Tory donor not ‘racist’ despite alleged Diane Abbott remarks, claims minister | Politics News

A Conservative minister says he does not believe his party’s biggest donor is a racist, despite alleged comments he made about former Labour MP Diane Abbott – apparently saying she made him “want to hate all black women”.

Rishi Sunak took the whole of Tuesday to call out the remarks from businessman Frank Hester – first reported in the Guardian – eventually saying they were “racist and wrong”.

But despite the condemnation, the prime minister said remorse from the donor “should be accepted”.

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Ahead of today’s Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs), business minister Kevin Hollinrake repeated Mr Sunak’s criticism, telling Wilfred Frost on Sky News that the alleged comments were “clearly racist and wrong and there’s no question… you don’t judge somebody’s character based upon their skin colour”.

However, he added: “I think the key thing now is, is Mr Hester himself a racist? I don’t believe so from what I know, and I don’t know him.

“But I think in the context of what we know in the situation that we know right now, we should try and move on from this now, and I think that’s the right thing to do.”

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Mr Hollinrake also appeared to reject calls from opposition parties for the Conservatives to return donations from Mr Hester and his company, healthcare software firm The Phoenix Partnership, totalling £10m.

“I think we should judge in the whole context,” he said. “We’ve got the most diverse cabinet in history. We’ve got the first British Asian prime minister in this country. We’re not a racist party.”

Asked if the Tories were “content to spend” the businessman’s money, the minister replied: “Well, on the basis he’s not a racist and has apologised for what he said, yes.”

After the reports first emerged, Mr Hester – who has personally donated over £5m to the Conservatives since the 2019 election – said he was “deeply sorry” for the “rude” remarks he made about Ms Abbott, including apparently saying she “should be shot”.

But he insisted they had “nothing to do with her gender nor colour of skin”.

Since then, the Guardian has reported further comments he is alleged to have made to staff, asking a meeting if there was “no room for the Indians”, before suggesting employees climb on a train roof.

Mr Hester has not responded to the latest allegations.

In a statement on Tuesday, Ms Abbott said it was “frightening” and “alarming” to hear the comments allegedly made about her, especially after the murders of two MPs – Labour’s Jo Cox and Conservative Sir David Amess – in recent years.

“I am a single woman and that makes me vulnerable anyway,” she added. “But to hear someone talking like this is worrying.”

The Metropolitan Police confirmed last night they were assessing the alleged remarks from Mr Hester after officers from the parliamentary liaison and investigation team contacted them.

A spokesperson said both the force and the parliament team were staying in contact with Ms Abbott.

Labour also confirmed yesterday that they were supporting Ms Abbott, despite her being suspended from the party.

Read more:
Who is Tory donor Frank Hester and what did he reportedly say about Diane Abbott?
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Tory ministers faced growing criticism throughout the course of Tuesday as they refused to call Mr Hester’s alleged remarks racist – including Mr Sunak’s official spokesperson.

In the morning, Work and Pensions Secretary Mel Stride told broadcasters the comments were “inappropriate”, but said they weren’t “gender-based or a race-based”, while energy minister Graham Stuart said his party still “welcomed” those who financially supported them.

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Despite condemning Frank Hester’s alleged remarks, minister Graham Stuart warned against “cancelling” the businessman

However, in the afternoon, Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch posted on X to say the comments were “racist”, though adding there should be “space for forgiveness”.

By the evening, the prime minister finally released his own statement, saying: “The comments allegedly made by Frank Hester were racist and wrong. He has now rightly apologised for the offence caused and where remorse is shown it should be accepted.”

But on Wednesday morning, another business minister, Nus Ghani, appeared to take a swipe at her party’s response, tweeting: “Zero tolerance on racism is just a slogan in today’s politics.

“[I] am reminded of Toni Morrison’s quote: ”The people who do this thing, who practice racism, are bereft. That is something distorted about the psyche. It’s a huge waste and it’s a corruption and a distortion’.”

Labour’s shadow paymaster general, Jonathan Ashworth, told Sky News it was “absolutely staggering it took Rishi Sunak 24 hours to condemn these racist, reprehensible comments about Diane Abbott”, saying it showed how “weak” the prime minister was.

He added: “Fundamentally, [Mr Sunak has] taken £10m from this individual. Every Tory MP and candidate handing out leaflets, paying for Facebook advertising, it’s funded by this £10m from this individual, who has made these deeply, deeply racist offensive comments.

“If Rishi Sunak had anything about him, if he had any backbone, he would pay that money back today.”

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Labour MP Dawn Butler MP tells Sky News she found Frank Hester’s remarks about Dianne Abbott “triggering”

According to the Westminster Accounts project – a joint venture between Sky News and Tortoise Media to shine a light on how money works in politics – Mr Hester’s Phoenix Partnership has donated £5.1m to the Conservatives since 2019.

The company also made a single donation of £15,900 to Mr Sunak and, according to the prime minister’s entry in the register of members’ financial interests, it involved the “provision of [a] helicopter to fly me to a political visit and event on 23 November 2023”.

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