Tories ‘took £5m more’ from donor embroiled in racism row

Rishi Sunak is under fresh pressure over donations from Frank Hester, a party backer who is embroiled in a racism row, amid reports the Tories received £5 million more than previously declared.

Labour and the Liberal Democrats called on the Prime Minister to pay back the sum, which would take Mr Hester’s total donations in the past year to £15 million.

Electoral Commission records only show the amount he gave the Tories up to the end of 2023, but the Tortoise Media news site reported that he has handed over more since then.

The Conservative Party did not deny the additional payment, saying only that declarable donations will be published by the Electoral Commission “in the usual way”, with the next update due in June.

Mr Hester is alleged to have said that Diane Abbott, Britain’s first black female MP, made him “want to hate all black women” and that she “should be shot”, in comments the Prime Minister described as “racist” after initially refusing to do so.

Mr Sunak has resisted previous calls to pay back Mr Hester’s money and argued that the healthcare tech entrepreneur’s apology should be accepted.

But in a sign of divisions within his ranks, the Scottish Conservatives urged the UK party to “carefully review” Mr Hester’s donations while Tory peer and former Marks & Spencer chief executive Stuart Rose said it should “probably” return the money.

Diane Abbott
Diane Abbott has described Frank Hester’s comments as ‘frightening’ (Jonathan Brady/PA)

“There is absolutely no excuse for the Conservatives accepting additional money from Frank Hester. They should pay this back before it hits the coffers.

“Rishi Sunak needs to pay back every penny, cut ties with Frank Hester and apologise unequivocally to Diane Abbott.”

Lib Dem chief whip Wendy Chamberlain said: “The Conservative Party must urgently confirm whether these reports are true and if so hand this tainted money back.

“The Conservative Party has dragged its feet in condemning these racist remarks for what they are. If that was in any way linked to this £5 million donation it would show this scandal is even worse than we thought.

Rishi Sunak and Michael Gove
Rishi Sunak and Michael Gove (Owen Humphreys/PA)

Mr Sunak and Communities Secretary Michael Gove earlier suggested Mr Hester’s comments would not be referred to the Government’s new extremism taskforce.

Mr Gove described the remarks as “horrific” but said he was exercising “Christian forgiveness” after the entrepreneur had “shown contrition”.

It came as Mr Gove unveiled the Government’s new definition of extremism on Thursday.

It describes extremism as “the promotion or advancement of an ideology based on violence, hatred or intolerance” that aims to “negate or destroy the fundamental rights and freedoms of others” or “undermine, overturn or replace the UK’s system of liberal parliamentary democracy and democratic rights”.

The senior Tory told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We have to be clear, we’re looking at organisations with a particular ideology.

“The individual concerned said something that was horrific.

“I wouldn’t want to conflate those motivated by extremist ideology with an individual comment, however horrific, which has quite rightly been called out and which has quite rightly led to an apology.”

Mr Sunak echoed the sentiment, suggesting Mr Hester’s comments would not fall under the new extremism definition that deals with “organisations that the Government engages with”.

He also said: “When someone has expressed genuine remorse or contrition for what they’ve done, which he has, it’s the right thing to do to accept that.”

Asked whether the businessman’s apology was genuine if he did not acknowledge his remarks were racist, Mr Gove told Sky News: “I haven’t spoken to Mr Hester, but I think that when someone says that they are sorry, and I understand he’s deeply sorry for these remarks, then my natural inclination is to exercise Christian forgiveness.”

Ms Abbott, who has called Mr Hester’s comments “frightening”, accused the Conservatives and Labour of failing to tackle racism.

In newspaper articles on Wednesday, she said the “reluctance to call out racism and sexism” was “shocking, but hardly surprising”, and warned the Conservatives would “play the race card… ruthlessly” at the next election.

– Advertisement –
– Advertisement –