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Lee Anderson says public supports him over Sadiq Khan comments

<span>Lee Anderson said he had received ‘lots of support privately’ from Conservative MPs.</span><span>Photograph: Toby Melville/Reuters</span>
Lee Anderson said he had received ‘lots of support privately’ from Conservative MPs.Photograph: Toby Melville/Reuters

Lee Anderson has said he did nothing wrong in saying Sadiq Khan was under the control of Islamists, claiming he had received overwhelming support from the public and MPs over comments that lost him the Conservative whip.

In his first media interviews beyond GB News, which employs him as a presenter, the former Tory vice-chair said that when he accused the London mayor, who is a Muslim, of giving London “to his mates”, those “in the real world” backed him.

Anderson again refused to rule out defecting to Reform UK or contesting the next election as an independent, saying he would nonetheless definitely stand again for his Ashfield seat.

GB News reported on Tuesday that Anderson had met Reform’s leader, Richard Tice, at a service station hotel in Derbyshire on Sunday for one-to-one talks.

Anderson denied he had singled out Khan because he is Muslim, telling ITV News: “I didn’t think what religion he was, I just thought, I just think he’s a useless mayor who panders to this certain section of people.”

The media were, Anderson added, “suggesting that I picked on him because he’s Muslim and that’s, that’s a terrible thing to do”.

Earlier on Tuesday, Rishi Sunak’s official spokesperson said it was “unacceptable to conflate all Muslims with Islamist extremism or the extreme ideology of Islamism”.

Anderson said that while his words about Khan on GB News on Friday has been “a little bit clumsy”, he did not accept any fault. Asked by ITV if he believed his comments had been wrong in any way, the MP replied: “No, not at all.”

Saying he had received “lots of support privately” from Conservative MPs, Anderson said the public also backed him: “I’ve got an email pinging in every 10 seconds in support, from not just my constituents, from all around the country. I think I’m on the right side of the argument on this – and history will judge me on this.”

In another interview, with Channel 5 News, Anderson refused to accept there was a difference between arguing that Khan had not properly controlled the policing of pro-Palestine demonstrations and that he was controlled by Islamists.

“Maybe, maybe to you and the media, but have a walk around the real world, outside this bubble, and it speaks to people in my patch, who actually agree with what I’ve said,” Anderson said.

He argued that Sunak had made a mistake in removing the whip from him, but that he accepted the prime minister’s decision, telling ITV: “I don’t hold any malice towards him. He’s got a job. He is the boss, he’s the manager.”

Saying he was “not prepared to discuss my political journey beyond this week”, Anderson refused to rule out joining Reform, the party formed by Nigel Farage, while telling Channel 5: “I will tell you this: whatever happens, my name will be on the ballot paper come the next election.”

Tice has previously said Anderson’s comments about Khan were “supported by millions of British citizens”. Reform’s deputy leader, Ben Habib, said any Tory MP wishing to join would need to explain themselves and the party would need to be sure they were “ideologically sound”.

Anderson’s vehemence, coupled with his fondness for regular media appearances, not least on GB News, which pays him £100,000 a year, presents No 10 with an continuing controversy, one that threatens to split the Conservatives.

While some Tories have been open in condemning Anderson for words they described as Islamophobic, others in the party argued he was justified in highlighting the wider issue of Islamist militancy.

Sunak and Downing Street have faced accusations of ignoring structural anti-Muslim feeling in the Conservatives by declining, before the spokesperson’s comments on Wednesday morning, to state whether Anderson’s comments had been potentially prejudiced.

Earlier on Tuesday, the illegal migration minister, Michael Tomlinson, sent out on the morning broadcast round, had an interview on LBC radio abruptly terminated when the interviewer, Nick Ferrari, lost patience with his repeated refusal to elaborate on Anderson’s fault beyond saying his words had been “wrong”.

No 10 has indicated that Anderson would regain the Conservative whip if he apologised, a course of action he was urged to take by James Cleverly, the home secretary.

“I think Lee should apologise, what he said wasn’t accurate, it wasn’t fair, but the chief whip and the prime minister have made the party position absolutely clear on this,” Cleverly said during a trip to the US.