Sadiq Khan calls for ‘zero tolerance for politics of division’ after Anderson row

Sadiq Khan called for a “zero tolerance for the politics of division” as the row over Lee Anderson’s rant against the Mayor of London continued.

Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden said he does not believe Anderson was “intending” to be Islamophobic when he made widely criticised remarks that Mr Khan is controlled by “Islamists”.

The comments led to former deputy Tory chairman Anderson’s suspension as an MP.

Dowden insisted the Conservative Party takes action against racism and his colleague would have kept the whip if he had apologised.

But Mr Khan tweeted: “In recent months we’ve seen a terrifying spike in hate towards Jewish and Muslim communities.

“Racism is racism. There should be no hierarchy.

“Now, more than ever, we should be seeking to bring our country together. There must be zero tolerance for the politics of division.”

Mr Dowden also defended former home secretary Suella Braverman, who recently claimed the UK is “sleepwalking into a ghettoised society” with “Islamists” in charge.

He insisted “worries about language” should not stop democratically-elected politicians calling out “threats coming often from Islamist extremists which are being used to intimidate Jews and… debate in our own Parliament”.

After one of the most fractious weeks in Westminster in recent years, Rishi Sunak issued a statement warning of the dangers polarisation and extremism pose to UK politics.

Sadiq Khan (Victoria Jones/PA) (PA Wire)
Sadiq Khan (Victoria Jones/PA) (PA Wire)

The Prime Minister did not mention Islamophobia or the fallout from Anderson’s comments directly, focusing instead on the importance of not allowing democracy to “bend to the threat of violence and intimidation”.

He was speaking after a week which saw Parliament descend into chaos over a row about the Commons Speaker’s handling of a vote on Gaza and concerns for MPs’ safety.

“Legitimate protests hijacked by extremists to promote and glorify terrorism, elected representatives verbally threatened and physically, violently targeted, and antisemitic tropes beamed onto our own Parliament building,” Mr Sunak said.

“And in Parliament this week a very dangerous signal was sent that this sort of intimidation works. It is toxic for our society and our politics and is an affront to the liberties and values we hold dear here in Britain.”

Business minister Nus Ghani and senior backbencher Sir Sajid Javid had been among Tory figures joining a growing chorus of criticism from across the political divide.

Former Justice Secretary Sir Robert Buckland slammed Anderson’s remarks as “racist” and “repugnant”, stressing that “proper Conservatives” want to bring the country together.

Anyone opposed to that agenda should “get out and join another party,” he said.

Labour are calling on Mr Sunak to confirm that no “deals or undertakings” were offered that would see Anderson have the whip returned.

In the backlash since Friday, comparisons have been drawn with Labour’s recent handling of a leaked recording in which a parliamentary candidate suggested Israel had allowed Hamas’s October attack as a pretext to invade Gaza.

The party stood by Azhar Ali after he apologised but pulled its support when fresh reports emerged that he had blamed “people in the media from certain Jewish quarters” for the suspension of a pro-Palestinian MP.

Anderson, a standard bearer for the Tory right, will now sit as an Independent unless he defects to another party that chooses to offer him its backing.

Reform UK leader Richard Tice did not rule out opening the door to Mr Anderson after his suspension, telling reporters on Saturday: “I haven’t been in touch with Lee, he hasn’t been in touch with me.”

Anderson was deputy chairman of the Tory Party until resigning in January to rebel against Mr Sunak’s legislation to revive the stalled plan to send some asylum seekers to Rwanda.

Lee Anderson and Rishi Sunak (Jacob King/PA) (PA Wire)
Lee Anderson and Rishi Sunak (Jacob King/PA) (PA Wire)

He was among some 60 Conservatives who voted in favour of an amendment that sought to ensure UK and international law cannot be used to prevent or delay a person being sent to Kigali under the scheme.

Anderson has served since 2019 as MP for Ashfield, one of the previously Labour seats in the so-called red wall where voters switched to the Tories post-Brexit to give Boris Johnson his landslide victory.

On Sunday, he posted on X, formerly Twitter, that he had visited a Kirkby pub known as the Dog House, where he was seen enjoying a pint of Birra Moretti.

The Muslim Council of Britain welcomed the MP’s suspension but said the Conservative Party has “an Islamophobia problem” and his remarks are “only the tip of an iceberg”.

A Conservative spokesperson said: “An investigation and subsequent independent review, both conducted over several years by professor Swaran Singh, found no evidence of institutional racism in the Conservative Party.”