• Saturday, April 20, 2024

HEADLINE STORY

Race row: Sunak says Hester’s remorse should be accepted

Businessman Frank Hester said the 2019 comments about Diane Abbott were rude but had nothing to do with her gender nor her skin colour.

Frank Hester

By: Pramod Thomas

PRIME MINISTER Rishi Sunak resisted growing calls Wednesday (13) for his Tory party to return millions of pounds to a major donor accused of making racist comments about a high-profile black lawmaker.

Businessman Frank Hester, 57, is alleged to have said that Diane Abbott — Britain’s longest-serving black MP — made him “want to hate all black women” and that she “should be shot”.

The 2019 comments emerged as Sunak pledged to crack down on extremism, and with increasing concern about the safety of MPs, after two were murdered in recent years and others facing threats and intimidation.

Sunak — a British Indian Hindu who became the UK’s first prime minister of colour when he entered Downing Street in October 2022 — took more than 24 hours to condemn the remarks.

He told parliament on Wednesday that the comments were “racist” and “wrong” but added that Hester had “rightly apologised and that remorse should be accepted”.

“There’s no place for racism in Britain and the government that I lead is living proof of that,” Sunak added.

Hester, CEO of software company The Phoenix Partnership, has donated more than £10 million to the Tories and paid £15,000 for Sunak to take a helicopter trip late last year.

“I’m pleased that the gentleman is supporting a party that represents one of the most diverse governments in this country’s history led by this country’s first British Asian prime minister,” said Sunak.

Labour MP Diane Abbott claims Johnson ‘rumoured to like assaulting women’
Labour MP Diane Abbott (Photo by OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images)

Keir Starmer, the leader of the main opposition Labour party, said Sunak should find “the courage” to hand back the £10m.

The prime minister is also coming under pressure from members of his own party over the controversy.

“I would think about the company I kept and I would give that money back,” Andy Street, the Tory mayor of the West Midlands, told BBC radio.

A spokesman for the Scottish Conservatives said the UK Tory party “should carefully review the donations it has received from Hester in response to his remarks”.

Tory MP Nus Ghani tweeted that “zero tolerance on racism is just a slogan in today’s politics”, although she did not specifically mention the row in her post.

The Guardian newspaper, which broke the story late on Monday (11), reported that Hester made the comments during a meeting at his company’s headquarters in 2019.

In a follow-up story on Tuesday (12) night, it wrote that Hester had also said “no room for the Indians” during a crowded meeting, and suggested that they “climb on the roof, like on the roof of the train there”.

Hester has admitted making “rude” comments about Abbott, but claimed that they had “nothing to do with her gender nor colour of skin”.

Abbott was Britain’s first black female MP when she was elected to parliament in 1987.

She sat as a Labour lawmaker until she was suspended in April last year for saying Jewish people were not subject to racism “all their lives”.

Abbott, described Hester’s comments as “frightening” and “alarming” given the murders of lawmakers Jo Cox and David Amess in recent years.

The government is due to unveil a new definition of extremism on Thursday (14) amid a spike in anti-Semitic and Islamophobic incidents since the start of the Israel-Hamas war.

(Agencies)

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