The former Tory party deputy chair Lee Anderson has claimed he was merely “clumsy” when he said “Islamists” were manipulating the Labour London mayor Sadiq Khan.

Mr Anderson, who lost the Conservative whip on Saturday for refusing to apologise after being accused of Islamophobia, also launched a fresh attack on Mr Khan.

The now Independent MP for Ashfield in Nottinghamshire accused the Mayor of “double standards for political benefit”.

Rishi Sunak, who made Mr Anderson his deputy party chair a year ago, today said his remarks “were wrong” as he denied the Tory party has Islamophobic tendencies.

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Mr Anderson told GB News last week: “I don't actually believe that the Islamists have got control of our country, but what I do believe is they've got control of Khan and they've got control of London... He's actually given our capital city away to his mates.”

In a statement released by GB News today, Mr Anderson said: “If you are wrong, apologising is not a sign of weakness but a sign of strength. But when you think you are right you should never apologise because to do so would be a sign of weakness.”

He acknowledged some people thought his comments “divisive”, but added: “Politics is divisive and I am just incredibly frustrated about the abject failures of the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan. My words may have been clumsy but my words were borne out of sheer frustration at what is happening to our beautiful capital city.”

He said Mr Khan had called for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war “weeks ago with no conditions while the hostages are still there being held at gunpoint by a terrorist organisation.

“Hundreds of people had been arrested for racist abuse on these marches and we barely hear a peep from the mayor. If these marches were about something less fashionable Sadiq Khan would have been the first to call for them to be cancelled. It’s double standards for political benefit.”

He added: “Khan has stood by and allowed our police to turn a blind eye to the disgusting scenes around Parliament. It is not my intention to upset anyone, I believe in free speech and have 100% respect for people of all backgrounds.”

He concluded: “We’ve got to get Khan out at the elections in May.”

Both the London mayor and Tory peer Baroness Warsi criticised Mr Sunak for failing to condemn the comments explicitly.

Today, the Prime Minister was quizzed about Mr Anderson in a series of BBC local radio interviews and sharpened his comments about him.

He said: “I think it’s incumbent on all of us, especially those elected to Parliament, not to inflame our debates in a way that’s harmful to others. Lee’s comments weren’t acceptable, they were wrong. And that’s why he had the whip suspended.”

Mr Sunak continued: “Clearly his choice of words wasn’t acceptable, it was wrong.

“Words matter, especially in the current environment where tensions are running high and I think it’s incumbent on all of us to choose them carefully.”

Asked if his party had an Islamophobia problem, the PM said: “No, of course it doesn’t.”

He said it was “not a fair characterisation at all” to say that he had condemned antisemitism in Labour while overlooking Islamophobia in his own party.

Racism or prejudice of any kind was “completely unacceptable” and “not British”, he said.

A Tory source defended Mr Anderson’s comments on Friday night, before he was stripped of party support on Saturday amid mounting condemnation from across the political divide.

Despite the furore, Tory cabinet minister Mark Harper left the door open for Mr Anderson’s possible return to the party today.

Asked what he needed to say to be welcomed back, the Transport Secretary told Sky News: “I hope he will reflect on what he said and he will retract those comments and apologise…

“He’s contributed a lot in the past. I’d like to see him be able to contribute to the Conservative Party in the future.”

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Asked what message that sent to British Muslims, Mr Harper said Mr Anderson’s suspension had sent “a very strong message that we don’t tolerate people saying such things in the Conservative Party”.

He repeatedly refused to say if Mr Anderson’s remarks were racist, saying only they were “wrong” and “not true”.

Tory former minister Baroness Warsi, who previously urged Mr Sunak to “call out anti-Muslim racism”, accused the Government of its heels “on any work to tackle this form of racism”.

She wrote on Twitter/X: “No new initiatives, no engagement with communities, no definition. Instead culture wars, othering and blatant anti-Muslim racism.”

Labour chairwoman Anneliese Dodds condemned Mr Anderson’s remarks as “appalling” and said they were “clearly not to do with who Sadiq Khan is, it was a slur that was directed at him because of Islamophobia”.

She said she has written to Tory party chairs seven times over the past three years urging them to take action against Islamophobia in the party.

“This isn’t something that popped up five minutes ago, it is a continuing concern,” she told BBC Radio 4.

Liberal Democrat deputy leader Daisy Cooper said: “Rishi Sunak needs to condemn Anderson’s comments for what they are, Islamophobic and racist, and make clear he won’t be let back into the Conservative Party.”

Downing Street said the UK Government did not tolerate “anti-Muslim hatred in any form”.

Challenged over his refusal to refer specifically to Islamophobia or anti-Muslim hatred while condemning prejudice in general, Mr Sunak’s spokesman said: “The PM has been clear that we don’t tolerate any anti-Muslim hatred in any form and we will combat that and any sort of discrimination of that kind, as we do any racism or prejudice and intolerance, wherever it occurs.” He declined to describe Mr Anderson’s comments about Mr Khan as Islamophobic.