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Minister refuses to say whether Tories will take more cash from racism row donor

A Cabinet minister has refused to confirm whether the Conservatives have taken another £5 million donation from Frank Hester, the businessman accused of making racist remarks about an MP.

Mark Harper also declined to comment on “hypotheticals” when pressed repeatedly on whether the party will accept more cash from the top donor.

Mr Hester allegedly said in 2019 that Diane Abbott, Britain’s longest-serving black MP, made him “want to hate all black women” and that she “should be shot”.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has resisted calls to return the £10 million Mr Hester has given his party, saying the businessman’s “remorse should be accepted”.

Reports emerged this week that Mr Hester may have offered £5 million more, which has not yet been published by the Electoral Commission.

On the Sunday morning media round, Mr Harper repeatedly evaded questions about the extra cash.

Frank Hester apology
Frank Hester has been under fire after it emerged he allegedly insulted MP Diane Abbott (CHOGM Rwanda 2022/YouTube/PA)

The Transport Secretary told the BBC’s Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg programme: “We took a donation that predated his comments and we’ve declared that in the usual way, which is how people know that he’s made that donation.

“He’s made comments and he’s apologised for them and the Prime Minister has made it very clear that the donation stands.

“If in the future there’s a future donation, that will be declared in the usual way. But that’s a hypothetical question that will be looked at.”

Mr Sunak has been criticised for his handling of the fallout from the emergence of Mr Hester’s alleged comments.

The Prime Minister eventually condemned the remarks as “racist”, but only after Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch broke ranks with Downing Street to call them out as such.

Rishi Sunak
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has insisted Frank Hester’s apology ‘should be accepted’ (Leon Neal/PA)

Mr Harper defended Mr Sunak over the 24-hour prevarication, saying: “Although you said it took an age in political terms, it didn’t really take very long at all.

“The Prime Minister was very clear on Wednesday and his spokesman had been clear the evening before that they were racist comments.”

When it was put to him that No 10 changed its tune only after Ms Badenoch’s intervention, Mr Harper said: “I’m sure people wanted to make sure and check the facts.

“Having an argument about how many hours it took to say something, I don’t really think is the issue here.”

Ms Abbott has said “no Conservative has apologised” to her after the emergence of Mr Hester’s 2019 verbal attack and criticised the governing party for accepting his apology when he had not said sorry for being racist or “inciting violence”.

Asked whether the Conservatives had a problem with race, Mr Harper replied: “Absolutely not.”

But former Downing Street adviser Samuel Kasumu said there was a racism “challenge” in politics, pointing to the Forde Report on racism in the Labour Party and the Singh Investigation into Islamophobia within the Conservative Party.

“So the facts do present a really damning picture, and so clearly, there is a challenge that needs to be dealt with,” he said.

Meanwhile, Tory former cabinet minister Sir Sajid Javid warned in a Times op-ed that politicians must address a “sickness of social cohesion” across Britain.