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PM brands Tory donor’s alleged remarks about Diane Abbott ‘racist and wrong’ as police contacted over incident

Rishi Sunak has said comments a Tory donor allegedly made about MP Diane Abbott were “racist and wrong” after the police confirmed they were investigating the matter.

The prime minister’s official spokesperson said Mr Sunak believed there was “no place for racism in public life”.

His comments came shortly after the Metropolitan Police said they were contacted in relation to reports in The Guardian.

Frank Hester, who donated £10m to the Tories last year, allegedly said in 2019 that Ms Abbott made him “want to hate all black women” and that the politician “should be shot”, according to the newspaper.

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Mr Hester has since said he is “deeply sorry” about the comments concerning the former Labour MP but said they had “nothing to do with her gender nor colour of skin”.

However, Mr Sunak’s official spokesperson said: “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.

“The prime minister is clear there is no place for racism in public life and as the first British-Asian prime minister leading one of the most ethnically diverse cabinets in our history, the UK is living proof of that fact.”

The statement came despite the fact that earlier in the day, the spokesperson described the remarks as “unacceptable” but would not say if they believed they were racist.

Kemi Badenoch arriving in Downing Street.
Image: Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch. Pic: PA

Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch became the first cabinet minister to break ranks and say the alleged comments were “racist” – but added that there should be “space for forgiveness”.

Ms Badenoch’s comments came after government ministers including Graham Stuart and Mel Stride criticised the comments but did not call them racist.

In a post on X, the business secretary wrote: “Hester’s 2019 comments, as reported, were racist. I welcome his apology.

“Abbott and I disagree on a lot. But the idea of linking criticism of her, to being a black woman is appalling.

“It’s never acceptable to conflate someone’s views with the colour of their skin.”

She added: “MPs have a difficult job balancing multiple interests – often under threats of intimidation as we saw recently in parliament.

“Some people make flippant comments without thinking of this context. This is why there needs to be space for forgiveness where there is contrition.”

A Metropolitan Police spokesperson said: “On Monday, 11 March officers from the parliamentary liaison and investigation team were contacted in relation to a report about an MP that appeared in The Guardian.

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“We are assessing the matter and are liaising with West Yorkshire Police as the alleged incident is believed to have taken place in Leeds.

“Officers from the parliamentary liaison and investigation team remain in contact with the MP.”

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 the 2019 election and has also individually donated £5m.

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The company also made a single donation of £15,900 to Mr Sunak. Dated 11 December 2023, the donation was categorised as “support linked to an MP but received by a local party organisation or indirectly via a central party organisation”.

The prime minister’s entry in the register of members’ financial interests said the donation involved the “provision of [a] helicopter to fly me to a political visit and event on 23 November 2023”.

According to The Guardian, Mr Hester made the remarks about Ms Abbott in 2019 during a meeting at his Leeds company headquarters.

He reportedly said: “It’s like trying not to be racist but you see Diane Abbott on the TV, and you’re just like… you just want to hate all black women because she’s there.

“And I don’t hate all black women at all, but I think she should be shot.”

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In a statement on Tuesday, Ms Abbott – the UK’s first black woman to become an MP – said Mr Hester’s comments had put her in a “frightening” position and she found the remarks “alarming” following the murders of fellow politicians Jo Cox in 2016 and Sir David Amess in 2021.

Opposition parties have called on the Conservatives to return the money donated by Mr Hester.

Sky News Source