Sunak warns of ‘explosion in prejudice and antisemitism’

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Sunak warns of ‘explosion in prejudice and antisemitism’

Prime minister said legitimate protests were being hijacked by extremists in the UK - but failed to address 'Islamist' comments made by MP Lee Anderson

Lee Harpin is the Jewish News's political editor

The group chanted: “Free, free Palestine”; “Sit down, join us”; and “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” as they protested in the centre of the station.
The group chanted: “Free, free Palestine”; “Sit down, join us”; and “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” as they protested in the centre of the station.

Rishi Sunak has warned of an “explosion in prejudice and antisemitism” in the UK since the attacks by Hamas on Israel on 7 October, saying incidents are as “unacceptable as they are un-British”.

The prime minister added: “Legitimate protests hijacked by extremists to promote and glorify terrorism, elected representatives verbally threatened and physically, violently targeted and antisemitic tropes beamed onto our own Parliament building,’ he said, with reference to events outside Westminster last week.

But Sunak’s statement was criticised for failing to address comments made by Tory MP Lee Anderson who was suspended from his party on Saturday for refusing to apologise for saying “Islamists” have “got control” of the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan.

In Saturday evening’s statement, the PM said: “The explosion in prejudice and antisemitism since the Hamas attacks on the 7 October [2023] are as unacceptable as they are un-British. Simply put antisemitism is racism.”

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He added:”The events of recent weeks are but the latest in an emerging pattern which should not be tolerated.”

Labour’s Keir Starmer called for Sunak to “get a grip” of his party.

Ashfield MP Anderson was criticised by both Labour and Tory MPs after he told GB News on Friday evening: “I don’t actually believe that these 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.”

Sajid Javid, the former health secretary, was among those said to have been angered by the remarks, as was Nusrat Ghani, a serving minister and the first female Muslim minister to speak from the House of Commons dispatch box.

She revealed that she had confronted Anderson over his comments.

Manchester metro mayor Andy Burnham said: “Rightly, the Tories take a tough line on antisemitism, like Labour have been doing. But when it comes to Islamophobia, they have ambivalence and attempt to explain it all away. There is no justification for these comments.”

Khan called Mr Anderson’s comments “Islamophobic, anti-Muslim and racist” and criticised the PM  and his Cabinet for what he called a “deafening silence” on the issue.

An hour later, a spokesman for the Tory party’s chief whip Simon Hart confirmed that the whip had been removed from Anderson “following his refusal to apologise” for his comments.

Removal of the whip means that Mr Anderson, who is also a GB News presenter, has been suspended from his party in Parliament and can no longer sit as a Conservative MP.

Until January Anderson served as one of the deputy chairmen of the Conservative Party, but he resigned so he could rebel against the government over the Rwanda vote.

Anderson later  said he “understood the difficult position” he had put the prime minister in and said he would “continue to support the government’s efforts to call out extremism in all its forms – be that antisemitism or Islamophobia”.

But deputy PM Oliver Dowden  stopped short of saying Anderson had been anti-Muslim telling Sky News: “The words that he chose to use were not the right words to use, they were the wrong words and words do matter.

“And he was given that opportunity to apologise and he didn’t.”

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