In the latest allegation of wrongdoing shaking the Conservative government and Mr Johnson’s grip on power, former transport minister Nusrat Ghani said when she was demoted in 2020, a government whip said her “Muslimness” was “making colleagues uncomfortable”.
She told the Sunday Times she was told “there were concerns ‘that I wasn’t loyal to the party as I didn’t do enough to defend the party against Islamophobia allegations.'”
Chief Whip Mark Spencer identified himself as the person who spoke to Ms Ghani in 2020, but called her allegation “completely false.”
Mr Johnson’s office said Monday that the Prime Minister had asked government officials “to establish the facts about what happened” and that he “takes these claims very seriously”.
Ms Ghani was elected to Parliament in 2015 — the Conservatives’ first female Muslim lawmaker — and was made a junior minister in 2018.
At the time her boss, then transport secretary Chris Grayling, said it was proof the Conservatives “were a party of opportunity”.
But some have accused the party of failing to stamp out anti-Muslim prejudice under Mr Johnson, who in 2018 compared women who wear face-covering veils to “letter boxes.”
Two senior Cabinet ministers, Health Secretary Sajid Javid and Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi, spoke in support of Ms Ghani and said her claims must be investigated.
“It takes a lot of bravery for someone to stand up and say ‘my religion was taken into consideration when I was being assessed for what I do as a job,'” Mr Zahawi said.
“That should never happen and there is no room for it.”
The MP said she welcomed the decision to investigate.
The “partygate” allegations have infuriated many in Britain, who were barred from meeting up with friends and family for months in 2020 and 2021 to curb the spread of COVID-19.
They are being investigated by a senior civil servant, Sue Gray, whose report, expected this week, will be a pivotal moment for the Prime Minister.
Ms Gray has interviewed Downing Street staff, looked at office records and on Monday was speaking to Dominic Cummings, a former top Johnson aide who has become a loud critic of the prime minister since leaving Downing Street.
Ms Ghani’s allegation comes after another Conservative legislator, William Wragg, accused party whips of intimidating and blackmailing members of Parliament to ensure they supported the government. Mr Wragg says he met with police on Monday to discuss his claims.
Mr Wragg is one of a handful of Conservative lawmakers calling for Mr Johnson to resign.
If Ms Gray’s report is highly critical, more may be emboldened to call for a no-confidence vote in Mr Johnson that could result in his ouster.
Even if he makes it through the week, many Conservatives have decided Mr Johnson’s days in office are numbered, and weakness at the top is letting party divisions spill into the open.
Salma Shah, a political consultant and former government aide, said Ms Ghani’s claim had made Mr Johnson’s position “a lot more difficult”.
She said Ms Ghani’s allegation “has really shocked Westminster and has become a very serious issue, adding to the pressure that already exists for the prime minister on the backbenches”.
“I think the reality is that the Prime Minister is in an incredibly perilous position. … It is going to be incredibly hard to pull back from where he is now,” Ms Shah said.