Rishi Sunak calls for top donor's apology to be accepted in racism row

Rishi Sunak has called for people to accept the “remorse” for the comments made by a party donor, amid calls for him to hand back £10m in a racism row.

Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, yesterday called on the Prime Minister to return the donations made by Frank Hester who is alleged to have said that Diane Abbott, the country’s longest-serving black MP, should be shot.

Mr Hester, who is chief executive of Leeds-based healthcare company TPP, is also alleged to have said that Ms Abbott made him “want to hate all black women”.

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Downing Street on Tuesday said it agreed that Mr Hester’s comments were “racist” following a day of repeated refusals from ministers to condemn the remarks.

Frank Hester.Frank Hester.
Frank Hester.

Sir Keir asked the Prime Minister during Prime Minister’s Questions yesterday whether he was “proud to be bankrolled by someone using racist and misogynistic language”.

Mr Sunak responded: “The alleged comments were wrong, they were racist, he has rightly apologised for them and that remorse should be accepted.

“There is no place for racism in Britain, and the Government I lead is living proof of that.”

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Sir Keir continued: “How low would he have to sink, what racist, woman-hating threat of violence would he have to make before the Prime Minister plucked up the courage to hand back the £10m that he’s taken from him?”

Mr Sunak reiterated that “the gentleman apologised genuinely for his comments and that remorse should be accepted”.

In a sign of Tory divisions over the issue, the Scottish Conservatives criticised taking donations from Mr Hester.

“The Scottish Conservative Party has never accepted a donation from Frank Hester and the UK Conservative Party should carefully review the donations it has received from Hester in response to his remarks,” a spokesperson said.

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Police are understood to have been contacted about the remarks, with Scotland Yard saying officers from its Parliamentary Liaison and Investigation Team are in touch with an MP about a report in the Guardian, which broke the story.

It comes as the Government today unveiled new measures to tackle extremism following terrorist attacks on Israel.

This includes an “updated and more precise” definition of extremism used by departments and officials in addition to principles to make sure extremist groups are not funded or given a platform.

The new definition has no effect on existing criminal war but applies only to government operations.

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It states that extremism is the “promotion or advancement of an ideology based on violence, hatred or intolerance” that involves the destruction of people’s freedoms or the overturn of democracy.

Research highlighted by the Department Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said that antisemitic incidents had risen by 147 per cent since the October 7 attack by Hamas, with anti-Muslim hate cases rising by 335 per cent in the last four months.

Officials said this is the first in a “series of steps to promote social cohesion, democratic resilience, and to counter extremism and religious hatred”.

Michael Gove, the Communities Secretary, said:“The United Kingdom is a success story – a multi-national, multi-ethnic, multi-faith democracy. It is stronger because of its diversity.

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“The pervasiveness of extremist ideologies has become increasingly clear in the aftermath of the October 7 attacks and poses a real risk to the security of our citizens and our democracy.

“This is the work of Extreme Right-Wing and Islamist extremists who are seeking to separate Muslims from the rest of society and create division within Muslim communities. They seek to radicalise individuals, deny people their full rights, suppress freedom of expression, incite hatred, and undermine our democratic institutions.

“Today’s measures will ensure that government does not inadvertently provide a platform to those setting out to subvert democracy and deny other people’s fundamental rights. This is the first in a series of measures to tackle extremism and protect our democracy.”

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