There are calls from government ministers to investigate Nusrat Ghani's "very serious" allegations, says Political Correspondent Daniel Hewitt
Conservative Chief Whip Mark Spencer has said claims he told a Tory MP she was sacked from her ministerial post due to her Muslim faith are "completely false" and he "never used the words attributed to" him.
Tory MP Nusrat Ghani accused a government whip of telling her that she was sacked from her job as transport minister due to her "Muslimness".
Mr Spencer took to Twitter following the allegations and said he is the person to whom Ms Ghani is referring but her claims are "false".
He tweeted: “To ensure other Whips are not drawn into this matter, I am identifying myself as the person Nusrat Ghani MP has made claims about this evening.
“These accusations are completely false and I consider them to be defamatory. I have never used those words attributed to me.”
Mr Spencer added: “It is disappointing that when this issue was raised before Ms Ghani declined to refer the matter to the Conservative Party for a formal investigation.”
He said the claims relate to a meeting in March 2020.
“When Ms Ghani raised them she was invited to use the formal CCHQ complaints procedure. She declined to do so,” Mr Spencer tweeted.
Mr Spencer had earlier tweeted and then swiftly deleted a similar but shorter response.
No10 responded to the claims on Sunday and said Boris Johnson met with Ms Ghani in July 2020 to discuss her claims and suggested she launched a formal complaints process.
A spokesperson said: "After being made aware of these extremely serious claims, the prime minister met with Nusrat Ghani to discuss them. He then wrote to her expressing his serious concern and inviting her to begin a formal complaint process. She did not subsequently do so. The Conservative Party does not tolerate prejudice or discrimination of any kind."
Speaking on Sunday morning, Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab said there will be no “specific investigation” into Ms Ghani's claims.
Mr Raab said that while Ms Ghani’s allegation was “incredibly serious” there would be no investigation by the Conservative Party unless she submitted a formal complaint, which she has not done.
“He (Mr Spencer) has categorically denied it in what can only be described as the most forthright and robust terms indeed,” Mr Raab told Sky News’s Trevor Phillips On Sunday programme.
“If there are any claims like this they should result in a formal complaint which allows a formal investigation to take place.
“As the chief whip has pointed out, Nus hasn’t made a formal complaint. She was asked to do so. In the absence of doing so there will be no specific investigation into this.”
The MP for Wealden in East Sussex lost her job as a transport minister in a mini-reshuffle in February 2020 following the resignation of Sajid Javid as chancellor and said she was told it was because her Muslim faith was “making colleagues uncomfortable”.
In an interview with The Sunday Times, Ms Ghani said that in a briefing afterwards with the whips, she was told that her “Muslimness” had been raised as an issue at a meeting in Downing Street.
Speaking to the newspaper, Ms Ghani said: "It was like being punched in the stomach. I felt humiliated and powerless.
“I was told that at the reshuffle meeting in Downing Street that ‘Muslimness’ was raised as an ‘issue’, that my ‘Muslim women minister’ status was making colleagues uncomfortable and that there were concerns ‘that I wasn’t loyal to the party as I didn’t do enough to defend the party against Islamophobia allegations’.
In 2018, Ms Ghani tweeted about how she was proud to be the "first female Muslim Minister to speak from the House of Commons dispatch box"
“When I challenged whether this was in any way acceptable and made clear there was little I could do about my identity, I had to listen to a monologue on how hard it was to define when people are being racist and that the party doesn’t have a problem and I needed to do more to defend it.
“It was very clear to me that the whips and No 10 were holding me to a higher threshold of loyalty than others because of my background and faith.”
A spokesperson on behalf of the Whips Office told ITV News: “These claims are categorically untrue.“Ministerial roles are appointed on merit and rewards for hard work.“The Conservative Party does not tolerate any form of racism or discrimination.”
Ms Ghani's allegations comments come as the conduct of the whips’ office is under intense scrutiny amid accusations they used intimidation and blackmail to pressurise MPs seeking to oust Boris Johnson as prime minister.
MP William Wragg claimed whips had threatened to withdraw funding if MPs did not back Boris Johnson
The senior Tory who first raised the issue, William Wragg – the chair of the Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee - praised Ms Ghani’s courage in speaking out.
“Nus is very brave to speak out. I was truly appalled to learn of her experience. She shows such strength and integrity supporting others,” he tweeted.
“I am proud to have her as my friend and colleague. We must change things for the better.”
Mr Wragg is due to discuss his claims with a Scotland Yard detective next week, adding to the pressure on Mr Johnson who is facing calls to resign over lockdown drinks parties in Downing Street.
Cabinet minister and Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi tweeted his support of Ms Ghani and has called for an investigation.
"There is no place for islamophobia or any form of racism in our Conservative party," he wrote.
"Nus Ghani is a friend, a colleague and a brilliant parliamentarian. This has to be investigated properly and racism routed out. #standwithNus"Fellow Tory MP and former minister Steve Baker said Ms Ghani’s treatment was “completely intolerable”.
“I value Nus Ghani as a great colleague and I’m appalled. We must get to the bottom of it,” he tweeted.
Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner said she was “absolutely disgusted” by the claims.
“Shocking and truly appalling allegations. It is unacceptable for anyone to ever be discriminated against for their faith,” she said.