Boris Johnson has ordered an inquiry into claims made by a former minister that she was sacked because of concerns about her “Muslimness”.
Following a phone conversation with Nusrat Ghani on Sunday evening, the Prime Minister has asked the Cabinet Office to “establish the facts” regarding the claims of Islamophobia made by the Conservative MP.
A senior Cabinet Official civil servant, Sue Gray, is already carrying out a separate investigation into allegations that lockdown-busting parties were held in Downing Street.
Ms Ghani has claimed that she was removed as a transport minister because of concerns about her Muslim faith.
She said that when she raised the matter with Mr Johnson directly after losing her job in a February 2020 ministerial reshuffle, he told her he could not get involved.
Chief Whip Mark Spencer, who has admitted speaking to her, angrily denied her claims, saying they were “completely false” and “defamatory”.
A No 10 spokeswoman said: “The Prime Minister has asked the Cabinet Office to conduct an inquiry into the allegations made by Nusrat Ghani MP.
“At the time these allegations were first made, the Prime Minister recommended to her that she make a formal complain to CCHQ (Conservative Campaign Headquarters).
“She did not take up this offer.
“The Prime Minister has now asked officials to establish the facts about what happened.
“As he said at the time, the Prime Minister takes these claims very seriously.”
Ms Ghani, the MP for Wealden in East Sussex, said she welcomed the announcement and called for the scope of the probe to include what was said between her and “the whip” in Downing Street.
In a statement posted on Twitter, she stated: “As I said to the Prime Minister last night, all I want is for this to be taken seriously and for him to investigate.
“I welcome his decision to do that now.
“The terms of reference for the inquiry must include all that was said in Downing Street and by the whip.
“I look forward to seeing the terms of reference.”
Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi, who on Sunday backed a probe into the allegations, said it was “important” the matter was looked into “properly”.
Speaking to Sky News on Monday, the Cabinet minister said: “She has made a very serious allegation, the Prime Minister spoke to her last night and said the Cabinet Office will investigate this and look at the detail of this.
“She put out a statement last night saying actually, to be fair to her, this could be people who weren’t even members of the Conservative Party, which is why we need to get to the bottom of this very quickly.
“And of course the Chief Whip has come out and named himself as the individual and I work with both colleagues, and I think it is important that someone like a Cabinet Office senior civil servant should look at this properly, because the Chief Whip has also categorically denied this.”
In comments made later to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, the Education Secretary praised Ms Ghani’s “bravery”, as he called for the Whitehall inquiry to be concluded “swiftly”.
He added: “This is very serious, it takes a lot of bravery for someone to stand up and say: ‘My religion was taken into consideration when I was being assessed for what I do as a job.’
“That should never happen and there is no room for it.”
Labour’s shadow women and equalities secretary, Anneliese Dodds, welcomed the inquiry into the allegations but said it “doesn’t replace the need for an immediate investigation into whether the Chief Whip broke the ministerial code”.