Lee Anderson comments: Who is Tory MP Lee Anderson? Why has Lee Anderson joined Reform UK?

MP Lee Anderson has built a reputation for controversial comments even before those made about London mayor Sadiq Khan that led to his effective sacking from the Conservative party

MP Lee Anderson has officially announced his defection to Reform UK. The decision came on Monday morning after he had the whip removed by the Conservative party last month over remarks he made that suggested London mayor Sadiq Khan was controlled by “Islamists”.

The decision had initially meant Mr Anderson, the Ashfield MP who was a standard bearer for the Tory right, would sit as an independent.

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However, he has now confirmed he is joining the ranks of right-wing populist party Reform UK, which is led by Richard Tice.

But who is Lee Anderson – and why have his remarks got him into so much trouble?

Who is Lee Anderson?

Mr Anderson is the MP for Ashfield, and has been an MP continually since December 12, 2019, having secured his seat at the election won comprehensively while Boris Johnson was Conservative leader.

The 57-year-old was born in Nottinghamshire, with his father working as a coal miner. He attended Ashfield School and initially, prior to his parliamentary career, also worked as a coal miner himself.

Mr Anderson then worked for the Citizens Advice Bureau – a role that led to him serving as a Labour party councillor in Ashfield from 2015.

His defection to the Conservative party came in 2018, and he served as a Tory councillor in Mansfield from 2019 to 2021 – a period that coincided with some of his MP duties.

The row involving Mr Khan is far from the first time Mr Anderson has aired controversial comments. The outspoken MP has previously called for the return of the death penalty and has frequently questioned how many people genuinely need to use food banks.

He also raised eyebrows in 2022 when he described an anti-Brexit protester as “a parasite” in a heated confrontation.

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Scotland has not escaped the range of Mr Anderson’s controversial remarks, having told GB News in November last year those who have fled their countries and come to the UK could be held on a remote Scottish island – with the Orkneys cited as an example – until their applications are processed.

What did Lee Anderson say? Why has he not apologised?

Mr Anderson lost the Tory whip on Saturday after refusing to apologise for suggesting Labour London mayor Mr Khan had “given our capital city away to his mates” and was controlled by “Islamists”.

In an appearance on GB News on Friday, Mr Anderson had said: “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 Khan had subsequently described the Ashfield MP’s remarks as “pouring fuel on the fire of anti-Muslim hatred”.

Deputy prime minister Oliver Dowden later said Mr Anderson would have kept the Tory whip if he had apologised.

Mr Anderson has since doubled down on his criticism of Mr Khan, refusing to apologise for his remarks. The former Tory deputy chairman on Monday admitted his original remarks were “clumsy”, but said saying sorry “would be a sign of weakness”.

In a statement to GB News, where he presents a weekly show, Mr Anderson said he had made comments “that some people thought were divisive”.

“Politics is divisive and I am just incredibly frustrated about the abject failures of the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan,” Mr Anderson said. “My words may have been clumsy, but my words were borne out of sheer frustration at what is happening to our beautiful capital city.”

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In a fresh attack on Mr Khan, the now-independent MP said: “Hundreds of people had been arrested for racist abuse on these marches and we barely hear a peep from the mayor. If these marches were about something less fashionable, Sadiq Khan would have been the first to call for them to be cancelled. It’s double standards for political benefit.”

Mr Anderson has continued to double down on his position in the days since. On Tuesday, he said Rishi Sunak made a “mistake” in stripping him of the Conservative whip.

The former deputy Tory party chairman told ITV News on Tuesday that he stuck by the “sentiment of his comments” about Mr Khan, but repeated his concession that they were “a little bit clumsy”.

The 57-year-old said the London mayor “panders” to a “certain section of people” who had been seen “screaming, ranting and chanting” at pro-Palestine protests in the capital.

He argued that such actions during demonstrations demanding a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war were looking to “intimidate people and affect our democracy”.

“I think I’m on the right side of the argument,” he told ITV.

Separately asked what he made of the decision by Tory leader Mr Sunak to remove the whip over his comments about Mr Khan, Mr Anderson said: “That is up to him.

“He has got a tight ship to run. He thinks he has made the right decision. I don’t think he has made the right decision. I don’t hold any malice towards him. He is the boss, he is the manager. He has to do what he has to do. And I have got no complaints at all.”

Who is the Tory whip?

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Simon Hart has served as the chief whip of the House of Commons since October 2022.

He has been a MP for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire since 2010, and is ultimately responsible for the removal of the whip from any Conservative member, albeit with direction from the Prime Minister.

A spokesperson for Mr Hart said on Saturday: “Following his refusal to apologise for comments made yesterday, the chief whip has suspended the Conservative whip from Lee Anderson MP.”

Why did Lee Anderson have the whip removed and can he have it restored?

Rishi Sunak, who was criticised initially for failing to explicitly condemn the comments, has spoken on Monday morning about why Mr Anderson had the whip removed. The Prime Minister said: “Lee’s comments weren’t acceptable, they were wrong. And that’s why he had the whip suspended.”

Mr Sunak continued: “Clearly his choice of words wasn’t acceptable, it was wrong.”

But there have still been hints of a lifeline and a way back into Conservative ranks.

Cabinet minister Mark Harper on Monday left the door open for Mr Anderson’s possible return to the Tory party.

Asked what he needs to say to be welcomed back, the transport secretary told Sky News: “I hope he will reflect on what he said and he will retract those comments and apologise…

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“He’s contributed a lot in the past. I’d like to see him be able to contribute to the Conservative Party in the future.”

Why has Lee Anderson joined Reform UK?

Mr Anderson accused the Conservative Party of stifling “free speech” on Monday, following last month's suspension for widely criticised remarks about London Mayor Sadiq Khan.

The MP said he found it “unpalatable” that he had been disciplined for “speaking my mind”. In his strongest attack yet on the party that had formerly elevated him to deputy chairman, Mr Anderson claimed other Tory MPs share his views but will not stick their heads “above the parapet”.

As recently as January, Mr Anderson had branded Mr Tice a “poundshop Nigel Farage” and said Reform was “not a proper political party”.

Asked what has changed, Mr Anderson said: “There’s not been a turning point. We all know that sometimes politicians are about as trustworthy as journalists in what they say and do.

“But it’s been a gradual journey, and I think there’s been several tipping points over the past few months. Like I said in my speech, I’ve had to do a lot of soul-searching about where I am, what I’m doing.

“And when I find myself suspended for speaking my mind – and, by the way, speaking up on behalf of millions of people up and down the country who agree with me – that for me is unpalatable. It’s a shocker, if I’m honest.

“I cannot be a part of an organisation which stifles free speech, and many of my colleagues in that place, in the Conservative Party, do back me on this privately.”

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Mr Anderson added: “People will say that I’ve took [sic] a gamble. And I’m prepared to gamble on myself as I know from my mailbag how many people in this country support Reform UK and what they have to say. And, like millions of people up and down the country, all I want is my country back.”

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