Boris Johnson Orders Inquiry Into Lawmaker’s Claims of Islamophobia
LONDON — Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain on Monday ordered an inquiry into an allegation of Islamophobia within his government, after a former transport minister said that she had lost her job in part because of her “Muslimness.”
The allegation has deepened the tensions engulfing Mr. Johnson’s leadership as his government awaits the results this week of an inquiry into parties in Downing Street during coronavirus lockdowns.
Giving way to mounting pressure, Mr. Johnson ordered the formal investigation into the firing of the transport minister, Nusrat Ghani, who lost her job in the government during a reshuffle in February 2020, soon after Mr. Johnson had won a landslide election victory.
In an interview with The Sunday Times this weekend, Ms. Ghani told the newspaper that her “Muslimness” had been given as one reason for her losing her job. She said that she was also told that her status as a female Muslim minister had made others uncomfortable.
The new inquiry comes at a moment of acute political peril for Mr. Johnson as he awaits findings from a separate investigation, conducted by the senior civil servant Sue Gray, into a swirl of allegations about lockdown parties held in Downing Street. Mr. Johnson has been accused of misleading Parliament about what he knew about those events, and if the Gray report finds those accusations to be true, he would find himself under intense pressure to resign.
Last week, the government’s efforts to steady its position with a series of policy announcements were blown off course by claims that “whips,” lawmakers who are responsible for party discipline, had threatened other Conservative legislators into supporting the government.
Christian Wakeford, a lawmaker who recently defected from the Conservatives to the opposition Labour Party, said that he had been warned that if he voted against the government in a debate over free school meals, there would be no funding for a school in his constituency.
Ms. Ghani’s allegations have added to the sense of political crisis. She said that she had been given the explanations relating to her faith when she asked why she had been fired, but she did not specify to whom she had spoken.
Writing on Twitter, the government’s chief whip, Mark Spencer, identified himself as the person concerned, but denied the claims. He said he considered the allegations defamatory.
Ms. Ghani said in a statement released on Sunday that Mr. Johnson had refused to get involved when the issue was raised with him in June 2020, instead urging her to make a formal complaint to the Conservative Party.
“Not a day has gone by without thinking about what I was told and wondering why I was in politics, while hoping for the government to take this seriously,” Ms. Ghani added. “Those that have not had their identity and faith questioned cannot fully appreciate what it does to you.”
In a statement released early on Monday, Downing Street said that Mr. Johnson had now asked the Cabinet Office to conduct an inquiry into the allegations.
“At the time these allegations were first made, the prime minister recommended to her that she make a formal complaint to CCHQ,” the statement said, referring to Conservative Campaign Headquarters, the party’s central office.
It added that Ms. Ghani “did not take up this offer,” that Mr. Johnson had “now asked officials to establish the facts about what happened,” and that he “takes these claims very seriously.”
Ms. Ghani welcomed the decision in a statement posted on Twitter on Monday, but she said that she wanted to see the terms of reference of the inquiry, which, she asserted, “must include all that was said in Downing Street and by the whip.”