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Sarwar: Lack of independent probe into Islamophobia ‘would stink of cover-up’

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar called on the Tories to allow an independent investigation into allegations a minister was sacked over her faith.

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Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said the Conservative Party was not holding itself to the same standards on Islamophobia as Labour does on antisemitism (Jane Barlow/PA)

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said the Conservative Party was not holding itself to the same standards on Islamophobia as Labour does on antisemitism (Jane Barlow/PA)

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said the Conservative Party was not holding itself to the same standards on Islamophobia as Labour does on antisemitism (Jane Barlow/PA)

A failure by the Conservatives to allow an independent investigation into allegations of Islamophobia in the party would “stink of a cover-up”, Anas Sarwar has said.

The Scottish Labour leader, a Muslim MSP who led a Holyrood inquiry into Islamophobia in Scotland, said hate and prejudice was “rampant” in all parts of society.

But with the Conservative Party engulfed in another scandal about alleged Islamophobia, Mr Sarwar challenged them to allow the Equality and Human Rights Commission to investigate and implement any recommendations that they make.

Asked by the PA news agency about his reaction to claims by Tory MP Nusrat Ghani that she was sacked as a minister because of colleagues’ concerns about her “Muslimness”, Mr Sarwar said: “The reality is that there is not a single political party, not a single institution, not a single organisation that is immune to prejudice and hate in any form.

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Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar speaking about allegations of Islamophobia in the Conservative Party (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar speaking about allegations of Islamophobia in the Conservative Party (Andrew Milligan/PA)

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Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar speaking about allegations of Islamophobia in the Conservative Party (Andrew Milligan/PA)

“The challenge you have around Islamophobia in the Conservative Party actually makes me think about when we were talking about challenging antisemitism in the Labour Party.

“Let’s not for one second think that antisemitism is about one political wing and Islamophobia is another political wing – there is rampant Islamophobia, antisemitism, homophobia, sexism, right across the political spectrum.

“But if you think about the severity with which we are relentlessly and ruthlessly wanting to root out antisemitism in the Labour Party because we hold ourselves to a higher standard, I don’t think the same measure or test has been applied to the Conservative Party on Islamophobia.”

Alluding to comments by Conservatives such as Boris Johnson describing Muslim women as “letterboxes”, Mr Sarwar said: “We can’t have acceptable forms of prejudice, we can’t have acceptable levels of prejudice.

“So there’s a direct challenge to the Conservative Party, if they are serious about written prejudice and hate in all these forms, then they should apply themselves to the exact same measure we apply ourselves to, which is to refer them to the Equality and Human Rights Commission for there be a full independent investigation for independent recommendations to be made and for those independent recommendations to be implemented.

“Anything less than that, I think, would stink of a cover-up.”

After Ms Ghani stated a Government whip told her she was being sacked as a transport minister in a 2020 reshuffle in part because her faith made colleagues “uncomfortable” and that her career would be “destroyed” if she tried to complain.

Chief Whip Mark Spencer confirmed he had spoken to her but strongly denied making the alleged comments saying the claims were “completely false” and “defamatory”.

The MP for Wealden in East Sussex said that when she raised the matter with Mr Johnson directly after losing her job in a February 2020 ministerial reshuffle, he told her he could not get involved.

But the Prime Minister insists he is now taking Ms Ghani’s allegations “extremely seriously” and has asked the Cabinet Office to “establish the facts” regarding the claims of Islamophobia.

A spokesperson for the Equality and Human Rights Commission said: “Discrimination is unacceptable in all workplaces, whether in the private sector or in government. Allegations of discrimination should be treated seriously by employers, and we welcome the announcement that the Cabinet Office are doing so.

“We have been monitoring the progress of the action plan from Professor Swaran Singh’s independent investigation into alleged discrimination within the Conservative and Unionist Party, which was published in May 2021.

“We have received regular updates from the party and have liaised with them on their progress. We will consider any findings from the Cabinet Office inquiry. If we are not satisfied with progress, we will not rule out the use of our legal powers.”

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