Lee Anderson ‘wrong’ to say Islamists control Sadiq Khan, says UK minister

Mark Harper refuses to say whether comments about London mayor were racist

Former Conservative vice-chair Lee Anderson was “wrong” to say Sadiq Khan was controlled by Islamists, the transport secretary Mark Harper has said, while repeatedly refusing to say whether the comments about the London mayor were racist.

Pressed on the former Conservative vice-chair’s description of Mr Khan, including the claim he had “given our capital city away to his mates”, Mark Harper declined to say if it was motivated by prejudice against the mayor, who is Muslim.

“Well, it was wrong,” Mr Harper told Sky News. “And I’m not going to get into arguing about the rights and wrongs. What he said wrong, and in my book, wrong is a strong word.”

Mr Harper indicated it was possible Mr Anderson, who lost the Conservative whip on Saturday after his comments the previous evening on GB News, could be welcomed back into the Tory fold if he apologised.


“That’s not a matter for me, that’s a matter for the chief whip,” Mr Harper said. “I’ve been chief whip in the past. I’m not going to tell the chief whip how to do his job.”

He added: “He said things about Sadiq Khan that weren’t true and that were quite wrong to say. He was given the opportunity to retract those comments and to apologise for them. He didn’t do so, so very clear, decisive leadership was taken and the whip has been removed really from him.”

Pressed on the same issue on BBC1’s Breakfast programme, Mr Harper said: “There are lots of things we can criticise Sadiq Khan for. What Lee Anderson said about him was not correct, and it was wrong for him to say it.”

Asked what message it would send to British Muslims if Mr Anderson was given back the whip, Harper added: “I think … the firm and decisive leadership that took the whip away from him very quickly, when he refused to retract and apologise, sends a very strong message that we don’t tolerate people saying such things in the Conservative party.”

Mr Anderson’s comments and the refusal by Conservatives to explicitly condemn the apparent anti-Muslim context, and prejudice against Muslims more widely, have prompted concern among some Tories.

Sayeeda Warsi, the Conservative peer who was a cabinet minister in David Cameron’s government, said Mr Sunak needed to “find the language” to “call Islamophobia Islamophobia”.

“What is it about the prime minister that he can’t even call out anti-Muslim racism and anti-Muslim bigotry? Why can’t he just use those words?” she told the Guardian.

In a statement on Sunday, Mr Sunak decried “the explosion in prejudice and anti-Semitism since the Hamas terrorist attacks on 7th October” in Israel. He did not explicitly refer to Islamophobia.

Mr Khan criticised the prime minister on social media for failing “to mention anti-Muslim hatred at all”.

Speaking on the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg show on Sunday, the deputy prime minister, Oliver Dowden, said he did not agree with Anderson’s comments but added: “I don’t believe that Lee Anderson said those remarks intending to be Islamophobic.” - Guardian