ITV News Political Correspondent Daniel Hewitt outlines how Ms Ghani's allegations have been received
Conservative MP Nusrat Ghani has said Boris Johnson told her he "could not get involved" after she alleged she was sacked because of her Muslim faith. Ms Ghani claimed she was informed by a government whip that she lost her job as transport minister in a mini-reshuffle in February 2020 because her faith was "making colleagues uncomfortable".
Chief Whip Mark Spencer outed himself as the individual who spoke to Ms Ghani, although he strongly denied using the words claimed.
The Conservative MP for Wealden met with Prime Minister Boris Johnson in July 2020 to discuss her allegations. No. 10 said the PM had "serious concern" about her claims and he invited her to begin a formal complaints process, but the Tory MP did not choose this route.
In a statement released on Sunday, Ms Ghani explained why she did not launch formal proceedings through the Tory party and said she only wanted the government “to take this seriously, investigate properly and ensure no other colleague has to endure this”.
She continued: “When I told the Prime Minister in June 2020 what had been said to me in the Government Whips’ Office I urged him to take it seriously as a government matter and instigate an inquiry.
“He wrote to me that he could not get involved and suggested I use the internal Conservative Party complaint process.
“This, as I had already pointed out, was very clearly not appropriate for something that happened on government business – I do not even know if the words that were conveyed to me about what was said in reshuffle meetings at Downing Street were by members of the Conservative Party.”
She added: "Those that have not had their identity and faith questioned cannot fully appreciate what it does to you."
Ms Ghani also called for an independent inquiry into her claims.
No. 10's spokesperson had previously 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."
The MP for Wealden in East Sussex said after losing her job as transport minister she was told in a briefing by government whips that her “Muslimness” had been raised as an issue at a meeting in Downing Street.Speaking to The Sunday Times, 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’.
“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.”
In her interview, Ms Ghani said she had not pursued the matter at the time after being warned she would be “ostracised by colleagues” and her “career and reputation would be destroyed”.
Mr Spencer took to Twitter and said he is the person to whom Ms Ghani is referring but her claims are "completely 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.”
He said Ms Ghani "declined" to use the formal Conservative complaints process.
Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab said there will be no “specific investigation” into Ms Ghani's claims, unless she submitted a formal complaint, which she has not done.
However, she received powerful Cabinet backing from Mr Javid and Mr Zahawi, intensifying the pressure on the Prime Minister to act.
The health secretary tweeted: “This is a very serious matter which needs a proper investigation. I would strongly support her in making a formal complaint – she must be heard.”
Earlier, Mr Zahawi tweeted: “Nus Ghani is a friend, a colleague and a brilliant parliamentarian. This has to be investigated properly and racism rooted out.”
Labour, backbench Tory MPs and faith groups have called for an investigation to take place into the matter, as well as wider allegations of Islamophobia in the Conservative Party.
Responding to accusations made by Ms Ghani, shadow attorney general Emily Thornberry said: “I know Nus Ghani… I have always found her to be a deeply serious and principled individual. When she makes an allegation like this, I believe her.”
Speaking to Times Radio, Ms Thornberry added that the Conservative Party “just don’t take Islamophobia in their midst seriously”.
She added: “I would like to see an independent inquiry into Islamophobia in the Tory Party in the same way that we quite rightly held an independent inquiry into the poison that is anti-Semitism in the Labour Party.”
The Muslim Council of Britain also called for an investigation, led by the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
Zara Mohammed, secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, said: “Nusrat Ghani’s testimony of Islamophobia in the Conservative Party is shocking, but not surprising.
“That she is experiencing this as a Muslim woman at the top of the party, only reinforces the deep-rooted nature of the problem. Institutional Islamophobia in the Conservative Party has gone on with impunity for far too long.
“Islamophobia should have no place in our politics. If Muslim members of the Conservative Party or any other party are facing prejudice and discrimination, then there is a critical problem. Our political landscape must be fair and inclusive for all.”
On Twitter, Conservative former minister Steve Baker condemned what had happened to his colleague, saying: “That Nus could be treated like this is completely intolerable.
“I value Nus Ghani as a great colleague and I’m appalled. We must get to the bottom of it.”
While Health Secretary Sajid Javid said it was a "very serious matter which needs a proper investigation and said he supported her making a formal complaint.
Tory MP Caroline Nokes, who is chairwoman of the Women and Equalities Committee, said she was “appalled” at what happened to Ms Ghani, adding: “I’ve had the most appalling reports to me about what has been said about me in Downing Street.
“And to be quite frank I’m horrified at it, because both Nus and I have sought to be good, hard-working Conservative MPs for our entire parliamentary career and to be talked about in that way, it’s horrific.”
William Wragg, the Conservative chairman of the Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, is due to meet the Metropolitan Police this week to discuss allegations that whips have “blackmailed” colleagues into voting with the government.