Downing Street has ordered a Cabinet Office inquiry into claims a former minister was sacked from government over concerns surrounding her “Muslimness”.
Nusrat Ghani said on Saturday that a Conservative party whip informed her that her “Muslimness was raised as an issue” by Number 10 as one reason for her being fired from government.
The claim comes as Boris Johnson, the prime minister, prepares for the publication of a long-awaited investigation into a series of Whitehall parties that broke coronavirus restrictions. Sue Gray, a senior civil servant, is expected to conclude her inquiry and publish the findings in the coming days.
Many Conservative MPs have said they will decide whether to submit letters of no confidence in Johnson based on her findings — notably whether he misled parliament about a party held in the Number 10 garden on May 20 2020 that he attended.
Ghani, who served as a transport minister from January 2018 until February 2020, said the whip told her that her “Muslim woman minister status was making colleagues feel uncomfortable”, according to the Sunday Times newspaper.
She stated that she felt “humiliated and powerless” and was warned not to discuss the issue or her “career and reputation would be destroyed”.
Mark Spencer, chief whip, identified himself as the whip she spoke to in March 2020 but described her comments as “completely false” and “defamatory”.
The claim has led to allegations that Johnson failed to investigate allegations of Islamophobia within his government.
Downing Street said on Sunday that Johnson met Ghani in July 2020 after he was made aware of “these extremely serious claims” and later wrote to her “expressing his serious concern and inviting her to begin a formal complaint process” through the Conservative party.
Ghani responded that she felt the allegations were “a government matter” and not for the Tory party and so did not take up the offer. She added that Johnson told her “he could not get involved” in the dispute.
Number 10 said on Monday: “The prime minister has asked the Cabinet Office to conduct an inquiry into the allegations made by Nusrat Ghani MP.
“At the time these allegations were first made, the prime minister recommended to her that she make a formal complaint to CCHQ. She did not take up this offer.
“The prime minister has now asked officials to establish the facts about what happened.”
Johnson on Monday told reporters he took Ghani’s claims “extremely seriously”, adding that he was “glad” that an investigation was being conducted.
“This is something I take personally extremely seriously, I took it very seriously 18 months ago, we must wait and see what the investigation produces,” he said.
Commenting on the planned inquiry, Ghani said: “As I said to the prime minister last night, all I want is for this to be taken seriously and for him to investigate.
“I welcome his decision to do that now. The terms of reference of the inquiry must include all that was said in Downing Street and by the whip. I look forward to seeing the terms of reference.”
Ghani has been defended by several prominent Conservatives, including two cabinet ministers. Sajid Javid, health secretary, described her allegations as “a very serious matter” that warranted “a proper investigation”.
Education secretary Nadhim Zahawi called for the allegations to be “investigated properly” and “racism routed [sic] out”. He wrote on Twitter with a hashtag #standwithNus, “there is no place for Islamophobia or any form of racism in our Conservatives party”.