The comments weren’t acceptable, they were wrong, Sunak told BBC radio on Monday. Image Credit: REUTERS

LONDON: British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said on Monday that a Conservative lawmaker was wrong to say the mayor of London is controlled by Islamists, and also denied that the governing party tolerates anti-Muslim prejudice.

Sunak is under pressure to condemn Islamophobia after the comments by Lee Anderson, who was suspended from the Conservative Party group in Parliament on Saturday for comments about Mayor Sadiq Khan, amid growing tensions within British politics over the Israel-Hamas war.

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Anderson, a pugnacious populist, claimed Islamists had “got control” of Khan and the city of London. Khan is Muslim, and a member of the opposition Labour Party.

“These comments weren’t acceptable, they were wrong,” Sunak told BBC radio on Monday.

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“Words matter, especially in the current environment where tensions are running high and I think it’s incumbent on all of us to choose them carefully.”

Asked whether his party has an Islamophobia problem, Sunak said: “No, of course it doesn’t.’”

Opponents accused the Conservatives of deliberately raising tensions over pro-Palestinian protests that have been held most weekends since the Israel-Hamas conflict began in October. Sunak fired former Home Secretary Suella Braverman in November after she called the protests, which have drawn hundreds of thousands of demonstrators , “hate marches” and accused police of being too lenient with them.

The protests have been overwhelmingly peaceful, though there have been several dozen arrests over signs and chants allegedly supporting Hamas, a banned organization in Britain. Some people also say the mass marches have created an intimidating atmosphere for Jewish Londoners.


In an interview with right-wing TV channel GB News, Anderson criticised the police response to the demonstrations, leveling the blame on the mayor. He said “the Islamists … (have) got control of Khan and they’ve got control of London,” and claimed Khan had “given our capital city away to his mates.”

The suspension means Anderson, a deputy chairman of the Conservatives until last month, will sit in Parliament as an independent unless he joins another party such as the right-wing Reform UK, formerly known as the Brexit Party.

Labour said the Conservatives must go further to tackle prejudice, noting that Anderson was suspended for refusing to apologise rather than for his original comments about Khan.

Labour chairwoman Anneliese Dodds said Anderson’s remarks were “clearly not to do with who Sadiq Khan is, it was a slur that was directed at him because of Islamophobia.”

The move comes as tensions over the Israel-Hamas war roil British politics, with some lawmakers saying they fear for their safety after receiving threats over their positions on the conflict. Reports of both antisemitic and anti-Muslim abuse in Britain have soared since Hamas’ October 7 attack on Israel, which triggered the war in Gaza.

Last week an attempt to hold a House of Commons vote calling for a ceasefire descended into chaos after House of Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle departed from parliamentary custom by allowing votes on motions from three different parties, sparking a walkout by the Conservatives and Scottish National Party.

Hoyle said he had been trying to ensure that all lawmakers had the chance to make their positions clear in a climate of threat and intimidation, but faces calls for his resignation.