Rishi Sunak says Tory donor's alleged comments about MP Diane Abbott were 'racist and wrong'

Tory donor, Frank Hester, has apologised after reportedly saying MP Diane Abbott made him 'want to hate all black people' and that she 'should be shot'

Comments reportedly made by a major Conservative Party donor were “racist and wrong”, Downing Street has said after earlier refusing to describe them as such.

Frank Hester is alleged to have said Diane Abbott, Britain’s longest-serving black MP, made him “want to hate all black women” and that she “should be shot”.

Rishi Sunak came under increasing pressure over the remarks as Cabinet minister Kemi Badenoch broke ranks to describe them as “racist” while Number 10 continued to resist saying whether it believed they were.

In a new statement issued on Tuesday evening, the prime minister’s spokesman said: “The comments allegedly made by Frank Hester were racist and wrong. He has now rightly apologised for the offence caused and where remorse is shown it should be accepted.

“The prime minister is clear there is no place for racism in public life and as the first British-Asian prime minister leading one of the most ethnically diverse Cabinets in our history, the UK is living proof of that fact.”

Ms Abbott, a former Labour MP, described the comments made about her by Mr Hester as "frightening".

Police are understood to have been contacted in relation to the the Guardian report about comments allegedly made by Mr Hester.

A Metropolitan Police spokesperson said that officers from the Parliamentary Liaison and Investigation Team were in contact with Ms Abbott and officers from West Yorkshire Police regarding the report.

"To hear someone talking like this is worrying", Ms Abbott said in a statement on Tuesday morning.

"I live in Hackney and do not drive so I find myself, at week-ends, popping on a bus or even walking places more than most MPs. I am a single woman and that makes me vulnerable anyway"

She also added: "For all of my career as an MP I have thought it important, not to live in a bubble, but to mix and mingle with ordinary people.

"The fact that two MPs have been murdered in recent years makes talk like this all the more alarming.

"I am currently not a member of the Parliamentary Labour Party but remain a member of the Labour Party itself so I am hoping for public support from Keir Starmer."

Mr Hester says he is "deeply sorry" for his comments.

The chief executive of The Phoenix Partnership (TPP), has admitted making “rude” comments, but said they had “nothing to do with her gender nor colour of skin”.

Mr Hester issued a follow up statement on Tuesday afternoon saying "racism... is a poison that has no place in public life."

"We should have the confidence to discuss our differences openly and even playfully", he continued.

Business and Trade Secretary Kemi Badenoch said in a post on X that Mr Hester's comments about Ms Abbott "were racist", and "the idea of linking criticism of her to being a black woman is appalling."

She however went on to say "there needs to be space for forgiveness where there is contrition".

Government minister Graham Stuart said Mr Hester shouldn't be "destroyed" over the comments, after they were first reported by The Guardian, refusing to call them racist, saying he was "not ready to put a label on it".

"Do we have to destroy this man because he said these unacceptable things? I would hope not", he said.

Labour and the Liberal Democrats have called on the Tories to return the money from Mr Hester.

Calls that Mr Stuart resisted, adding: "These comments if true are pretty awful, but does that mean this person has no value? Are we going to cancel him? He can't donate to a political party?"

He proceeded to speak at length about cancel culture and "tolerance".

Adding: "It's funny, the people who preach tolerance the most... seem always to be the least intolerant", but Mr Stuart insisted: "I'm not remotely trying to justify this".

"If you went back through my life in every private moment, and you took every time I was furious about something in politics and took it out of context and put it on your programme now, I think I'd be cancelled," he said.

Sir Keir Starmer told ITV's Lorraine programme the comments were "abhorrent", and that Mr Hester is "pretending that what was said wasn't racist".

Mr Hester donated £10 million to the Tories last year, according to Electoral Commission records.

He individually donated £5 million to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s party in May and gave another £5 million via his healthcare software firm in November.

The Guardian reported that Mr Hester’s remarks about Ms Abbott were made in 2019, meaning that they likely occurred when she was shadow home secretary under former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

The newspaper reported that during a meeting at his Leeds company headquarters, Mr Hester, having previously criticised an executive at another organisation, went on to discuss Ms Abbott, the first black woman elected to parliament.

He reportedly said: “It’s like trying not to be racist but you see Diane Abbott on the TV, and you’re just like… you just want to hate all black women because she’s there.

“And I don’t hate all black women at all, but I think she should be shot. (The executive) and Diane Abbott need to be shot.”

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ITV News' Political Editor Robert Peston says it's "difficult to see how the public sector" can award Mr Hester future contracts, because of a growing focus on diversity, equality and inclusion.

The Lib Dems' chief whip urged Mr Sunak to rule out “any future peerage” for Mr Hester.

Ms Abbott, first elected as MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington in 1987, has sat as an independent since April after the Labour whip was withdrawn following comments she made in The Observer suggesting Jewish, Irish and Traveller people are not subject to racism “all their lives”.

She is awaiting the outcome of an independent complaints process set-up by Labour to investigate her remarks.

The Guardian reported that TPP has been paid more than £400 million by the NHS and other government bodies since 2016, having been given responsibility to look after 60 million UK medical records.

According to the TPP website, Mr Hester founded the company in 1997 as he worked on integrated care models.

TPP describes the firm as providing “leading software that is transforming healthcare worldwide”.

In 2015, the businessman was made a member of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for his services to healthcare.

Mr Hester has been invited on several government trade missions in the past, including visiting India with then-prime minister David Cameron in 2013.

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