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

Politics

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.

After his remarks were first reported in the Guardian, the businessman said he was “deeply sorry” for the “rude” remarks he made about Ms Abbott, but insisted they had “nothing to do with her gender nor colour of skin”.

Ms Abbott was in the chamber throughout the session, but despite standing several times seeking to ask a question, she was not selected by Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle.

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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.

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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