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Tory MP causes outrage after downplaying claims his party has a ‘racism issue’

Labour's Clive Lewis (L) and Conservative MP Andrew Mitchell on Politics Live - Credit: BBC, Politics Live

A Labour MP has been left in “shock” following claims by a Tory MP that his party does not have an issue with racism.

Labour’s Clive Lewis and Conservative MP Andrew Mitchell exchanged barbs over how each party has reacted to internal issues of racism and ethnic and religious discrimination.

The row comes on the back of Sir Keir Starmer’s decision to remove the whip from his former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Corbyn was readmitted into the Labour Party this week after backtracking on previous remarks in which he said the problem of anti-Semitism in the party had been “exaggerated”.

In an official statement, the London-based MP said he acknowledged the issue had not been ‘overblown’ but stopped short of apologising.

As a result, incumbent leader Sir Keir blocked Corbyn’s re-entry into parliament. In a statement, he wrote: “I have taken the decision not to restore the whip to Jeremy Corbyn. I will keep this situation under review.”

Debating the topic on Politics Live, Mitchell said Labour was in a “deep hole” while claiming the Tory Party had been stamping out racism.

“Let me be very clear about this. Whether it’s anti-Semitism or racism, the Conservative Party has zero-tolerance for it. We have strong structures in the Tory Party to tackle it seriously.”

Presenter Jo Coburn interrupted: “Are you seriously saying there is no example – Clive, I’ll let you respond.”

“I’m in shock,” Lewis replied, “that you can have a home secretary and a party responsible for the Windrush scandal, forcibly deporting British citizens out of this country. 

“You have a home secretary floating the idea of deporting people to Ascension Island.

“This is a party rooted in racism and to say it doesn’t exist is preposterous.”

Mitchell answered: “I refute that absolutely, and the home secretary acts within the law and any action she takes has to be rooted in the law of the land and laws that parliament gives her.

“On a much more serious point, if there is any evidence at all of a Conservative MP acting in the way he describes, that evidence should immediately be given to the relevant authority and in the Conservative Party, action will be taken.”

An angered Lewis hit back: “I think I’ll be here until hell freezes over before the Conservative Party acknowledges… you’ve got members of your frontbench who deny the existence of structural racism. This is the very issue in the EHRC report which the Tories so often gloat about and the Labour Party is working on and now you’ve got members who are in denial of this.

“I think if we’re going to have a conversation about racism, there is a gaping chasm between the two parties. One that is trying to get itself into a better place, fit for the 21st century, and another that quite frankly has blows dog whistles not fit for the 19th century, let alone 20th.”