunak may be hearing stories like Spanswick’s all the time. He will need a better answer than the one he gave this morning.

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The Rishi Sunak interviews are over. They have not taken us forward very much, but Henry Zeffman from the BBC thinks Sunak hardened the Conservative party’s line on Lee Anderson marginally, compared with what Oliver Dowden was saying yesterday.

PM is hardening the Conservatives’ line a little on Lee Anderson this morning. Before, the position was he was suspended because he didn’t apologise.

Today Sunak said the comments were unacceptable and wrong “and that’s why he had the whip suspended”. No mention of an apology

— Henry Zeffman (@hzeffman) February 26, 2024

PM is hardening the Conservatives’ line a little on Lee Anderson this morning. Before, the position was he was suspended because he didn’t apologise.

Today Sunak said the comments were unacceptable and wrong “and that’s why he had the whip suspended”. No mention of an apology

But saying Anderson should apologise was an implicit acceptance that the original remark was unacceptable, and so broadly the Dowden and Sunak talking points have been the same.

It is understandable why radio presenters with only a very short interview slot, and under pressure to ask Sunak about local issues which never get addressed by the national media, did not interrogate Sunak at more length on this issue. As Jon Sopel from the News Agents podcast points out, if they had, they might have pressed him to explain properly what it was about what Anderson said that was unacceptable.

Just listened to the PM and Mark Harper – both saying Lee Anderson’s comments were ‘wrong’ and whip withdrawn for not apologising.
They refuse to say that he was racist or Islamophobic. So my question is this:
What exactly do they want Lee Anderson to apologise for?
Bewildering

— Jon Sopel (@jonsopel) February 26, 2024

Just listened to the PM and Mark Harper – both saying Lee Anderson’s comments were ‘wrong’ and whip withdrawn for not apologising.
They refuse to say that he was racist or Islamophobic. So my question is this:
What exactly do they want Lee Anderson to apologise for?
Bewildering

The Tories have said that Anderson was suspended because he would not apologise to Sadiq Khan for saying that he was under the control of Islamists. (See 8.01am.) But the party has not said whether or not it believes that this remark was Islamaphobic, and it has not said whether or not it thinks it is acceptable for people to make wider claims about “Islamists” having undue influence. In his comment Anderson was actually distancing himself from an even more provocative and extreme comment made by Suella Braverman, the former home secretary, who wrote an article in the Daily Telegraph last week claiming:

The truth is that the Islamists, the extremists and the anti-Semites are in charge now. They have bullied the Labour Party, they have bullied our institutions, and now they have bullied our country into submission.

Anderson was saying he thought Braverman was wrong because, in his view, the Islamist take-over has only extended to the capital, not to the UK as a whole.

As my colleague Peter Walker points out, Sunak’s reluctance to talk directly and specifically about Islamaophobia has echoes of Jeremy Corbyn’s reluctance to talk directly and specifically about antisemitism.

Asked on BBC Humberside if he is refusing to engage with Islamophobia, Rishi Sunak says “prejudice of any kind is unacceptable” – a presumably unconscious if nonetheless direct echo of Jeremy Corbyn’s much-used form of words over antisemitism.

— Peter Walker (@peterwalker99) February 26, 2024

Asked on BBC Humberside if he is refusing to engage with Islamophobia, Rishi Sunak says “prejudice of any kind is unacceptable” – a presumably unconscious if nonetheless direct echo of Jeremy Corbyn’s much-used form of words over antisemitism.

It is increasingly notable that Sunak and his ministers seem almost pathologically unable to mention the idea of anti-Islam prejudice (beyond, in a few cases, arguing that ‘Islamophobia’ is a term that shouldn’t be used).

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At the start of the Radio Lincolnshire interview, Scott Dalton put it to Rishi Sunak that the transport money for the county being announced today just replaced money that had been previously taken away. He said the county council says it needs £400m just to bring roads in Lincolnshire up to the national standard. Today’s announcement promises just half of that sum, spread over seven years, he said. He said that was only £37m a year.

In response, Sunak said overall funding for the council was going up by 8%.

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Updated at 

Rishi Sunak is now on BBC Radio Lincolnshire. Scott Dalton is interviewing him, and asks why it is taking so long for the HS2 money to go to transport projects in the north.

Sunak says he thinks the money has been redirected quite quickly.

Q: In Lincolnshire the redevelopment project for RAF Scampton has been put in jeopardy by the plans for a camp for asylum seekers there.

Sunak says the plan for a camp for asylum seekers is only temporary.

Q: It is for three years. Will the developers wait three years to invest the £300m in the site?

Sunak says he needs to act to stop the boats. The plan is working, he says.

Q: You say are listening to people’s frustrations on RAF Scampton. But you have ignored the local MP, Sir Edward Leigh, the council and the residents. It is a heritage site.

Sunak says the heritage aspects are being respected. He says he wishes he did not have to house illegal migrants.

He says his returns agreement with Albania has largely stopped arrivals from that country. He says he thinks the Rwanda policy can have the same impact on. a bigger scale.

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Sunak claims UK is ‘most successful multi-ethnic democracy in world’ and says racism and prejudice ‘completely unacceptable’

Q: Is there a hierachy of hate? You condemn antisemitism, but you have been accused of overlooking Islamophobia in your own party?

Sunak says he does not accept that characterisation. He goes on:

I believe racism or prejudice of any kind is completely unacceptable, and we must stamp it out.

Asked to give a commitment that he will not tolerate hate of any kind, Sunak repeats this phrase. He says he is proud of the fact that, when he became the first British Asian prime minister, that was not a big deal. He goes on:

And that’s because we’re the most successful multi-ethnic democracy in the world. And that’s because we have a way of doing these things, of respecting everyone, and at the same time ensuring that everyone integrates into our community and subscribes to a common set of British values. That’s not an easy thing to do. But I think we do it better than any other country, and we need to work hard to protect that.

Sunak ends by saying for a third time that racism of any kind is completely unacceptable.

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Kofi Smiles is interviewing Rishi Sunak on Radio Humberside.

They have covered the transport announcement, and Sunak is now talking about support for the steel industry.

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What Sunak said about Lee Anderson

Rishi Sunak was asked four questions about Lee Anderson on Radio York. Here are the questions and answers.

As you can see, all four answers were essentially the same (a standard Sunak technique).

Q: Has the Conservative Party got Islamophobic tendencies?

No, of course it doesn’t. And I think 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.

Lee’s comments weren’t acceptable. They were wrong, and that’s why he’s had the whip suspended.

Q: How do you account for Lee Anderson’s comments and your decision to suspend him?

His choice of words wasn’t acceptable, it was wrong. That’s why the whip was suspended. And words matter, especially in the current environment where tensions are running high, and I think it’s incumbent on all of us to choose them carefully.

Q: How frustrating is it that he hasn’t apologised for those comments?

The most important thing is that people realise that the words they use in a situation that we’re in now, where tensions are running higher than I think any of us would like, and my priority is to try and take the heat out of this situation and that’s what everyone wants to see. And that’s why words matter. And his words weren’t acceptable. They were wrong, and that’s why the whip was suspended.

Q: How much of a blow is this to your election chances in red wall seats?

It’s not about that. I think in a situation like this, it’s important that we maintain high standards. That’s why the whip was suspended.

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Updated at 

Sunak is now due on BBC Radio Humberside. You can listen here.

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Sunak claims NHS improving, but accepts it’s ‘not where we want to be’

Spanswick now turns to the NHS.

She says she was involved in an accident last year, when she was due to interview Sunak, and asked the paramedic with her what he would ask Sunak if he had the chance. She said he wanted to know “why are you running down the NHS”.

Sunak claims performance in A&E departments is getting better. He says the strikes have made it harder to tackle waiting lists.

Spanswick says a friend was at the doctor’s last week, and was told the doctor would not send them to A&E because they would have to wait nine hours.

Sunak says of course that is not right.

But the use of community diagnostic hubs will make thing better, he says.

UPDATE: Sunak said:

I come from an NHS family, of course I don’t want to run it down.

We’re putting a record amount of investment in, more funding, so that’s never been higher – more doctors, more nurses, and we’re making improvements.

Now, look, that’s not going to happen overnight. But if you look at the performance of ambulances and emergency departments this winter, it’s better than it was last winter. So that is progress.

And when it comes to the waiting lists, in the last few months actually we’ve seen the waiting lists start to fall. And that’s because we haven’t had as much industrial action. Obviously there is once again industrial action, but at the end of last year we had no industrial action in October or November and the waiting list fell by about 150,000.”

Are we where we want to be? Not yet. Are we making progress? Yes, the plan is working. If we stick with it, I know that things will get better.

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Updated at 

Sunak’s line on Lee Anderson was broadly the same as Oliver Dowden’s yesterday. He did not get pressed on some of outstanding questions relating to this as yet unanswered, and is now being asked about the transport announcement for the north of England – the main reason for the interview.

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Sunak says Lee Anderson’s comments were ‘not acceptable’, but denies claim Tory party has Islamophobic tendencies

Georgey Spanswick is interviewing Rishi Sunak on Radio York.

She says Sunak is on the programme to talk about transport. But she is going to start with the Lee Anderson row, she says.

Q: Has the Conservative party got Islamophobic tendencies?

“No, of course it hasn’t”, Sunak says.

He says people should not be inflaming tensions in this situation.

Words matter. Anderson did not apologise. His words were not acceptable, and he was suspended.

He says it is important to maintain high standards.

Anderson’s words were “not acceptable”, and wrong, he says.

He says he is sure the interviewer will now want to ask transport, and the “compelling offer” that the Conservative party has.

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Rishi Sunak is about to be interviewed on BBC Radio York. You can listen here.

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Rishi Sunak expected to face questions on Lee Anderson Islamophobia row in radio interviews

Good morning. Rishi Sunak is set to break his silence on the Lee Anderson Islamophobia row shortly. Anderson, a former deputy chair of the Conservative party, told GB News on Friday:

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.

After initially defending him, the Conservative party suspended him about 24 hours, on the grounds that he had refused to apologise to the offence given to Khan, the Labour mayor of London, who is a Muslim. But in interviews yesterday Oliver Dowden, the deputy PM, refused to rule out Anderson being allow to rejoin the parliamentary Conservative party, and declined to describe what Anderson said as clearly Islamophobic.

We’ll hear from Sunak himself shortly. He is about to give interviews to local radio stations in Yorkshire, where he is chairing a cabinet meeting this morning.

Here is Eleni Courea’s overnight story about the row.

All parties have to discipline MPs who say offensive things from time to time, but Anderson is not just a random backbencher. When Sunak made the surprise decision to make him Conservative party chair a year ago, it was not despite the fact that he was best know for saying provocative things likely to appeal to elderly, white, male reactionaries. It was precisely because of his popularity with this group, which is also what secured Anderson his presenting job with GB News.

Here is the agenda for the day.

After 8am: Rishi Sunak gives interviews to three BBC local radio stations

Morning: Sunak chairs a cabinet meeting in Yorkshire.

Morning: Keir Starmer and Angela Rayner visit the West Midlands, where they will be promoting Labour’s plans for housebuilding.

11.30am: Downing Street holds a lobby briefing.

2.30pm: James Cleverly, the home secretary, takes questions in the Commons.

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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