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Lee Anderson would have kept job had he apologised – Dowden

The deputy prime minister has declined to say whether it was Islamophobic for Lee Anderson to say London Mayor Sadiq Khan is controlled by “Islamists”.

Oliver Dowden also said Mr Anderson, who was suspended as a Tory MP after refusing to apologise for the remarks, would have kept his job if he had.

He added that Mr Anderson – a former deputy Tory chairman – was not “intending to be Islamophobic”.

The comments have provoked a wave of criticism, including from some Tories.

Mr Anderson was suspended as a Conservative MP on Saturday after refusing to apologise for his comments, made on GB News.

He told the channel on Friday: “I don’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.”

Mr Anderson, who is a GB News presenter, had accepted the party had “no option” but to suspend him, given the “difficult position” it put the government in. However, he has not apologised for what he said.

Speaking on BBC One’s Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg, Mr Dowden said he understood that Mr Anderson’s comments “have caused offence”.

But he defended how the party had handled the situation, adding that asking him to apologise for the remarks was “the appropriate step to take”.

Asked repeatedly whether the comments were Islamophobic, he declined to do so, but added: “I share concerns about how it could be taken that way.”

He went on to say: “The fact it could be taken that way is the reason why the [Conservative] chief whip asked for an apology”.

Speaking to Sky News, Mr Dowden said Mr Anderson’s comments had been “wrong” but declined to say whether they were racist.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is yet to comment directly on the remarks.

On Saturday evening, he released a statement condemning an “explosion in prejudice and antisemitism” since Hamas’s 7 October attack on Israel, adding that protests in recent weeks had been “hijacked by extremists to promote and glorify terrorism”.

Mr Anderson, the MP for Ashfield, will now sit as an independent MP in the Commons.

Mr Dowden said the question of whether he would be reselected as the Tory candidate at the next election would be addressed “further down the line”.

Made a deputy chairman of the Conservative Party by Mr Sunak, he resigned from that role last month to rebel against the government’s legislation to revive its Rwanda deportation scheme.

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