Sunak facing calls to hand back £10m donation amid racism row

Rishi Sunak is facing calls to hand back £10 million given to the Conservative Party after he condemned as “racist and wrong” comments reportedly made by the major Tory backer who donated the money.

Frank Hester is alleged to have said Diane Abbott, Britain’s longest-serving black MP, made him “want to hate all black women” and that she “should be shot”.

The Prime Minister had come under pressure over the remarks as Cabinet minister Kemi Badenoch broke ranks to say they were racist while Downing Street continued to refuse to describe them as such.

In a new statement issued on Tuesday evening, the Prime Minister’s spokesman 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.

Frank Hester apology
Opposition parties are demanding the Tories pay back the £10 million that Frank Hester donated (CHOGM Rwanda 2022/YouTube/PA)

Mr Sunak faces a grilling by Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer during Prime Minister’s Questions later on Wednesday after the fallout intensified on Tuesday night following a Guardian report of further comments allegedly made by Mr Hester.

According to the paper, Mr Hester, the chief executive of healthcare software firm The Phoenix Partnership (TPP), asked if there was “no room for the Indians” and suggested staff climb on a train roof during a crowded meeting.

He has admitted making “rude” comments about Ms Abbott, but claimed they had “nothing to do with her gender nor colour of skin”.

The PM’s political opponents are demanding that the £10 million donated by Mr Hester to the Conservative Party over the past year is returned.

Labour Party chairwoman Anneliese Dodds said the Conservatives “must apologise unequivocally to Diane Abbott, pay back these donations and root out the extreme views and prejudice which appears to be tolerated within the party.”

Ministers sent out on Tuesday’s morning media round had defended Mr Hester while Number 10 said the reported remarks about Ms Abbott were “unacceptable”, but would not describe them as racist.

But, in a sign of divisions within the Tory Party over the issue, Business Secretary Ms Badenoch became the first member of Cabinet to call out Mr Hester’s alleged words as racist on Tuesday afternoon.

Ms Abbott herself said the reported comments were “frightening” and “alarming” given that two MPs – Jo Cox and Sir David Amess – had been murdered in recent years.

Diane Abbott
Diane Abbott described the comments as ‘frightening’ (Jonathan Brady/PA)

Labour and the Liberal Democrats branded Mr Hester’s alleged remarks as “clearly racist and abhorrent” and have both urged the Tories to return the money he donated to the party.

The Conservative Party has been approached for comment on whether the funds will be handed back.

In a statement released via his firm, Mr Hester said he had rung Ms Abbott on Monday to “apologise directly for the hurt he has caused her”.

“He wishes to make it clear that he regards racism as a poison which has no place in public life,” the statement said.

In a statement posted on X on Tuesday afternoon, Mr Hester said: “The UK benefits immensely from the rich diversity of people – like my parents – who had roots in another land, religion and culture.

“We should celebrate those differences which have made us the world’s most successful multi-ethnic, multi-faith democracy.

“And we should have the confidence to discuss our differences openly and even playfully without seeking to cause offence.”

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