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British MP loses charity role after claiming ethnic-minority colleagues ‘look the same’

LONDON: A British politician has lost his leading role at a major UK charity after he mistook the identities of two ethnic-minority government ministers.

Conservative MP James Gray confused Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi with Health Secretary Sajid Javid, described in the UK press as “British Asians,” at a reception for volunteers of the St John Ambulance charity in Parliament in September.

Gray, the “commander of charity” for the group, replied “they all look the same to me” when his error was pointed out to him, the Daily Mail reported

The Times reported that Zahawi, the former vaccines minister who is of Iraqi-Kurdish heritage, spoke to Gray in private about the remark immediately after the reception’s conclusion. Javid, the former chancellor of the exchequer, is of Pakistani origin. 

Gray denied that he is racist, saying he is “very close friends” with both ministers, and also denied that Zahawi had spoken to him directly after the reception.

“I said ‘I am sorry to confuse the two of you. You two look very alike’,” he told the Mail. “I said ‘I am sorry if I got you too mixed up.’ The idea that this is racist is completely untrue.”

Gray, who became the charity’s commander in September 2020, was asked to stand down by St John Ambulance on Monday.

“St John does not tolerate racism in any way, shape or form. We spoke with James Gray following the event about our values as an open, inclusive and progressive charity,” it said in a statement.

A statement issued by the Conservatives in response to the incident said: “These comments were misjudged. We do not tolerate racism or discrimination of any kind.”

It is not the first time that Gray has caused controversy in recent weeks, after he was condemned for making a joke in a WhatsApp group chat, consisting of fellow Conservative MPs, about bombing a rival politician.

In response to an MP’s question, “Does anybody know where (Labour Party Chair) Anneliese Dodds’ Commons office is based? I need to deliver something to her office,” Gray replied: “A bomb, perhaps?”

Dodds said after the incident: “I think all parliamentarians should be committed to ensuring that everyone can be involved in public life without any fear of intimidation or violence.”

Gray apologized, saying: “It was a foolish remark. I meant no offence and hope none was taken.”