Downing Street refuses to call Lee Anderson’s comments Islamophobic

Downing Street has refused to describe Lee Anderson’s comments as Islamophobic amid a growing row over the use of the term.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman would not use the term to describe Mr Anderson’s claims that “Islamists” have “got control” of Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London.

Kemi Badenoch, the equalities minister, rejected the term as defined by Labour, which describes Islamophobia as “a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness”.

It is understood Mrs Badenoch feels the definition of Islamophobia, which has also been adopted by the Lib Dems, Plaid Cymru, the Mayor of London and all major political parties in Scotland, runs the risk of being used to shut down legitimate criticism of Islam.

Both Labour and the Lib Dems are demanding that Rishi Sunak use the term to describe Mr Anderson’s remarks.

But the Prime Minister’s official spokesman refused to do so, saying: “The PM has been clear that we don’t tolerate any anti-Muslim hatred in any form, and we will combat that and any sort of discrimination of that kind, as we do any racism or prejudice and intolerance wherever it occurs.”

Kemi Badenoch claims Labour’s definition would create 'a blasphemy law via the back door' if adopted
Kemi Badenoch claims Labour's Islamophobia definition would create 'a blasphemy law' if adopted - Henry Nicholls/Reuters

Downing Street reiterated the Government’s refusal to back the definition of Islamophobia coined by the all-party parliamentary group on British Muslims, which was adopted by Labour in 2019 as “an important statement of principle and solidarity”.

“As the Government has stated previously, there are issues in relation to the all-party parliamentary group’s definition of Islamophobia, which conflates race with religion, does not address sectarianism within Islam, and may unintentionally undermine freedom of speech,” said the spokesman.

“But as I’ve said, we have always been clear that this Government does not and will not tolerate anti-Muslim hatred.”

Mr Sunak has condemned Mr Anderson’s comments as “wrong” and “unacceptable”, but the refusal to describe them as Islamophobic led Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, to say the Prime Minister was “too weak” to “call it out for what it is”.

The Lib Dems also urged Mr Sunak to go further. Daisy Cooper, the deputy leader, said: “The refusal of Rishi Sunak and his ministers to properly call out Lee Anderson’s extreme comments shows just how low the Conservative Party has fallen.

“Rishi Sunak needs to condemn Anderson’s comments for what they are – Islamophobic and racist – and make clear he won’t be let back into the Conservative Party.”

Mrs Badenoch has claimed Labour would risk creating a “blasphemy law” with its definition of Islamophobia and said it was best to use the term “anti-Muslim hatred” to protect both religious freedom and “the freedom to criticise religion”.

Anneliese Dodds, Labour’s shadow equalities secretary, has accused senior Tories of failing to “call out Islamophobia” in the wake of Mr Anderson’s suspension, suggesting this was because the party had refused to “adopt the definition used by every other major political party in Britain”.

But Mrs Badenoch suggested taking this line would risk compromising “the freedom to criticise religion” and said Labour’s

definition was “not in line with law as written”.

She wrote on X, formerly Twitter:

Linking to a letter sent to Sajid Javid when he was home secretary, in which dozens of signatories alleged that the all-party parliamentary group’s definition of Islamophobia “threatens civil liberties”, Mrs Badenoch added: “Anti-Muslim hatred is more precise and better reflects the UK’s laws, as others have noted.”

The Cabinet minister was responding to a tweet from Ms Dodds.

Mr Khan has accused Mr Sunak of “enabling anti-Muslim hatred in the Conservative Party”. Mr Anderson admitted his original remarks were “clumsy”, but said saying sorry “would be a sign of weakness”.

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