By JILL LAWLESS, Associated Press

LONDON (AP) — A former minister in Britain’s Conservative government has said she was told her Muslim faith was a reason she was fired, a claim that has deepened divisions in the prime minister’s ruling party. Boris Johnson.

Former transport minister Nusrat Ghani told The Sunday Times that when she was demoted in 2020, a government whip said her “Muslimness” “made her colleagues uncomfortable”.

She said she was told “it was feared that I was not loyal to the party because I did not do enough to defend the party against allegations of Islamophobia”.

“It was very clear to me that the whips and No. 10 (Downing St.) held me at a higher loyalty threshold than others because of my background and my faith,” Ghani said.

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Chief Whip Mark Spencer said he was the person Ghani was talking about, but strongly denied his allegation.

“These accusations are completely false and I consider them defamatory,” he wrote on Twitter. “I never used those words attributed to me.”

Several conservative lawmakers have spoken out in support of Ghani. Caroline Nokes, who heads Parliament’s Women and Equalities Committee, said Ghani’s treatment had been “appalling” and she had the courage to speak out.

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi tweeted that Ghani’s allegations must be “properly investigated and racism eliminated”. His tweet ended with the hashtag “standwithNus”.

When Ghani was appointed minister in 2015, her boss, then Transport Secretary Chris Grayling, said it was proof the Tories “are a party of opportunity”. But some have accused the party of failing to eradicate anti-Muslim bias under Johnson, who in 2018 likened women who wear face-covering veils to “letterboxes”.

Ghani’s allegation comes after another Tory lawmaker, William Wragg, accused party whips of bullying and blackmailing MPs to ensure they backed the government. Wragg says he is meeting with police this week to discuss his claims.

Internal divisions within the Conservative Party have been opened by allegations that Johnson and his staff threw parties flouting the lockdown while Britain was under coronavirus restrictions.

A handful of conservative lawmakers have called on Johnson to step down. Others are awaiting a report from Sue Gray, a senior civil servant appointed to investigate allegations that government staff hosted late night parties, ‘bring your own booze’ parties and ‘hourly Fridays’. wine” as Britain was under coronavirus restrictions in 2020 and 2021.

Gray’s findings are expected to be released next week. If Gray criticizes Johnson, more conservative lawmakers may be encouraged to call a no-confidence vote against Johnson, which could result in his ousting.

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