Pro-Palestinian protesters block landmark Tower Bridge

UK Conservatives suspend ties with MP who said London mayor controlled by Islamists

British ruling party announces step against Lee Anderson after he refused to apologize for saying Sadiq Khan has ‘actually given our capital city away to his mates’

British MP Lee Anderson arrives to the annual Conservative Party Conference in Manchester, northern England, on October 2, 2023. (Oli Scarff/AFP)
British MP Lee Anderson arrives to the annual Conservative Party Conference in Manchester, northern England, on October 2, 2023. (Oli Scarff/AFP)

LONDON — The UK’s governing Conservative Party has suspended ties with one if its lawmakers after he accused London Mayor Sadiq Khan of being controlled by Islamists, as tensions over the Israel-Hamas war roil British politics.

The party said on Saturday that Lee Anderson was suspended after he refused to apologize for remarks made about Khan in a television interview on Friday. The action means that Anderson, a deputy chairman of the Conservatives until last month, will sit in parliament as an independent.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and other senior Conservative leaders had come under increasing pressure to reject the comments, which the chairwoman of the opposition Labour Party called “unambiguously racist and Islamophobic.”

“Following his refusal to apologize for comments made yesterday, the chief whip has suspended the Conservative whip from Lee Anderson MP,” a spokesperson for Tory lawmaker Simon Hart said.

Hart’s chief whip position makes him responsible for internal Conservative Party discipline.

The controversy comes as the Israel-Hamas war fuels tensions in British society. Pro-Palestinian marches in London have regularly drawn hundreds of thousands of demonstrators against Israel calling for an immediate ceasefire, even as critics describe the events as “antisemitic hate marches.” Figures released over the last week show that both anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim incidents have risen sharply since Hamas’s devastating onslaught against Israel on October 7, which sparked the ongoing war, with a recent report finding the former have since surged to record highs.

Pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel demonstrators wave Palestinian flags and hold placards as they protest in Parliament Square in London on February 21, 2024, during an Opposition Day motion in the House of Commons calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. (HENRY NICHOLLS / AFP)

That anger has spilled over into parliament, where some lawmakers say they fear for their safety after receiving threats over their positions on the conflict in Gaza.

In his interview with GB News, Anderson criticized the police response to pro-Palestinian demonstrations in London, where on Saturday protesters blocked traffic on the landmark Tower Bridge and shot off flares, leveling the blame on Khan, who was the first Muslim mayor of a Western capital when first elected in 2016.

Anderson said he didn’t “actually believe that the Islamists have got control of our country, but what I do believe is they’ve got control of Khan and they’ve got control of London.”

“He’s actually given our capital city away to his mates,” added Anderson, the Tory MP for a seat in central England.

Anderson said late Saturday that he understood his comments had put Hart and Sunak in a “difficult position” but stopped short of apologizing.

“I fully accept that they had no option but to suspend the whip in these circumstances,” he added.

“However, I will continue to support the government’s efforts to call out extremism in all its forms — be that antisemitism or Islamophobia.”

His remarks prompted criticism from across the political spectrum and Khan flatly rejected the allegations, telling the BBC that all forms of hatred need to be rejected, including antisemitism, Islamophobia and misogyny.

“My concern is there’ll be people across the country, people who are Muslim, or look like Muslims, who’ll be really concerned about entering into politics, because they know if these are the sorts of comments that are said against me by a senior Conservative, what chance do they have?” he said.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan gives his acceptance speech after being declared the winner of the London Mayoral election at City Hall in London on May 8, 2021, winning his second term. (Justin Tallis/AFP)

Anderson’s comments and the subsequent furor followed ex-interior minister Suella Braverman also claiming in a newspaper article that “the Islamists, the extremists and the anti-Semites are in charge now.”

She was responding in part to chaotic scenes in the House of Commons earlier this week over rival motions calling for a ceasefire in Gaza.

Speaker Lindsay Hoyle faced a furious backlash for going against usual practice on that day and allowing a vote on a Labour amendment to a motion.

Hoyle said he wanted the widest possible debate on the issue, but also noted that he was eager to defuse threats of violence against MPs who had so far not voted for a ceasefire in Gaza.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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