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Sunak appears to rule out handing back cash to Tory donor embroiled in racism row

Rishi Sunak appears to have ruled out returning money to a Tory donor who allegedly said Diane Abbott made him “want to hate all black women” and “should be shot”. 

Asked at Prime Minister’s Questions by Labour MP Marsha De Cordova if he would hand back one of the specific donations from Frank Hester’s company – £15,900 covering a helicopter trip – Mr Sunak said “no”.

The prime minister added that he was “pleased” the businessman was supporting “one of the most diverse governments in this country’s history”.

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There were terse exchanges in the Commons as Mr Sunak faced increasing pressure to return the funds to Mr Hester and his healthcare software firm The Phoenix Partnership, who between them have donated £10m to the Conservatives since the 2019 election.

And minutes after the main event in parliament, a spokesperson from the Scottish Conservatives joined in, calling on the UK party to “carefully review the donations” in light of Mr Hester’s alleged comments, which were “racist and wrong”.

After his remarks were first reported in the Guardian, the businessman said he was “deeply sorry”, but insisted they had “nothing to do with [Ms Abbott’s] gender nor colour of skin”.

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Ms Abbott – who yesterday described the remarks as “frightening” and “alarming” – was in the chamber throughout PMQs.

But despite standing several times seeking to ask a question, she was not selected by Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle.

Sky News has contacted the Speaker’s office for comment.

However, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer launched an attacked on the prime minister over the situation, asking “how low [Mr Hester] would have to sink” and “what racist, woman-hating threat of violence would he have to make” before Mr Sunak “plucked up the courage” to hand back the cash.

The prime minister echoed his statement from Tuesday night, calling the businessman’s alleged remarks “racist” and saying there was “no place for racism in Britain”.

But he said Mr Hester had “apologised genuinely for his comments and that remorse should be accepted” – turning his ire on Sir Keir for supporting former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who he said “let antisemitism run rife” during his tenure.

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The SNP’s Stephen Flynn also accused Mr Sunak of “putting money before morals”, adding: “This is complete rubbish. [Mr Hester] apologised for being rude.

“He wasn’t rude. He was racist, he was odious and he was downright bloody dangerous.”

Both Sir Keir and Mr Flynn were seen approaching Ms Abbott and speaking to her in the Commons after PMQs concluded.

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SNP leader Stephen Flynn challenges Rishi Sunak over putting “money before morals”

The story about Mr Hester’s alleged remarks broke late on Monday night, with wide condemnation from opposition parties.

But on Tuesday morning, government ministers, and then Mr Sunak’s official spokesperson, refused to call the comments racist.

As criticism of the party’s position grew throughout the day, Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch appeared to break ranks and posted on X that the words were “racist” – though adding there should be “space for forgiveness”.

And by the evening, the prime minister finally issued a response echoing his cabinet minister, saying the comments were “racist and wrong”, adding: “He has now rightly apologised for the offence caused and where remorse is shown it should be accepted.”

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There were repeated calls from both Labour and the Liberal Democrats for the Conservatives to return donations to Mr Hester.

But asked by Sky News’ Wilfred Frost if the Tories were “content to spend” the money after the incident, business minister Kevin Hollinrake: “Well, on the basis he’s not a racist and has apologised for what he said, yes.”

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